Excellence vs ProfessionalismIn all aspects of the ministry of leading worship God wants us to give our best. But what exactly does that mean?  Is giving our best about being the perfectly polished professional who never makes a mistake, who knows all the songs off by heart and can do any tune in any key? Or is it about having a perfected heart? Perfected by love, forgiveness, and God’s amazing grace? It’s about Excellence vs Professionalism and Perfection!

Over the years I have been to many churches in many countries. I have visited numerous denominations and experienced worship in all kinds of circumstances. From small home cells to large congregations of tens of thousands. And the one thing that stands out in great worship is excellence of spirit and humbleness of attitude.  Personally, I am not about show. Not when it comes to worship. Concerts have an audience, worship is corporate (all together) with a congregation.
Worship is where we reach the intimate place of God’s heart, and it’s difficult (though not impossible) to reach that place when it’s surrounded by flashing lights and smoke machines. (Ok, so I exaggerate a little).

When it comes to great worship in a church, I think we need to be careful to differentiate between WHAT we do and HOW we do it. Churches too often get caught up in trying to create a “well polished presentation” at the expense of reaching the heart of worship.
Now before you shout me down, I want to be absolutely clear on one thing: The bible teaches that in the ministry of music; in the church and unto the Lord, we should be skilled in our craft and well practised. There is plenty of room to improve our abilities and stretch our capabilities.

I believe that worship leaders and music directors everywhere are guilty of trying to create “better worship” by focusing on certain ‘things’ or formula that may lead to a better stage presentation but not necessarily excellent worship.

So What Do We Want?  Excellence vs Professionalism and Perfection

Here are a few:

Music stands vs no music stands.

I have come across music directors who think it is “unprofessional” to have music stands and sheet music on the stage. Personally I would rather a musician have music to refer back to so as not to make a mistake, than trying to remember a piece of music, especially if it is a recent addition. I was in a church recently where a new song was introduced, and because this church had a “No Music stand” policy, people had the sheet music on the floor and some were desperately peering down trying to focus on the music. So much so it was obvious and they were not aware of the congregation or the leading of the worshipleader.  When I see the symphony orchestra perform I am looking at full time professional paid musicians with music sheets on music stands.  Listen, it is NOT unprofessional to have music in the stage. Professionals do it all the time. I would rather get it right than fumble my way through a song. Remember, most of your musicians are part time volunteers who have a life and a job and are passionate about giving God their best. Let them have their music!

Dress standards. Colour vs plain
A lot has been made over the years about dress standard and dress code on stage for the worship team. Let me again point to the purpose for us being on the stage in the first place. It is to bring God’s people on a journey to the heart of worship. Provided we are dressed modestly, I don’t think there needs to be any hard and fast rules about what you should and shouldn’t wear. I heard once of a beautiful young lady who, when told she had pretty shoes, refused to wear them on stage any longer because she worried that they were causing a distraction. The last time I saw her on stage, she wore all black, hair up and no makeup…
Praise is a joyful thing. To me it is full of colour. Colour in music, colour in exaltation, colour in outward expression, including in what we wear. In our uniqueness we can praise and worship a mighty God in all of His Glory and in the colour He deserves.
Remember, I said dress modestly, but don’t feel you need to regulate the dress code to a uniform unless its for a special occasion or if the culture demands it. There are magnificent church choirs around where all the singers wear amazingly coloured robes. They bring quite a presence on the stage, and I love it!

Fold Back: speakers vs in-ear
On- stage fold back, if you are in a band situation is absolutely vital. However it can be so badly done and mixed that sometimes it creates more problems than benefits. In an ideal situation it’s great to have a multi-channel fold back mixer, where you can filter out some of the less required instruments /voices for certain instruments or vocal groups. If you only have a two-channel fold back, you still have the ability to filter out fold back specific for say the bass and drums in one channel and guitars, keys and vocals in the other. If all you have in your PA is a stereo mixer with a left and right side split to front of house, I suggest that you assign one channel to the front of house run the speakers in series and the other channel to the foldback.  All on stage should be able to hear the lead vocalist and the lead instrument (be it guitar or keys). All vocalists should be able to hear themselves in context with all other vocals.
As far as in-ear fold back goes, it’s really important to remember that in corporate worship we are about the congregation. If you have 2 ear plugs it may be useful to leave one out so you can gauge the congregation or you could run the risk of leaving them behind. If you are running with fold back speakers, remember that they are there only for the benefit of those on stage, and the people sitting in the front row should not be able to hear them. Keep the volume down so that the sound-man can regulate the front of house levels.

Religion vs reality- Excellence vs Professionalism and Perfection
I want people to experience real worship, not something whipped up, and definitely not a show. I really believe there are many people in our churches who have not yet or not often experienced true intimacy in worship through the song service. It’s easy to select some songs from a book or list and present some nice songs. It’s a little more challenging to spend time seeking out the heart of God and getting the “right songs for that congregation for that day”. We look to change people’s lives and impact their worship experience. Remember we are in a priestly role and ushering the people into the presence of God. I don’t look for a religious experience, I want people to experience the reality of the presence of God through the songs I bring. And all members of the worship team have an important role to play in this.

So aspire to Excellence in your worship, no matter what member of the team you are, and see the Holy Spirit move in your service.

If you are looking for more tools and resources to improve and hone your worship leading skills, check out our websites and podcasts available from www.bestworshipleader.com and www.aussieworshipleader.com and available free via download from iTunes.

Have a great week.
Erick.

When you lead people in worship, how can you tell if it’s too loud?

Years ago when I was in a Christian rock and roll band, we used to have a saying :” if it’s too loud, you’re too old. “
It’s a funny saying and for a rock band it’s probably right, but when you lead people in worship, this does not necessarily follow! As a worshipleader, I’m not sure excessive loudness fits in the music service of a church.
When we lead people in worship, we have the amazing opportunity to bring people into the very presence of God. This is our calling, our priestly responsibility and our privilege.
When we lead people in worship, there is a number of essentials that go into the mix to make for a great worship service.  Volume is most often not one of these!

The Essential Mix to Lead People in Worship

Prayer and preparation are on the top of the list.When I lead people in worship, I spend a number of hours in prayer and preparation. I give myself to reading God’s word and there are a number of devotionals I love to read. During this time I pray about the songs that I am going to do for that meeting.

Lead people in worshipAnother important ingredient is great unity in the band. At practice and on the day of the service, it’s important that we have a like mindedness

and a singleness of purpose. This includes every member of the team: drummer, bass guitar, lead and rhythm instruments, vocalists and the sound man/woman. Unity is imperative to a great worship team. Scripture says that when we have unity, God commands the blessing.
Song choice and good flow from song to song is also very important, as is knowing when to modulate, when to have light and shade (loud and quiet).
The last thing I want to mention here is the reason for and the theme of this blog.

I visited a Church recently and while I enjoyed the service, in the worship I was “confronted” by a wall of sound. While the music was good and the mix was balanced, it felt more like I was at a concert than at a worship service. As I observed the band and the interaction with the congregation I couldn’t help it think that something was missing.

 

When you Lead People in Worship it Involves Everyone

Worship in a church service should be a corporate event. That means that everyone should be involved in the worship, the band and the congregation. I could not hear any of the congregation singing. Come to think of it, I couldn’t hear my own wife. Her lips were moving but I couldn’t hear her. If you are in worship and you can’t hear the congregation, it’s too loud.
It’s important to have a good sound balance coming from your front of house. If its too soft you have no control of the intensity of your mix and

people can’t hear you. If its too loud, people can’t hear themselves, and that doesn’t lend itself to great corporate worship.
Everyone involved in the production of the Worship service is important and a good mix is vital to the success of each service.
When you lead people in worship, inspire them, encourage them but don’t deafen them!

Vocal Preparation

The other night I was at a music practice and was reminded about vocal preparation.

 

We were preparing for a Christmas presentation and being a Thursday, everyone was nearing the end of a “full on” week.  We have busy lifestyles and I know that in my business things start to become manic at this time of year. Needless to say, I have had no time to even think about singing or practising outside of the designated commitments.

 

It was interesting to hear our music director giving instructions to singers about voice conservation and vocal preparation.

So I thought I can feel a blogpost coming on…

The Importance of Vocal Preparation and Warming Up

 

vocal preparationI have been a singer ever since I could string a row of words into a sentence. I remember my first big part, I guess I was about 6 or 7 years old and I had to audition for the part. In the end it was between me and this girl, and I got the gig.  The only other thing I remembered about my first brush with fame was that I swallowed in the middle of a line! … nerves…

 

I have sung to congregations as small as a hand full and as large as 10,000. Every time I have done so has been a privilege.

 

Because I was young and I sang constantly, I never saw the need to practise or warm up. The vocal preparation warm ups to me back then seemed a little silly at best and a complete waste of time at worst.

 

Of course, now that I am a little older, I have also become somewhat wiser… Or at least I’d like to think that.

 

So Now Vocal Preparation Seems More Important!

 

When you sing all the time, your vocal chords and throat muscles are constantly being stretched and exercised.  And like any muscle there are keys to keeping your throat and vocal chords in good shape.

I want to share with you what I have learned about vocal preparation over the years.

Ignoring Vocal Preparation- How to Kill your Voice!

 

Some years ago, when my children were still in primary school, our family went to a large Christian convention. There we were among thousands of adoring followers, and pretty soon swept up with the proceedings. Everyone was excited. So was I. So excited in fact that I couldn’t contain myself, and soon I too was screaming at the top of my lungs until something went’ pop. That day I lost the top 1/3 of my vocal range. And it didn’t come back For a long time.

 

How Not to Kill Your Voice

 

This is my number one point; don’t strain your voice. Don’t abuse it by throwing your voice into compromising situations without the correct vocal preparation. Last week I sang Using a mike that was faulty. The result: voice strain. For the past few days I have had a rough throat.

I have been sucking on vitamin C and drinking heaps of water.

Learn how to be loud

 

Don’t scream and shout. If you need to raise your voice, do it with your head voice.

 

If you can yell high pitched ( bit like a siren) this should not affect your  voice. You need to exercise extreme caution at all times when raising your voice. Voice projection is a skill that can be learnt.

Diet

 

What goes past your gums is really important to the quality of your voice.

 

I know that different people respond differently to each other but I have learnt that the majority of people are at least the same.

 

High protein and low dairy are what I eat. Dairy gives me the gurgles. If I have anything like cheese, milk, yoghurt or ice-cream, I end up with that much phlegm I could start a collection service.

 

I also think it’s really important that you watch your food intake prior to singing. Personally I never sing on a full stomach. This means if I am leading worship on a Sunday morning, I fast until after the service.  If I am doing an evening gig, I make sure there is at least 4-6 hours of no food intake before I sing.

 

There are drinks we definitely should be staying away from before and during singing: like coffee, alcohol and milk drinks. I have already explained about dairy. Alcohol is to be avoided not least because of the altered state it can produce but also because it is a diuretic which can de-lubricate your voice. Coffee has the same effect. I love coffee, but can’t drink it before I sing.

 

Lastly it’s really important to lubricate your voice while singing. But here is a big important key: Don’t drink sweet drinks, don’t drink coffee, don’t drink cold. The best thing is water at room temperature or slightly warm.

 

Vocal Preparation Involves Vocal Warm Ups.

 

There are a number of vocal preparation exercises that work really well as warm ups and stretches:

 

I like sirens. This is a technique whereby you start low and wail like a siren, increasing pitch to the most comfortable pitch and then ease back down to the lowest you can go. Repeat this any number of times, gradually pushing your voice both higher and lower. You’ll be amazed at the progress you make.

 

Breathing is another good one. One singing teacher I had years ago would get us to fill our lungs with as much air as possible, and then in a very controlled manner pronouncing each letter accurately,  recite the alphabet as many times as possible. Again the more you do this the better you will become. Give each letter no more or less time than it takes to pronounce it properly.

 

Another good beginning warm up is humming scales.  The good thing with this exercise is that you don’t have to do this at the top of your voice, so you don’t annoy or scare anyone, especially at 6.00am.  The humming exercise involves humming harmonic scales, increasing one semi-tone at a time until you reach your top register.

 

Don’t Sing Tired. 

 

I really want to encourage you to be conscious of your rest patterns. Like most other parts of your body, your voice involves the use of muscles, and these need to be well rested to be at the top of your game, so vocal preparation is more than just right before you sing.

 

If you are a singer, your voice is your instrument. You never heard of a violinist leaving his Stradivarius lying around e exposed to the elements, not being cared for?? Treat your voice like that Stradivarius! A good example is Celine Dion. Check out what she did and does  to preserve and protect her voice.

 

You are blessed to be a blessing, use the God given gift to His Glory and make sure you have adequate vocal preparation!

 

God bless you,

Have a great week!

 

Erick

Vocal preparation

This week I was saddened by the news of the passing of a great friend and brother in the Lord, and a wonderful praise and worship leader on his chosen instrument.
Bruno had been diagnosed just not that long ago with Mesothelioma, more precisely malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that develops from the protective lining that covers many of the body’s internal organs, the mesothelium. It is usually caused by exposure to asbestos.(courtesy of wikipedia)
He didn’t get much notice about his impending appointment with destiny, but he spent his last months on this earth talking to anyone who would listen about his Saviour, Jesus Christ, and how we can have the True Peace that only comes from God.

What is a Praise and Worship Leader?

Bruno was a worshipper. He was possibly one of the most anointed sax players I have ever known. In his own way, Bruno was actually a Worship Leader. You see, there is a common misconception that the “praise and worship leader” is just the one who organises the songs and stands up the front leading the congergation in the prepared songlist.
I want right here and now to dispell that myth. Anyone who occupies the “stage” whether you are the song leader, a musician or a backing vocalist, you are a Praise and Worship Leader. Yes, even the drummer is anointed to lead worship on his instrument. How? By playing your instrument to God, and worshipping Him with your instrument you are being a praise and worship leader.
An old pastor of mine used to say: “Leaders lead by example”. You know, even when you are not occupying a spot on the stage, and are standing in the congregation, you are still called to be a Worship Leader right there from where you stand. Your very act of worship will encourage others and lead them to do the same.

Bruno Was a Praise and Worship Leader on the Sax

praise and worship leaderI loved the way Bruno played his instrument. He was Jazz trained, and knew his way very well around the Tenor, Alto and Soprano Saxophone, as well as the Clarinet. We invited him to play on one of my albums. One of the songs  is a jazz number called “Let’s not limit what we are” . Bruno came in and said what do you want me to play? Darin played him the song, and said “Just play as the Spirit leads”.
Darin pressed the record button, and Bruno played. By the time he had finished, we were in tears. The anointing was so powerful in that Studio, we were overwhelmed. Bruno knew how to worship God with his instrument.
20 years ago, I was in the same church as Bruno. I remember even then in worship, the Spirit would come on him as he played. The result was that people would be released, there would be healings and other miracles.

There are 4 keys to Bruno’s ability to be a praise and worship leader with his instrument.

1) Bruno was a true worshipper. He had an alive and active relationship with his God and Saviour. He knew about the amazing Grace of God that saved him and he was grateful for it. He loved his Jesus.
2) Bruno was skilled in his instrument. He was well practised and well rehearsed in the instruments he played as well as having a good knowledge of the songs.
3) Bruno was obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit. When the anointing came on him, he did not back down, or quit, he played and played to God, to the best of his ability.
4) Bruno did not outplay his anointing. He knew how to be sensitive; when to play, and when not to play; when to play loud and when to play soft. His playing was not ego driven, it was not to show off, but to honour God and worship Him. .

These keys apply not only to Musicians, but also to singers.

Fellow praise and worship leader, we can all learn from Bruno. Like him, you too are called to be both a worshipper, and a worship leader. Get close to Jesus this week, and ask Him for a new boldness in worship. Love Him passionately; not just on Sunday morning, but every day. Worship Jesus in Spirit and in Truth, and allow His Spirit to reveal in you new facets of God’s Glory.

Click here to download a Song

To the memory of Bruno, Have an overcoming week. God Bless you real good, and keep on striving to be the best praise and worship leader you can be, whatever your role in the team!

Recently I had the honour of being in the music team with my Daughter leading praise and worship.

Whilst she has been leading praise and worship at the church youth group for some time now, she has little experience in leading praise and worship in a Sunday morning service. Let me tell you: She did a great job. God was in the house, and you could sense the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit.

Working Together When Leading Praise and Worship

Alexie does not really play an instrument, but she has an amazing voice. The challenge with being relatively new to leading praise and worship and not playing an instrument is that there can be a tendency for “Gaps” . These can quickly lead to awkward silence if the leader is not on the ball, so this is where I stepped in. With guitar and microphone, and having a very good idea of where Alexie was taking the worship, (We had practised all songs prior, and she had communicated what she wanted to achieve and how she planned to do that), I “filled in the gaps”, allowing for a smooth transition while she “caught her breath” so as to speak.

The Keys to Leading Praise and Worship “Tag Team”

Leading Praise and WorshipThe key to the success of this session was in two parts: I had to remain in the background. It is important for anyone who is supporting up and coming worship leaders to allow them the freedom in doing what they are doing, and helping them to achieve that.In other words, let help them discover their leadership qualities. When Alexie looked a little unsure, I took over, gently so as not to make it obvious, and as soon as she regained her confidence, I stepped back and let her take over. Tag team.
The second part is that it important for the up and coming worship leader to be teachable. Alexie was both humble and gracious enough to allow me to help her, and step in. Sometimes I could see a questioning look on her face, almost uncomfortable saying “Where do I go from here? How do I get to the next step?” I merely took the reigns, directed the band and we continued on.

In a way, because Alexie and I are related and we have shared the stage together over the years on many occasions, she is comfortable around me and knows to trust me. I had to make absolutely sure that I did not abuse that trust. This is another important key to Tag Team Worship Leading.

 

Reproducing While You are Leading Praise and Worship

My fellow worship leader, I encourage you as you read these blogs and listen to the Worship Leader Podcast, look at the members of your team, and find people who can be trained up to lead worship. Whether in a Youth Group, a Home Cell, a mid-week meeting or a Sunday service. Remember you can’t be there all the time, and the congregation loves variety. (I mean, I don’t eat peanut butter at every meal! ) Be prepared to do some Tag Team when leading praise and worship. This may be as simple a beginning as your ‘apprentice’ leading just one or two praise songs at the beginning of the service. As they become more confident, loosen up the reigns and let them take more on. You are always there for them to fall back on.
And make sure that you get together both before the service to plan, and after the service to analyse. Don’t use the after service to criticise your apprentice for short falls or hiccups. Chances are that if things didn’t go to plan, and the music wasn’t brilliant, they are already punishing themselves. Use every experience to build in readiness for the next one. Tag Team when you are leading praise and worship is very important and can be amazingly affective in bringing your congregation into the presence of God.

The outcome of Last Sunday? My wife and our Pastor came to me after and said: You two worked really well together leading praise and worship this morning…” We were a team with a unity of purpose. And when the people dwell together in Unity, God commands the Blessing!

Be sure to tune into the latest podcast, and have a listen to the ones you haven’t downloaded yet.

God Bless you real good and have a great week!

Erick (And keep on leading praise and worship to His glory!)