Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship
How to Build a Healthy Worship Team
Don't be discouraged by the amount of material I?m going to share with you. Unlike some of you, I put most of my time and energy into implementing worship. Hopefully you can pick up some principles and begin to take baby steps toward implementing some of the specific ideas. So don?t be overwhelmed! I?ll just give you a big bucket full of stuff and allow you to pick out the things that will be useful to you.
Although my job is in the student ministry, I am involved on the adult side in my church as well and have a good handle on what we are doing there. Since the process for our adult and student worship teams are very similar, I?ve tried to put together a process that you can use cross platform in your church.
First Things First
A conviction that drives all I do is this:
The worship of God needs to be primary.
I believe that with all my heart. Every other thing that I do must take a secondary role to that truth. So if there's a step in the process of developing a worship team that detracts from the worship of God, I want to abandon that immediately. And I would give the same piece of encouragement to you as well concerning what I say in this article. If I say anything that won?t augment or amplify your body?s worship of God, don?t do it. Don?t implement something just because you heard it from my mouth. If it detracts from the worship of God, abandon it. Keep that as a primary value.
Building a Worship Team
In reflecting on how we choose members of our team and what I?d recommend to others, I?ve come up with a six-step process. But before you begin the process, you must first establish your qualifications or standards.
What kinds of things will you expect from the people who are on our team? Make that first and foremost.
When I came to Christ Community Church three years ago, before I contacted anyone about joining the worship team, I asked God, "What do you want the people on this team to be about?" I wanted to establish those qualifications and standards and to hold them high. I wanted them to understand our expectations of them.
I think I can say with certainty that God has communicated to me what our team needs to be about. You may have standards already set for your ministry teams that would apply to the worship team as well. However you go about it, decide what you're going to expect from your team members.
Additionally, decide immediately whether or not you will allow lost people to be a part of your worship team. People ask me this question all the time. Wrestle through it and pray through it. Ask, "Is our worship team an avenue for lost people to get involved in our ministry?" In our ministry students come in all the time and say "I play guitar; I'd love to get involved." Do you want to have students on your worship team in front of your student body, saying "Let's worship God!" and not be believers?
Step 1 - The Application
So now we get to the process. First I give them an application to fill out. Now this is a cumbersome step and this is not something that we like very much. But I think it?s important to be able to spell out your expectations on paper. This helps them to see both where you are going and what it will take to get there.
Tell them, "If you're interested in joining, here are the steps we're going to take to see whether you're going to be a part of this team." I think those things are imperative for all of your teams, not just for your worship team. I was talking with a guy yesterday about this. He said,
"I'm glad you said this because I get so tired of having to fill out applications for my children when they want to join a soccer team or some kind of extra-curricular activity team, but when it comes to the church they just get to do it without any kind of application process. The result is that the church doesn?t get the same commitment level because it doesn't appear to require the same same commitment level, since in their extra curricular activities they've needed to give references, all this kind of stuff, but in the church they just get to come in and out without much accountability."
An application process is a great way to say, "If you're serious about this, we want you to follow these specific steps." I don't know why, but for some reason, people in general hate to fill out applications. It's a mystery to me, but students ask me all the time if they can be involved. But once I give them an application, I never hear from them again. I don't know whether it's fair or not, but I take that as indicative that they're not really serious about being involved. I say that if you're serious enough to plug into this, you're going to take the steps necessary. If your desire is really strong, you?ll take the time to fill out a simple application. I don't want to have someone on the team who's wishy-washy. I look at their failure to fill out the application as indicative of their commitment level.
At www.Sonlife.com you?ll find a section with examples of ministry team applications. They have a banner under the heading of "ARTICLES." These will give you ideas of things you can model your own application after.
Step 2 ? Initial Interview
Second, I do an initial interview. This is easily my favorite part. I try to do this very low-key. I just want to get to know the student. It?s not a major audition where people must come in and wow me with their ability. It's simply my chance to get to know people on a general basis. And even if you have a smaller ministry, think of it as a great one on one opportunity. While they may try to impress you with their written application, I see a different side of them when they talk with me personally. I place a high value on people verbalizing their faith story. Since they are potential leaders, I want to know if they can verbalize their faith to others. In the interview I also try to feel out whether or not they're comfortable with me and if they?ll allow me to lead them.
Step 3 ? Personal Audition
Third, I do an audition where I actually hear them play their instruments or sing. I won?t get too specific here, since I?m trying keep things as general as I can.
Step 4 ? Live Audition
Fourth, I do a "live audition." And this is where I kind of throw people into the fire. I have two approaches to this. The first one is the safest one where have them show up and to be a part of a rehearsal. Perhaps I?ve got a female vocalist and I say, "We're rehearsing for our event; why don't you come and sing with us?" While the rest of the band rehearses, she gets plugged in and gets to be a part of the rehearsal. In that way I get an idea of what kind of giftedness she has.
For the really brave I just throw them right into the middle of an event. I?ll say, "Ok, we've got a middle school outreach on this night. Why don't you come out and sing with us?" It?s not a rehearsal time; it?s an event! I do it to let them be in front of people, be a part of the team, to see them in a live setting and let them experience it.
You learn some great things in this step. I know it seems scary and very risky, but you get to see great things happen here. It's hugely revealing. You can end up seeing whether a person feels super uncomfortable or extremely nervous. We have this one girl in our high school ministry who's been singing for a while, but every time she gets up in a live situation, it's visible that she's super nervous and uncomfortable. She doesn?t know what to do with her hands. She's crossing them and putting them in her pockets and her weight is all shifting from one foot to the next and she's nervously scanning the room to see who's seeing her and noticing that she's super nervous.
Putting a person in a live situation helps you to address those issues early rather than waiting till a person?s already committed to the team and then you put her on stage and find that she?s so nervous that she can?t handle it. You also want to discover which instrumentalists can't follow music or keep stopping in the middle of songs. Others are too cocky, too comfortable and too self-promoting. Getting them up in front gives you the chance to see those kinds of things and to address those issues.
Should you decide to do these live auditions, make it clear that asking them to do one isn?t a commitment to them. It doesn?t mean they?re on the team. It?s just one more step in the process. We?re still evaluating whether or not this is the right ministry for them.
You may wonder, "Won?t a live audition potentially mess up the worship?" Here?s how we?ve pulled this off in a couple of instances. In our middle school ministry a student wanted to play Bass, so we asked him to do a live audition but kept the regular bass player on the stage as well. Our regular Bass player was audible and was obviously carrying the weight of his part. The new guy was really playing and could hear himself through the monitors, but he wasn?t amplified in the main speakers so that he wasn?t at all carrying the part. So if he were to play poorly, the meeting wouldn?t wreck because of him.
I've used vocalists before who are only in the monitor mix but are not heard by the audience. They don't know; but they?re still there and doing it. I've had acoustic guitar players who were sawing away, but weren?t plugged in. But they're up there and they're in the context and they have to follow through. They can't stop. It's not a rehearsal. They have to keep doing it.
Letting them be a part of the live experience reveals some great things. I know it takes some bravery as well; but if you don't place too much responsibility on those players, the whole thing won?t be a wash if they can't pull their weight.
Step 5 ? Follow-up Interview
Fifth, following the live audition, I do another follow-up interview. Most of the time this is done on the telephone. I call the person a couple days after his or her audition and ask questions like: "How did it feel? Was it fun? Did you enjoy it? How do you think you did? Did it meet your expectations? Was this what you thought it would be?"
The key to us as leaders is that we need to make sure we're not giving them our impression first. We need to be able to get from them what they think. And we need to be matching up their assessment with ours. Because if we immediately say "Hey, I wanted to call and talk about what you did last night. You weren?t very good." then you can forget about getting any honest assessment from them. You've just shot them down. As leaders we're gifted enough to know how to ask leading questions that give us the answers we want. So allow them to answer. Allow them to ask you questions, so you can try to figure out whether that assessment can match up with yours.
Step 6 - The Covenant
Sixth, if I take a student through these stages and decide that I want her to be a part of the team, I present her with a covenant. Essentially, it?s a contract where I spell out our expectations and standards and ask the students to commit to them. The covenant also tells some of the things we will be doing as a team, where we are heading, and what their responsibilities will be. I take this very, very seriously and I challenge you to as well. I look at a signature on that covenant as symbolic of a couple of different things.
1) They're agreeing to those expectations and standards. They understand them, are committed to uphold them and to be that kind of person.
2) They?re agreeing to submit to my authority as leader of the team. Now that's a tough one. So make sure that they understand this when they?re signing it. In a sense, I will be their shepherd.
3) They?re committing to do this as a service to the Lord. Ultimately, they are subject to His authority in this service opportunity. I take this very seriously. And I tell them not to sign it unless they take it with equal seriousness.
So that?s the process we work through. And this isn?t just with the youth ministry. It's pretty much the way that adult worship team acquires new members as well.
Leading the Team
I want to share a couple of heart issues that God has given me a passion about and taught me about over the last three years of leading the team. These aren't in any particular order of importance.
First, if your team is going to be a healthy worship team, it must be a praying worship team - and I mean praying together. One practical benefit is that a team that prays together has a harder time getting into conflicts. Since we've got 8 to 10 high schools represented in our high school ministry, some of my team members don?t see each other very much. And we know the conflicts that can erupt between schools, like the sophomore school feuds that break out every couple of months or so. So one night I may notice that two of my girls don?t look happy with each other. I have them hold hands in prayer. I make sure that they're beside each other and that I'm doing everything that I can to eliminate that disunity. I look at prayer as an opportunity to eliminate some of that conflict.
A second practical truth, which may be the biggest thing on my heart that God is teaching me, is that just because the team plays or sings well does not mean that the group will worship well. Getting all of your notes right doesn't automatically summon people into God's presence, nor does it pave the way for the Spirit to fill the room. I fear that as worship teams and as members of those teams we spend our time praying, "God, help this go well." And that's it. And our mentality, even if it's unspoken, even if it's subconscious, is that if we play and sing well, worship will happen. Friends, it's so much bigger than that.
Unless we can teach our teams the desperate need that we have to beg God to actually lead our worship, to actually be the one to make worship happen, then we're going to raise up people who are depending on their own selves, their own skills, and their own excellence to make worship happen. And that's scary to me.
I can remember many times when, as a band, we were smoking - playing better than we?ve ever done. Yet, when we leave the stage, we recognize that nothing significant happened at all. I can also remember a time at a retreat when this little old woman played this nasty attitude piano. She wasn't even a decent singer, but God met us in intimate ways. It had nothing to do with ability. It had nothing to do with skill. A big part of my heart is to communicate and model a desperate dependence on God to be the worship leader. Sure, we want to do well so that we don?t distract people from worshiping. We don't want to blare out crummy notes, but we want to err on the side of saying "God come and do this. Our ability to do well or how well we perform is irrelevant. Come and lead us."
I believe that worship does happen even when our teams or our leaders don't ask God to come and to bless that time and to lead it. That?s just because he's God. It's grace. And because he is all about seeing himself exalted and lifted up in worship. But I don't want to bank on that. I don't want to approach worship as a time to say "Let's just do whatever we're going to do. God will make worship happen no matter what."
In sum, if our teams are going to be healthy and effective worship teams, we've got to be praying teams. I don't know if this is extreme or not, but I really look at this "depend on your abilities" mindset as heretical. I would say it's borderline heresy to not be dependent upon God to lead worship. When the confidence is placed in our own selves, even if it's unintentional, I look at that as heresy. To trust in my own self?now that's dangerous.
The third encouragement that I would give as a leader of a team is to do your best to try to encourage and to incorporate different ways of worshiping God above and beyond music. The Church with a capital C is not super gifted in this area. I think we're still trying to figure out how to do that. And it's not easy. And I can say that I'm not very good at it. But I'm still learning how to do that as well.
This kind of a mentality and approach can really help the team leader who's not a musician. Because I hear people ask me all the time, "I'm a youth pastor, I'm in a small little church. I don't play guitar. I don't sing. How can we worship?" Those questions indicate a concept of worship that?s too narrow.
Your ability as a musician or the ability of your team as musicians is not indicative of what your level of worship will be. That's too narrow. We've got to be able as a team to recognize true worship and model it for our flock and for our body. Worship is a lot more than just music. Worship happens in a bunch of different ways.
Unfortunately most church attendees believe that worship in our services is the time when music happens and the rest of the service falls into another nebulous category. It's something else. Our printed church program even leads people astray in this area. Our church program may read:
It's all categorized, instead of presenting the entire time as a worship service and looking at it all as a worship experience. During a service, someone will say, "Let?s stand and worship." The implication is that afterwards we should turn our worship meters off and prepare to hear the message. Our bulletins and our programs continue to perpetuate that mindset. And I must apologize that I?ve fallen into this in leading worship. I've said, "Would you stand and worship together." And then, a few minutes later, "Thank you for worshipping; take your seats." I'm sorry. But we've gotten into this rut of thinking that music is the worship time and everything else is not.
So we need to teach our body to look at the entire service as a potential worship experience. And we also need to incorporate and to celebrate other experiences that can help us to worship God. This is one of the reasons that we put the words to our "performance" songs up on the screens. We hope that the words and imagery conjure up within the audience the desire to worship. By seeing the words the listeners can say in their hearts, "Yes, God, speak to me as well."
Although we don't utilize dance very much in our ministries, we?ve seen powerful worship happen through it. Also drama and poetry readings can inspire worship. Because of this, we should incorporate people on our teams who are not music people. Pull in those who will challenge you to think outside of the box concerning worship. Their presence will help your team be healthier and produce healthier worshippers.
We must get away from looking at music as THE worship medium. And I can think of nothing greater than for us to begin to experience in our churches ways of looking at everyday moments in life as worship experiences. I think one of the reasons that we as followers of Christ have a difficult time visualizing worship as a lifestyle is because we think of it as solely music as opposed to grasping everyday moments and turning those into worship experiences. If we can begin to help our team to see that and then to help our body to see that, potentially the whole body of Christ can turn into a worship lifestyle community. That's my dream. So let's continue to encourage our teams and our bodies to seek worshipping God above and beyond music.
Next I think it's of utmost importance to understand and recognize the differences in personalities among us. Some of you have taken personality tests like D.I.S.C., or something similar. One of the most difficult things for me as a worship leader and as a leader of teams has been the fact that my particular personality is an enigma, a mystery to most people. That high "C" (Note: This temperament wants rightness, quality and accuracy, paying lots of attention to details and standards) melancholy, artistic personality is a big, confusing world for most people. If you have a strong "D" personality (Note: This temperament wants results, to accomplish much, and may be a visionary who challenges the status quo) you?ll have potentially the most difficult time understanding my personality. And if you're going to play an integral part in building these worship teams, working alongside artsy people who are going to help facilitate and enhance worship, you must wrestle with and begin to understand this personality.
I can tell you from personal experience: the last two people that I've worked underneath were completely baffled by me. And I think that they had no idea how to approach me and my personality. And so our working relationship had to continually morph and to grow; but they had to continue to understand, and I guess, so did I.
I have that artistic, moody, feeler kind of temperament and personality. My leaders have to wrestle with that. How do I deal with this? I encourage them to read a book entitled the Heart of the Artist. It?s the best book that I've found to help leaders understand the artistic personality. The author is Rory Noland, music director at Willow Creek Community Church. He is an artist with a "C" personality who?s able to say, "church leaders, this is what we're like; this is who we are." And he gives ideas on how to encourage us, how to set us free, how to push and challenge us, how to equip us, how to challenge us about sin, how to help us wrestle through with our perfectionism. I?m a huge advocate of this book and have led people through it a number of times. I've copied chapters out of this for my bosses and urged them, "Please read this. I think it's going to give you a picture of me. I think you can begin to understand the way that I am."
I believe that if we can begin to wrestle through the personality stuff, we save two things. First, it saves you as a leader the confusion, the bewilderment, the baffledness of wondering why these artsy people act the way they do. Why are they so moody? Why are they so often led by the heart rather than the mind? Why do they dress the way they do? So, from the leader?s perspective, it can help you understand how artists are wired.
Secondly it can save those artists that you work with the heartache and the hurt feelings and the beat-up self-esteem that you as a leader can unintentionally give them. Although you don?t intend it to come across this way, they interpret it that way because of their personalities. So, you begin to learn how to interact. How can I give this criticism? How do I challenge and encourage without having it being interpreted the wrong way? It's a great book. The best place to get it is through Amazon.com.
Next, we need to learn how to accept imperfection. I?m a perfectionist and have no tolerance for things being anything less than perfect. Although this is mostly for myself, it translates for my team as well. And this has been very, very hard for me.
When I came into Christ Community Church, I inherited a pretty good self-led worship team that was all students. Having a big student base was great. But what I had to swallow and swallow hard was they were not very good at all. So I've got a great bunch of teens that say I want to be a part but they're crummy. What do I do with that?
For the longest time I wrestled and struggled through this whole accepting imperfection thing. I was pushing hard, pushing hard. Part of my job was to develop them and help them get better. That's what I'm supposed to be about. I'm supposed to help them get better, play better, etc. And what I had to eventually wrestle through and just accept was that yes, my job was to help them get better.
Yet, getting better at music was not their main need. I had to accept and embrace that my job was to develop them as people first and foremost. I had to have a heart to see these students grow.
Now some of that was going to immediately translate into getting better as musicians or getting better as singers. But in a lot of cases it didn't translate immediately.
I've been giving Bass lessons to a guy for about 6 months now. And he's bad. And we've been in a spot where he's just had to get up and play because we've had no one else. And we've just been plodding through. I've been praying, "God help me to accept what's going on." But what I can tell you for sure is that the guy is more committed than he's ever been to our ministry. He's a senior, and at a time when seniors are normally checking out, he's more excited about being plugged in then ever before. I don't think it's because of taking Bass lessons. But I think it's because someone is really developing him. Someone is willing to pour into him. What he's experiencing is "Man! This is happening to me and I love it."
The result is that now he's excited about being able to share with others what he's learning, to share how he's grown. My guess is that he?ll go away to college and will not be asked to play Bass at any groups. But he will leave our ministry a better person than he was a year ago. And I thank God for that. He may never be a Bass player or any kind of musician. And three years ago I would have considered myself a failure. But now I recognize that my job is first and foremost to develop people. That goal may not immediately benefit my ministry. It?s not for me. So I no longer exclusively ask, "How can I make you better so that you will play on my worship team and make my worship team better?" That goal?s for me. Instead we?ve got to set our eyes on how to develop other people.
Every time I tell this story I get so excited and emotional that I choke up. When I got to my present church there was this kid in the 8th grade named Neal. They said "yeah, this kid is a drummer, but he hasn't been playing much the last couple years. We really want to get him plugged in." I said, "That'd be great!" So I said, "Hey, why don't you come out?" And I gave him a rehearsal tape about 2 months in advance. I said, "Learn this song and we'll get together."
So the time came to get together and I started the song. About 30 seconds into it I stopped it and I said, "Did I give you the right tape?" He said, "yes." I said, "I was just wondering, because it wasn't sounding right at first." So we started over. About 30 seconds into the song it was so awful that I stopped it and said, "Hold on. We've got to work on this."
During the hour and a half rehearsal we didn?t get past the first chorus of the song. We had to cut the song and work on other things. And this kept happening for about two months. Every time this guy was supposed to play he was just pitiful and we were cutting songs all the time. I thought, "We just can't do this; we've got to try something else. What can we do?" So I developed signals to use in the middle of worship to tell him to stop playing. He was playing about one fourth of the time when we were doing worship.
That was about three years ago. Today I can tell you with everything inside of me that if I could pick any drummer on the face of the earth to play for me, Neal would be in the top two. And it's not because Neal is amazing. He's not. It's because Neal would die for me. It?s because Neal has developed more and more over the past couple years so that he now sees his drumming as worship. Neal has developed from this little immature Ritalin kid into a 16-year-old immature Ritalin kid who loves God with all his heart.
Sure, he's gotten better as a drummer, but when I talk with his parents they say "Neal's growing up and Neal's loving God." I don't think his parents would be as thrilled if they could say, "Neal's the best drummer in our student ministry." They are thrilled to death that Neal loves God.
It's all about developing students; it's not about developing musicians.
If you can't love on students and develop them as people, find someone else who will do it. Find someone who loves them, accepts their imperfections and sees as their primary desire to help them grow.
The other thing is to realize that, especially in a student context, students are so forgiving of each other, much more so than they forgive us as leaders. When our staff do something on the stage, as opposed to lay people, they are much less forgiving. Would you agree?
I recall one time when we had a girl sing for the first time in our student ministry. I was standing beside her and students said to her, "You did such a great job. You did incredible." And almost in the same breath, they'd turn to me and say, "Troy, it was so funny when you forgot that word. We all started laughing like crazy!"
I remember thinking, "What are you talking about? What word?" They're so forgiving of each other and our people are so forgiving of our volunteers being involved and we need to do the same thing. What encourages them, what encourages our students and encourages our people is to see people just like them involved in our team.
Troy Hatfield ministers at Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Illinois. This article was transcribed and edited from a tape of his seminar at Sonlife?s Discipleship Conference in Denver, Colorado in January of 2001.
Copyright 2001 by Troy Hatfield. Used by permission.