This is a worship leader training special which goes beyond just how you present your worship onstage. To be good at what you do, you need to practice, and often these practices become boring or even worse, tense for both you and your team. So how can you make practices a highlight not a pain? Here’s stuff they just don’t teach you in worship leader training conferences, but which might make and incredible difference in your ministry…
How to Have Great (& Fun) Practices
They say that practice makes perfect, but sometimes it just makes misery. I have seen practices where everyone is lethargic, bored, disobedient and uninspired, and I have seen practices which were so great, so interesting and so worthwhile that even those not scheduled to be singing or playing that week turn up because they love it so much. You can have either, and as worship leader, it’s your choice! I prefer the latter.
Practice is a part of worship team life. We all hate it, because we’d rather be at home with family or friends, but it has to happen, so I reckon anything you can do to make it worthwhile and enjoyable is great.
Now in fairness, the way you promote your practice sessions does depend on your personality. Being an Aussie, and a quite jovial one at that, I usually spend most of my practices laughing, joking and making people smile (but then that just about sums up the rest of my life too). Some of you are just more serious and intense than me, and that is OK, but somehow you will have to make your practices fun if you want people to really enjoy and gain a lot out of them.
Remember the aim of the music ministry is to lead others into worship, and this applies equally to the band and singers. You need to encourage them in their craft, improve their playing and singing abilities, learn new songs, explore new feels for current songs, and peak their enthusiasm to obtain the best results.
Is This Essential Worship Leader Training?
You bet it is, even though most people don’t teach this as clearly as we do. The fact is, worship leaders have to lead, and they need to do it in a way that is inspiring their troops, not discouraging them, putting them to sleep or making them feel persecuted! So let’s start with the bad stuff, the one thing need to NOT DO and then build from there.
Here’s what you should NEVER, NEVER do…
You cannot, must not and should not ever lose your temper. I mean, never ever, no matter how bad they are, or what they have done. I look at it this way; lose your temper, and you just lose!
I really mean this, you must never lose your temper. You mustn’t even allow yourself to get tense, irritated or aggressive with your team, and never publicly single out someone for criticism. You will lose credibility and respect if you lose your temper, so just don’t do it!
For best results in your band and singers, relax, enjoy and have fun. I know you worship leaders are definitely up for finding things to make practice enjoyable, so here’s a few ideas that I employ.
1. Always start with a prayer:
Before we go through these, I should mention that every practice should start with prayer. I don’t labour the prayer time, because we are there to practice, not to have lengthy prayers, but I really believe you will achieve more for the Lord if you take the time to honour Him and hand the session over to Him.
So, this is not the cursory, “Dear Lord, bless our trip” type of prayer, and neither is it the half hour marathon prayer. I simply pray something like the following…
Lord, thank you so much for the awesome privilege of being able to serve You, and lead others into deeper worship of You. As a band and singers now we ask Your forgiveness for our sins, and ask that You fill us afresh with Your Spirit. We offer You our hands, our feet, our voices, but most of all, our hearts, and ask that You use us to bless our people here. The cry of our hearts is “here we are, Lord, use us,” and to this end we ask that You guide us as we practice so that we may be the very best we can be when we walk up before the congregation on Sunday morning. Bind us together as co-labourers for You we ask in Jesus’ name, AMEN.
- Keep the time tight:
Practices that last for 3 or 4 hours are pretty frustrating for everyone. You should not be practicing any longer than 2 hours for a Sunday service, and you should not be entering into big training sessions as part of a general practice. If you do not want to build resentment, you have to make practices concise, relevant and relatively quick. As Bill Newman says, short, sharp and shiny!
- Try and try again:
Anything you are adding into a song needs to be rehearsed again and again until it is perfect. You can either make this laborious or joke a little, see people smile and have another go. When they get it, keep doing it until it becomes 2nd nature, and always encourage them when they get it right. Never, never, never belittle anyone for getting something wrong, and if they cannot do it right after repeated attempts, why not see if there is a slightly easier alternative?
- Separate musicians and singers:
Sometimes you have to go over music again and again, or go over singing again and again (especially doing harmonies), while the rest wait bored out of their collective heads! Why not separate them for a time, have the best musician and the best singer work with their respective groups. Saves time, no one feels bored or left out, everybody has fun and, hopefully, it will sound brilliant when you put it all together. Plus, you will be encouraging leadership gifts in others as they attempt to lead their small group.
- Training verses Practice:
This is a key area, which should NOT be tackled during a scheduled practice of songs for Sunday services. It will take far too long to do the lot, so once a month why not have a special training night, where musicians and singers who want to get better at their chosen field can learn new and exciting techniques. We do this around once a month, and sometimes get “experts” in harmonies, guitar, drums, etc. to come and teach our people to be better. The band and singers will love it, and the creativity spurt will surprise everyone. I recently had a guitar teaching night and taught a few techniques to our guitarists. Some promptly forgot them, but one guy in particular got inspired. He went from being a good, solid rhythm guy right into lead guitar, and has never looked back! Remember, worship leaders, part of you mandate is to encourage the best in your band and singers.
- Allow coffee and tea:
True confessions; I love my coffee! Allowing coffee or tea promotes a relaxed, friendly atmosphere within which to practice. If you are not allowed coffee in the auditorium, then you need to respect the church’s wishes, so maybe you can finish early then head out for a coffee afterwards. This is great for developing fellowship.
- Allow people to step forward and take the lead:
Who says that, as worship leader, I have to sing every song in the morning? Generally I will have at least 3-4 songs out of 7 that OTHER PEOPLE IN THE BAND lead in. I get them to start off and then I might come in over them with a harmony. This keeps my harmony ability sharp and makes them feel that they are special. And it blesses the audience to listen to more than one voice. Remember, part of your role is to bring the best out in people, so try handing some of the leadership of songs to others.
- Give them time or set homework?
I am always trying new things in practice. That’s what practice is for, and I love being creative. However, very often a band member will not be able to do what I have requested on the spot. At this point a judgment needs to be made as to whether it is way beyond them, in which case I will “change my mind” so as not to embarrass them, or if it is just slightly beyond them. When I realize that going over and over it then and there will bore the rest of the band to tears, if they are nearly there I will set them a little homework, and they will come back to me beaming when they have practiced enough to nail it properly. With all of your people keep stretching them, but do not discourage them. It’s a fine line, but a good leader does this well.
- Set a game plan:
If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it, every time. So, set a game plan for the practice, the songs you want to hit and the way you want to do them. Try not to get bogged down on a song. If it is continually messed up, then you may decide to drop the song, or make it simpler allowing the guys to sing and play it with ease. At the same time, don’t programme your whole practice out. Allow time for laughter and fun, and a relaxed atmosphere. Just the right amount of structure and flexibility makes for a great learning and practice environment.
- Jokes are OK!
Now, I know that not every person is a comedian, while some are too over the top and never serious, but the right amount of humour and fun can really make a difference.
Jokes are definitely IN when I am leading. In practices they flow thick and fast, and even on stage just before we start I will come up with a few gags just to settle people before we minister. God is fun, and He loves to laugh, so I think we should have fun doing what He has called us to do. The worst music teams are the really serious ones!
If you are a really serious and intense worship leader, and I understand that you are serious about being excellent, and I applaud that, but I have to say, from one worship leader to another, just get over it! God does not fall from His throne if we smile and enjoy worship, so lighten up and give your team a little slack. ENJOY your band and you will find they are right with you all the way.
This is not to say that the whole practice becomes one, huge joke. I am super serious about producing quality music and singing, and super serious about creating the right atmosphere of worship. I just like to share a joke or two along the way.
Even simple, and fairly silly jokes can help people to relax. Things like:
What’s the difference between a musician and a mutual fund? The mutual fund will eventually mature and make money!
How do you tell if the stage is level? The drummer drools equally from both sides of his mouth.
How many lead guitarists does it take to screw in a light bulb? One… he holds the bulb up, and the whole world revolves around him!
How do you know there is a backing singer at your door? Because even if you give her the right key, she still cannot figure out when to come in!
What do you get when you drop a piano down a mineshaft? A flat minor.
So, worship leaders, hit the internet and find a few good, clean musician jokes. They do exist (you may have to dig for them), but they can make practice fun.
- Break into familiar songs:
Now, this is vintage Darin Browne, and something I LOVE doing. Someone will play or sing something, even just a few bars, and I will break into a completely different song, then the rest of the band joins in. It is pretty crazy, and most of the songs are old 60-70s rock and roll songs. Now, you don’t want to waste everyone’s time doing this the whole night, but once or twice can really be fun.
Then we often take some of the feels we played and apply them to a praise of worship songs. For musicians it makes the whole thing heaps of fun, and it is kind of a cross between a trip down memory lane and a jam session. Be careful, though, because some may feel left out (often the singers). I only break into a couple of lines of the “other” song, because more than this means everyone stands around and waits for me, usually with hands on hips. Yes, it’s a fine line, but hey, practice ought to be fun!
Another fun thing to do is apply different styles of music to songs as you rehearse. Slow them down, speed them up, go reggae, country, heavy or whatever you fancy. I have had some fun taking fast, rock songs and starting them slow and ballad like. You have to let your imagination, and that of your people, go!!!!!
Some of these you may no be comfortable with, but most of what I have written should be within your grasp. Worship leader training is about learning and stretching yourself, so take the time o try and introduce many of the above points one at a time, and remember, while you are training and rehearsing your team, the Lord is putting you through the best worship leader training available!