6 Steps for Increasing Worship Team Effectiveness
In The Language of Influence and Personal Power, author Scott Hagan states, “There are two types of leaders. Those who love power and those who love people.”
Not surprisingly, it’s easy to shift the focus of caring for people to the bottom of the ministry to-do list—unintentionally. Our tendency is to continually aim to love the people “out there” in the congregation, all while missing the obvious need to love those on our teams.
The good news? When we begin by loving our teams—the ones we’re closest to—there is an authentic trickledown that reaches our congregations.
Here are six important strategies for keeping these priorities straight:
- Prioritize Spiritual Growth
- Communicate the Vision and the Plan
- Emphasize Relationships
- Celebrate Character
- Pick Your Battles
- Be an Empowerer and an Encourager
1. Prioritize spiritual growth
All too often, we fail to prioritize the most important element of meeting together: gathering to grow spiritually. To change this, we must discipline ourselves to make time to circle up—without our instruments—for a short but intentional devotional, preferably right at the top of our rehearsal.
This could take place immediately after a quick line check or immediately upon arrival. If you know me, you know I believe that musical excellence is one of several highly important biblical focal points that serves the ultimate vision of “loving God and loving people.”
However, if we’re honest, we recognize that many of our church systems have begun to overemphasize the perfection of craft over the development of spirituality. It’s rare that any leader is forced to correct their team in this way; “Hey, guys. We’re simply spending way too much time in God’s presence, and as a result, the quality of our music is beginning to suffer.”
All we need to do is tally our team’s total rehearsal time against our team’s total devotional time, and it’s clear.
Am I saying these two aspects of rehearsal need to be uniform? Well, no. I wouldn’t go that far. But I would suggest we consider “tithing” to God with the time we set aside to rehearse. What if—at a bare minimum—we spent 10 percent of our time together seeking God? Twelve minutes out of a 120-minute rehearsal, and so forth?
What if we also agreed to stop worshiping God together on the stage until we’ve made it a practice to worship God together off the stage? “But, Jeff, we have a very limited time for rehearsal. We barely get through all the songs. We can’t afford to take time for a Bible study in every rehearsal!”
Okay. I get it. It’s tough. I’ve been in countless rehearsals in my time, many of which have run long. Still, I wonder if part of the problem is that we misuse the time we have? What if by setting aside time up-front for our teams to seek the Lord together (ten to fifteen minutes tops), we could grow our teams spiritually AND revitalize the efficiency of our entire rehearsal?
What if by asking different team members to lead a short devotional or worshiping together with a couple of tunes in the sanctuary or sharing prayer requests and praying for one another before rehearsing, we were increasing team unity and thereby more capable of maximizing our rehearsals?
What if by building our teams spiritually, we were actually developing them in every area—spiritually, relationally, and musically? I’m telling you, if you get this right, most of your other issues—attitudes, competition, sarcasm, insecurity, rebellion, superiority—will fade away into the sea of forgetfulness. Could it be?
2. Communicate the vision and the plan
A second reason to gather as a team, before playing any music at all, is to communicate the plan for the rehearsal quickly and concisely as well as to reiterate the vision of the house. This assures greater buy-in in the overall Kingdom culture God is asking you to build.
It’s a known fact that people learn through repetition as well as through clear communication, so it’s vital that we repeatedly share our lead pastor’s vision, so our teams and leaders can clearly reiterate it. Take sixty seconds after your devotional and be creative in the way you cast this vision once again.
Once complete, move from macro to micro, and share the vision for this rehearsal (assuming you’ve already established your specific rehearsal culture—things like making sure everyone honors each other by not “jamming” at the wrong times, etc.). By communicating your goals for this week’s rehearsals up-front, you greatly increase the likelihood of accomplishing all you set out to do.
Plus, you’ll add greatly to the joy of your team since there’s nothing much worse than a leader showing up to a rehearsal without a plan. Been there? You find yourself forever stuck on one song. You can’t remember if it’s 12 or 17 bridges. Or you suddenly discover that the chords on the YouTube video are different from the ones on the PCO chart. Now you’re wasting everyone’s time.
Easy fix. By scheduling a time at the beginning of rehearsal to communicate the plan, we force ourselves to be more prepared and better organized. Why? Because the only way we can effectively communicate the plan is if we actually know the plan. This fosters good accountability and streamlines our rehearsals.
3. Emphasize relationships
Remember, few things are worth losing a friendship over. Arguments. Musical differences. Power struggles. Who sings the solo. Seriously. We’re not at war with each other, yet this is oh-so-easy to forget. Especially when we’re family. As I lead my worship teams at NCU and Celebration Church, I continually remind myself that we no longer wrestle against flesh and blood (see Ephesians 6:12).
Check it. People are not the enemy. Even the mean ones. No. The devil is forever tempting me to spar with my brothers and sisters, hoping I will remain oblivious to the fact that he is the true foe. He baits me in order to distract me, hoping I’ll believe he is on the other person’s side. Truth is, he’s on his own side and is attempting to kill, steal from, and destroy both of us.
The devil and his spiritual forces in the heavenly realms are the real enemy. They hate that disrespectful team member just as much as they hate us. Then, when we decide to turn our guns on our teammates, not only does it erode team unity, but it gives power to the enemy. It’s when we turn our love toward that person and our guns against the devil that we make great strides toward winning over our ornery teammate.
This reminds me of the time a worship-leader friend was dealing with a condescending team member who was aggravated by the time they were taking for spiritual growth in rehearsal. “It’s like you’re trying to get us to have revival!” he quipped. Hmmm. Wow. These are the moments where Holy Spirit guidance is crucial as we attempt to spark the culture of unity within our teams.
When we show love and patience—even to our most troubled team members—it transforms the way the rest of the team interacts with one another. And of course, if we presume to ask our team members to love each other, we must also learn to love our team members.
4. Celebrate character
A musician’s character is something every leader must champion over and over. The importance of this is nearly impossible to overstate. With the well-intentioned applause given to gifted musicians—coupled with a great void in character reinforcement—we must double down on balancing the scales.
Admittedly, it’s a bit of an uphill battle, but we must emphasize a culture that is as equally committed to advocating for high character as it is to discouraging low character. Unfortunately, musicians and singers are often fooled into believing that their personal worth is derived from talent rather than from who they are in Christ.
Many churches unknowingly—but selfishly and irresponsibly—reinforce this sentiment by turning the other cheek when questions of integrity arise. As a result, they end up prostituting musicians for what they can do while undervaluing the development of who they are. This just cannot be. I saw it over and over again during my seventeen years in Nashville.
I was naïve, to say the least. I assumed everyone on stage at Christian events—singers and musicians alike—was boldly living in harmony with the lyrics of their songs. Yet, so many times, the opposite was evident as we gathered backstage.
There are no Dove Awards or Grammy nominations for high character, of course, which makes capturing the hearts of talented musicians on your team much more complicated. The same happens in our churches. There are no grand trophies for guitarists who quietly spend their early mornings alone in God’s presence. And yet vigorous applause awaits them as they play with pristine tone and vibe.
As leaders, we must remain diligent in searching for ways to celebrate character first. Our team members must never—consciously or unconsciously—walk away from our rehearsals or services believing the primary reason they are loved is because of their skill. This affirms a culture where our team members are encouraged to walk in holiness as well as to sharpen each other in other areas.
The good news? When people participate in a culture that proactively encourages a commitment to godliness, it is often a place where the commitment to increased musicianship resides as well. Win-win.
5. Pick your battles
Confronting conflict is something few relish. But what do you do when you’ve asked your sound engineer to sprinkle a little reverb on your voice and he agrees, but then removes it secretly during the service? You’re going to need an extra allowance of Holy Spirit fortitude here. It’s true.
No one enjoys sending—or receiving— that dreaded text: Hey, can we talk for a minute after rehearsal tonight? Yet, as leaders, we must not shy away from these situations, but step into them with boldness and sincere loving-kindness.
Here are a few recommendations I’ll share concerning conflict resolution.
- Resist the temptation to correct obstinate team members in front of the whole team. Very few folks function well when corrected publicly. Unless harsh rebellion is coming your way, pull the person aside to talk later.
- Never approach a team member from a position of top-down “I’m your boss” authority. Leadership is much more than a title. It’s a mantle of service and facilitation that has been imparted to us from the Lord. Lead humbly out of who He is within you rather than out of who you are. “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.” (1 Peter 5:2–4)
- Pray. Often. Continually ask God to help you in every area as you lead your team. To have the right words. To remain gracious. To remain calm. To help you throw off insecurity. To know when to speak up and when to remain silent. To remember James’ words, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19)
- Be careful with the way you speak. When it comes to tone and language, I highly recommend heeding the words of Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” Speaking softly not only keeps you from going off the anger cliff, but also shows great maturity and restraint. This approach will often win your teammate over as well as gain you much respect from the rest of the team.
- Don’t forget to lead with confidence too. It’s been said by many; “An indecisive leader is a poor leader.” You’ll be faced with making many difficult decisions. Seek the Lord. Weigh the options. Then make a godly decision. Of course, when faced with the “right” decision versus the one you prefer, always—always—go with the right one. God continuously places these types of choices before us to test us, and He will honor integrity every time. Remember, being decisive also means not waiting too long to deal with the Negative Nancys on your team. Sensitivity regarding good timing on these matters ensures you don’t leave your most faithful team members frustrated.
- Big one: Don’t think you need to have all the ideas. In fact, that type of approach will derail your leadership almost instantly. Simply realize that you’re a facilitator of ideas. You have the privilege of unearthing a treasure of creativity from within your teammates with the hope of identifying the best overall path for everyone.
- Fear not. You won’t need to address each and every issue within your team. Listen to the voice of the Spirit and pick your battles. Some problems take care of themselves, while others require varied amounts of attention. By all means, refuse to make big things out of little things, and never make little things out of big things.
Search for and champion greatness in others and hold loosely to your own personal preferences. Always operate with Kingdom urgency while remembering to avoid taking yourself too seriously.
6. Be an empowerer and an encourager
This one came at a price for me. It’s like I had some serious blinders on when it came to the power of encouragement in leadership. I seemed to regularly focus on the negative rather than the positive.
It’s like I was afraid to compliment people for fear that I would give them a big head, or worse, distract them from other important areas that needed work.
Sadly, there was a time when I was known for “the look”—a glance I would shoot scornfully at my band behind my back during musical worship, all with the misguided hope that they would be encouraged to fix that one little musical mistake.
I was ignorant, and it took some loss and pain to finally look in the mirror and make some necessary changes. Who knew? Encouragement is a real thing! John Maxwell’s book Developing the Leader Within You changed my life and my perspective.
Even though it took some time for these encouraging words to emanate from an authentic space in my heart, I became steadfast in adopting a leadership style that motivates people through love rather than through fear. Thankfully, like you, I had a strong desire to be a mentor and a father figure for those under my care. But I didn’t know exactly what that looked like.
Truthfully, I was adverse to the term “father” at first, because I didn’t feel “worthy” of it and because I thought it meant I would be cast to the sidelines as a “non-player.” I believed moving from player to coach was a demotion rather than a promotion, because I didn’t understand that empowering others doesn’t equate to “de-powering” me.
This valiant quote from Scott Hagan has helped me greatly: “Nobody’s success is robbing your potential. There’s plenty of wind in the harbor to sail more than one ship.” That means I’m free. Free to lay down my worry. Free to lay down my competitive, ladder-climbing spirit.
It also means I can boldly speak up for the highly gifted AND the underdog. You never know who might surprise you when you begin to champion things in someone they can’t even see in themselves. God often purposes to use the least likely, knowing they are the most likely to give Him all the glory.
There are many strategies we can highlight in leading a team—probably too many to count—but the one thing we must never forget is that love trumps everything.
Love must become and must remain the foundation for every policy, idea, and strategy we implement. Love must be the motivator for every plan, speech, and project. It must be the filter through which everything flows.
Love is what compels us to work together. Despite the difficulties. Love is what keeps our priorities straight. Despite dangerous temptations to compromise. Love is what ultimately births creativity and unity in the face of our carnality and pride. Love rules.
Of course, there is much misunderstanding of love in leadership especially in an increasingly entitled generation. As always, the enemy turns God’s truths upside down in an attempt to deceive, and he is increasingly effective today in the area of “love.”
Misled, many have come to believe that love is celebrating people as they are, rather than celebrating them as God intends them to be. Many believe love never confronts or corrects. Many believe love overlooks sin rather than opposes it. Many believe love is first and foremost sexual rather than first and foremost relational.
What is love? “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12–13)
Real love lays down its agenda. Real love lays down its rights. Real love lays down its need for superiority. Real love, even at times, de-prioritizes the work of the ministry “out there” for the sake of the team’s long-term health “in here.”
This keeps us grounded and helps us avoid our tendency to step over people to achieve theoretical ministry goals, while embracing this often-forgotten truth: people are the goal. All people.
In the end, our ministry “out there” multiplies greatly in effectiveness when we begin first with our ministry “in here.”
Kingdom love must spark every decision we make as leaders. It must be infused into our vision and mission statements. It must be infused into our rehearsals and sound checks. It must be considered as we construct our service orders and set lists. It must be woven into our schedules and our gatherings.
Love must rule the agenda. Love must rule the house. Love must rule the day. And love always begins with relationships—with God and with people.
Other Worship Leadership Articles:
8 Ground Rules to Run an Effective Worship Rehearsal
8 Things for Your Worship Team to Rehearsal
Your Guide to Smooth Transitions Between Worship Songs
7 Compelling Reasons to Avoid Chasing Culture and Style When Leading Worship
5 Biblical Reasons for Spontaneous Worship in Your Church
4 Great Ways to Take Your Congregation to the Next Level in Worship
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