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Developing a Worship Team
Andy Park


 
The following excerpt, from a longer article written by Andy Park entitled "The Worship Team: Three Paradigm," focuses on how to develop a worship team.


The Importance and Power of Music

Before I launch into a brief discussion of the different elements of a worship group and how to assemble a quality band together, I think it is important that we remind ourselves of the importance and power of music.

One reason we need to take our music seriously is because the world takes their music seriously. We are surrounded by high quality music. Everywhere we go, we hear professional music, whether it’s in a restaurant, an elevator, or our own car or living room. We grow up with an appreciation for well-performed music and we play for people who know good music when they hear it.

Music is powerful. Hearing a certain song can almost transport us into a different reality even though it’s not a Christian song. Why is it that most of us can remember word for word the lyrics of songs we heard years ago? When you add Christian lyrics and the Holy Spirit to the medium of music, you have a powerful package.

Music powerfully impacts people, so we make the most of it. Maybe this is why the psalmist writes "Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy" (Ps. 33:3), and why David recruited three leaders and a worship team of 288 people, all of whom were "trained and skilled in music for the Lord" (I Chron. 25:1-7). David understood the power of worship music skillfully played.

Think about this next time you are rehearsing a worship set. How would you prepare if you were asked to play for a president, prime minister or king of a nation? No doubt you would practice hard because you would want to get it right.

Well, hold a reception for the King of kings once a week. We hold meetings to honor Him and to further His Kingdom in our lives and communities. We offer Him the best of everything we have, including our music. The quality of our music makes a statement which says "Worshipping God is important to us and we’re going to work hard at sounding the best we can." Now, back to the topic at hand, assembling a quality worship team.

Starting from Scratch

No one ever taught me how to lead a worship band. Basically I had no idea what I was doing. I leaned on my intuition and on the skill of the musicians working with me to help me progress in my understanding of arranging. The need for constant trial and error made a slow road even slower. Gradually I learned the basics of what each instrument should do, and a language to go with it. Over the years, my arrangements have become a little more intricate and polished.

In hindsight, it would’ve been nice to have some of the training that is available nowadays. But I also acknowledge that I learned by doing. Sometimes being thrown in the deep end of the pool and told to swim produces great swimmers; it certainly provides the necessary motivation!

So don’t be afraid to learn by doing, even though the earliest steps are sometimes slow and awkward. But you’ll never get anywhere unless you start at square one.

Don't Be Intimidated

Very few of us will ever be professional-caliber musicians. We get into trouble when we compare ourselves with those who have more skill and training. Resist the temptation to be discouraged because there’s a church down the street that has a great band, and you don’t have the players to match their abilities. Be content with what God has given you and with the people He has put around you in music ministry. God grants differing amounts of gifts and talents; He distributes gifts as He chooses (1 Cor. 12:7ff).

We can’t change our background and level of gifting, but if we invest every talent we have, God will be pleased and we’ll earn a great reward in heaven. So make your rehearsals count and use all the resources available to you.

Be courageous! Step out and take some risks, and don’t be ruled by the fear of failure. I could fill books with accounts of all the mistakes I’ve made. But one thing I’ve learned is that if I never venture out into uncharted wares, I’m not really trusting God. Play with all your heart and stay in it for the long haul. Then you’ll see fruit.

Don't Use Spiritual Excuses

Years ago there used to be a slogan for the Macintosh computer: Easy is Hard. What the ad was trying to communicate is that it is hard to make something complicated look easy. It is the same with leading worship. People watch an Eddie Espinosa or a Randy Butler and think, "I can do that. It doesn’t look so hard." They have no idea.

Others think that good worship leaders never practice but simply "flow with the Spirit." The truth is, it’s easier to respond to the Spirit’s direction if you are prepared musically. It’s pretty discouraging when the band doesn’t know the right chords or words to a song. If all I ever did was "flow" in worship, there would be a lot of mistakes that would detract from the band’s ability to worship from the heart.

Take Small Steps

For some of us, raising the quality of our performance may mean simply providing lead sheets for the musicians so everyone has a road map. For others, it may mean analyzing the parts of each instrument on a worship tape and taking time to emulate the basic sounds and rhythm patterns. And for some, it may mean taking vocal lessons or having separate rehearsals for the vocalists.

A helpful resource to give you some of the basics of arranging for a worship team is the videotape "Worship Team Dynamics" by Randy and Terry Butler, which is available from Vineyard Music Group.

The Nuts and Bolts of Rehearsal

For a rehearsal to be productive, the band members have to show up on time and be ready to work. They should be quick to take instructions from the leader, experiment with new ideas, and then rework the arrangements until they’re ready. This involves multiple repetition of small sections of each song until everyone is together.

Make no mistake about it, good rehearsals are hard work. It requires intense focus and a spirit of cooperation. Everyone has to push through when things aren’t coming together. Then there’s the need for required patience when a band member can’t get his part and everyone else has to review the section several times for his sake. This is all part of being a team.

The Audition Process

Before I came to the Anaheim Vineyard, I never needed to hold a formal audition. The churches I had been in were always small enough to evaluate the ability of musicians in informal tryouts. But the Anaheim Vineyard is so big that I knew there had to be a lot of musicians hiding in the woodwork. Thus I started auditions so that musicians must compete for available openings.

At first, I dreaded holding auditions because I knew I would have to tell some people "no." But unless I held the audition, I would never have known who the musicians were and what their skill level was.

This can be a tough issue in church life because one of our values is to include everyone. But if we are going to put our best foot forward in facilitating congregational worship, it follows that we should use our best musicians (musical skill isn’t the only criteria in choosing musicians; godly character and commitment to the overall vision of the church are also big factors).

A worship band is different from a church choir in this respect: in a choir, there is room for as many people as can sing reasonably well. In a band, there are only a handful of positions available. Raising up multiple bands includes more people, but a basic skill requirement must be met. This standard is different depending on the size of the church and the caliber of the available musicians.

When adding new members to my teams, I always have a trial period. My first step may be to invite them to fill in for someone who’s on vacation (this can take the place of an audition). If I am pretty sure that someone is right for my team, I won’t give them a permanent appointment; instead, I’ll invite them to join for a period of three months. I explain that either of us can opt out at the end of that three months. The reasons for discontinuing involvement would be musical or personality incompatibility, or an inability to fulfill one’s commitment to the team (showing up for rehearsals, etc.) .

The Problem with
Over-emphasizing Musical Skill

The purpose of playing skillfully is to lift the level of worship for the whole church. And yet for some, developing further in their musical skill becomes the goal itself rather than a means to an end.

I’ve made the mistake of pouring so much energy into rehearsal that I’m too anxious and tired to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. On one occasion, I was leading worship at a pastor’s conference. I rehearsed the band on my prepared set of songs and felt we were ready to make a good presentation. After the first song, the thought went through my mind, "Maybe you should do something different than what you had planned."

I didn’t stop long enough to figure out if that was God talking to me because I was determined to perform the songs I had rehearsed! In that fleeting moment I couldn’t imagine that God would want me to abandon my plans, but I didn’t take time to let Him confirm that.

In hindsight, I think it was God talking to me, because the pastors weren’t deeply engaged in worship. I think if I had changed the course to include more "oldies" they would have entered into worship more easily.

Conclusion

First and foremost we are worship leaders, not performers. If God is leading us to turn left where we had planned to turn right, we should be quick to respond to His urgings. He knows much better than we do what the best song choices are for any given moment in a worship service.

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