Music theory, that is. While I am definitely not about putting the cart before the horse, I think every budding worship leader should learn music theory and teach it to their team. Increasing your knowledge and ability in this area will lead to your next breakthrough in excellence.
Right alongside music theory is ear training. The combination of these two elements is critical for skill development. Your ear is like the director for your hands and voice. Ear training is one of the practical sides of music theory. A highly developed ear provides great freedom while playing, singing and leading worship. Conversely, an underdeveloped ear will stunt your growth and keep you from your full potential as a musician.
So, where do we start? In the future, I plan on writing posts with theory lessons specific to worship leading, but for today, I thought I would introduce you to one of the most helpful resources on the web: Ricci Adams’ musictheory.net.
Adams has equipped the site with many lessons, exercises and tools (there’s even an app). Whether you are brand new to music or have a rudimentary understanding of theory, this website will bring the pieces together and provide a wonderfully easy way for you to develop your ear. Check it out!
Is music theory exciting for you or a complete headache? Are you a nerd or a free-spirit?
I find that worship is like surfing. Okay, I don’t really know the first thing about surfing, but I do know that surfers catch and ride waves. Not just one wave either. They do it over and over and over again. That’s what worship is like.
Many times, we settle for riding one wave. Yet, if there was room to wait a little, to linger on, we would surely find that another wave is already coming.
I co-led worship last night and our purpose for that meeting is to go deep and linger long. It’s great having that expectation, because without the unity, it can be hard to sustain lengthy times of corporate worship. We experienced many different waves throughout the night. Waves of great joy and laughter. Waves of dancing and excitement. Waves of passionate cries and yearning. Grace, mercy, healing. It was all flowing in such a powerful, tangible way.
One key to catching and riding the waves is to be free to improvise. It’s easy to plan the roadmap. I’m sure you’ve done that hundreds of times. It would be disheartening for me to say, “Worship went exactly like we practiced.” It can be scary to go off the beaten path, to sing a spontaneous song or release your team to be creative or “messy”. But the more you surrender, the harder it is to want to go back to the program. (It’s not that we don’t plan. We just hold the plan loosely.)
Take time to enjoy God. Don’t rush through the song list. Find out what He is saying in each moment.
Is this a new analogy for you? Or do you “ride the waves”?
God enjoys you.
This is the secret to enjoying God. This is what makes Him enjoyable. Similar to the verse saying, we love God because He first loved us.
Worship is a wonderfully raw and intimate place of enjoying God. Yet, without this foundational truth that God enjoys us, individually and corporately, we won’t experience enjoyment of Him.
I grew up a pastor’s kid. I like to say I was born in the church nursery (I wasn’t, but it’s nice metaphor). I came to know the Lord at a young age, and looking back on my life, I see Him all throughout. However, as much as I loved God and had passion for Him and ministry, I viewed Him as a disappointed piano teacher. I was always practicing, but no matter how much time I spent, I was never perfect. Even when playing my best, there were always a few mistakes.
I knew God loved me. The Bible told me so. I also knew that song well too, and there was a special verse my church used to sing:
Jesus loves me when I’m good
When I do the things I should
Jesus loves me when I’m bad
Though it makes Him very sad
He may not have been mad at me, but He was definitely sad or disappointed with me. My performance was something I had to keep on top of so that God would approve. So that He would be pleased. So He would be happy.
You can imagine my surprise and relief (perhaps a bit of shock too) when I found out that God wasn’t angry, upset, hurt, sad or disappointed with me. He actually liked me. I’ll get to the theological reasons in a second, but first, here’s my experience:
I was doing an internship at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. We did the night-watch for the 24/7 prayer room. Live worship around the clock. It was the best place to be sold out for Jesus. Worship all the time! Finally, people who were like me. Spoke my language. Well, sort of.
Most of my life, I stood out from others because of my musical talents and anointed worship leading. At IHOP, I didn’t stand out at all. In some ways, I didn’t feel like I even got a chance. I was in a place where I was just one of the crowd. Not special. Anything I could do everyone else could do too, and better.
They taught fasting. So I fasted. And then I was hungry. I was losing weight and if you know me, there’s not much to lose. I was feeling depressed. From not eating. From not being special. From not fitting “in”. From being up at night instead of day. I was frustrated with God and my leaders and myself for having immature “unholy” emotional reactions.
But, inasmuch as I didn’t like being in that place, that is exactly where I saw God’s smile over my life. It wasn’t an open eye vision, but it was in my minds eye. A big grin telling me that God didn’t love or like me because I was a worship leader with great talent and anointing. He loved and liked me because I was His child. He had created me and my performance wasn’t part of that equation.
Now, I know my experience isn’t enough to solve the mystery for you. So, here is the theology: Grace. God, in His goodness, became one of us to pay a debt He didn’t owe so that we would receive what we did not deserve: His life and righteousness. Jesus made you righteous (right with God). Since God dealt with all of the sin there ever was and will be in Jesus’ one-time offering, He is no longer mad or sad or disappointed with you or me. Jesus “performance” was good enough. Now we are in Christ and God enjoys us.
“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.” (Ps. 149:4). This is what He has done. Meditate on it. Renew your mind to it. His salvation makes you beautiful.
When have you encountered God’s enjoyment? His kindness? His smile?
Flow. It’s an important thing every worship leader should know how to do. Yet, in my experience, flow isn’t usually something that’s taught. True, some things are easier “caught than taught”, but we still need to talk about it.
So, what is flow? Definitely not a technical term. Flow is the ability to transcend the plan/roadmap/agenda/itemized schedule and be free to adjust on the fly. Flow is what keeps the worship service from feeling stagnant or “going through the motions.” Flow provides momentum like an undercurrent that takes you faster than you can paddle. Flow keeps the worship team and the congregation together in a unified direction. Flow is the satisfying feeling of riding a bike downhill or canoeing downstream. Flow is like flying. When you don’t have it you feel grounded, tied down. Like you’re pulling a load of bricks in a wagon with no wheels (anybody else ever lead a set like that?).
Flow is a release of control. A following of the Spirit.
As with many things in life, flow is something you cultivate in your bedroom when no one is watching. Your personal interaction with the Lord in worship is the place to start. I don’t know anyone who plans a worship set for their personal worship time.
First I’m going to sing… followed by a cool key change… then I’ll wrap up with a remix version of my favorite hymn…
Who does that?
Since worship isn’t really about the songs, all we need to bring is our hearts. The adoration of God’s grace. The thankfulness for His mercy. The expectancy of our hope. Whether spoken, sung, laughed or cried, the movements of our hearts are what move His heart. God’s not impressed with your voice as an artist. It’s not the precise combination of pitch and rhythm that excite Him.
So at home, there’s no performance. Just you and God. Enjoying the presence and love of each other. From this place, what do you do? Maybe sing or say a prayer. What comes next? We have a dialogue. As we minister to God, He ministers to us. His word brings life. It awakens passion, desire or simply peace. Then we respond. And He responds. You get the idea.
Corporate worship can be the same. Should be the same. A wonderful dialogue (aka not a monologue) between God and His people. As the worship leader, we have the ability, even responsibility, to release God’s response for His people.
I should have titled this, “An Introduction to Flow.” I have way too much to say here and now. But let me encourage you to begin practicing flow. Do it at home by yourself. Practice with your friends or worship team. Let your worship become more of a release. Sing spontaneous songs. Be free.
Release your song.
If you’re a worship leader, musician or songwriter (or you really want to be one), this blog is for you. I’m here to encourage your gifts and speak life to your destiny. In pleasure, God created you and wrote you into His story. Like a sweet melody or harmony, or even just a funky rhythm, you are apart of redemption’s song.
More than worship, the Father is looking for worshipers. Those who will know Him and be fully known. Those who will love Him with everything.
So release the worship God placed in your heart. Release the music He has crafted into your being. Release your emotions, your sound and your voice.
Release your song.