So you’re a leader and you know musical worship is important. But you aren’t sure how to coach your worship team towards greatness. Where do you even start? Is it all about preference, what’s cool, or top 40 worship songs? Maybe you should just leave the worship stuff to the musicians. How can you speak into your musical worship so it becomes a vital part of pushing your ministry or movement forward? Here are seven signs of a healthy worship team that even a tone deaf leader can evaluate.
Engagement – How far back from the first few rows do you see the crowd engaging in worship? How loud is the volume of the congregation/crowd singing? If the people are “worship zombies” just standing there, watching with their mouths ajar instead of singing, then something is off. It could be that they need to be given permission and encouraged to engage in worship. It could be that the songs are unfamiliar or in a key too high for untrained people to sing. Maybe the vocals are sung too ornamentally and are hard to follow or everyone on stage has their head in their charts instead of demonstrating what it means to engage. Or maybe you are trying to take them to a deeper level of worship before they have had the chance to get their hearts ready. There are lots of things it could be, but the level of engagement is an easy indicator to evaluate.
Unity – Is the team resolving conflict in a healthy way and moving towards each other in love, or are there a lot of hurt feelings and bad attitudes festering? Jesus commands us to leave our sacrifice at the altar if we know our brother has something against us. Go and be reconciled first, He says, before we continue our worship. It is that important to Him. The apostle John says we cannot really love God whom we have not seen if we don’t love our brother whom we have seen. Let’s not kid ourselves. We can’t pretend to be in love with God when we allow conflict and division to be the norm. A passion for loving others is the fruit of anyone who is truly meeting with Jesus in worship.
Quality People – Are you able to attract and keep quality people? When things are done responsibly and with excellence and care, it attracts people who value those things. It doesn’t take long for a punctual person to throw up their hands and walk away if everyone is constantly late to rehearsal. In the same way, people who have invested a lot of time and effort to develop their talent tend to want to use them in a place where excellence is valued.
Lack of Distractions – Do you have a culture that works hard to prevent mistakes that would distract people from meeting with Jesus? A commitment to excellence is not an obsession with perfection. It means that you work hard to remove distractions by checking (and sometimes double checking) your work, running through problem areas like transitions between songs to make sure they will go smoothly, and creating a culture where people are used to receiving feedback that will make what they do better. Of course, there will be mistakes and we should cultivate an environment of grace as well as excellence. But the bottom line question is, “Did you do all you knew to do to prevent a mistake from happening?” If yes, then it just happened. No big deal. Let’s learn and move on.
The Gospel on Display – If you think about the content of the songs you sing, the words you say, and the moments you create during worship, are you telling the whole story of the gospel? If your worship leaders have been personally gripped by the Gospel, many times it will naturally come through in their worship choices as well as in their private lives. But more often than not, unless we are intentional, our worship gravitates towards songs we like and only the aspects of the gospel that most resonate with us at any given time. But celebrating God’s majesty and holiness, crying out because of our sin and need for forgiveness and grace, marveling at God’s provision of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only way to the Father, and declaring our commitment to follow Him and surrender our lives to Him, are all aspects of this amazing story we call the Gospel. Over time, all of these aspects should be seen through our public worship. Not only that, the effects of the Gospel should be on display off the stage in the lives of the people leading in worship.
Prayer – Does your team make prayer a priority before, during, and after leading worship? Worship is a spiritual activity that is spiritually accomplished. Without God’s spirit we are just making noise. Prayer characterizes people who understand that Christ is the only mediator between us and the Father and that the Spirit must be at work to translate our praises to the Father and open our minds and hearts to receive His light and life. On the flip side, if we think it’s all on us to make worship great or “lead people to the throne,” we are in trouble. It can lead to crippling anxiety if we think it is all on our shoulders or careless overconfidence if we think we’re so awesome that all we have to do is show up and play for the Spirit to move.
Sustainability – Is musical worship a vital and strategic part of your overall ministry or is it an add on or afterthought? Putting together quality musical worship can be a lot of hard work, even for the most talented people. It’s wise to recognize the contributions of the people who are working on worship by taking steps to give them the time, resources, and support they need. It is easy, when someone is capable and spiritually mature, to want them to lead in lots of areas. Resist this! If you want healthy worship, it takes time and effort. Give your worship team people permission to say no to serving in other ways, so they won’t burn out and so they can do a great job. And just like any other part of your ministry, you should have a plan for multiplication. Be intentional about gathering and training up more worship leaders. Your current worship leaders will need to or want to step down someday. Maybe they will need a break or it will become clear that it’s better for them to serve the ministry in a different way. (Having worship leaders change roles to lead in different parts of the ministry will be more natural if they already see themselves as part of the strategic whole.) Either way, the only way to combat inevitable change is with intentional change. Have a plan for multiplying your worship leaders!