Being an Effective Worship Team Member

About a year ago I was asked to speak at an inter-church worship team training/day seminar as one of the guest speakers. The event was organised around a key note session and then breakout groups for each instrument. I had been asked to speak to the bass players breakout group about what worship is and how those who serve the church as part of a worship team can do so effectively. I was then to offer some more specific tips to bass players about their particular role in the overall team (which I may include in a later post). While I was honoured to be asked, I unfortunately was unable to make it to the event, however I had already penned some thoughts which until now have remained unused. I thought I’d post them here and I pray they are helpful to someone.

General Principles/Thoughts

1. How do musicians prepare for worship sessions and practice?

I think we [I] need to get better at remembering – as in REALLY remembering whom we worship and why we worship, and THEN we can consider how we should prepare for worship.

We know that it is God alone who is worthy of our worship – He is eternal, all knowing, all powerful, always good, ever present, and always faithful. There is no other like our God (Isaiah 44:6-8);

“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (ESV)

God is a jealous God, not because He ‘needs’ our attention but because He knows that when He is our highest treasure, we receive that which is best for us, which is more of Himself. Since knowing God more intimately and walking the path He has called us to is the best goal we can have in this life and because He is the only true God, we should worship Him alone (Exodus 20:2-6):

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God… (Exodus 20:2-6 ESV)

We are told to worship Him and to do so joyfully, for He is our creator, provider, leader, protector and saviour:

Psalm 95 – Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. (ESV)

So what does this look like? What does worship really mean for us & how should we prepare for it and prepare to lead others in it?

Worship is giving worth to something.  The difference between worshiping God and worshiping other people or things is that God is already worthy of greater worship than we as humans can possibly give. With all other things that people worship, their level of importance is a direct result of the value people place on them, though they are not necessarily of worship-worthy value in and of themselves. With God though, we have the most valuable being in existence and our worship involves giving Him the honour, praise, thanks, love and obedience that He already deserves. Therefore as Christians it is both a command and a choice, a duty and a delight for us to worship him and we need to remember all of this when we meet together for worship.

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the LORD in the splendour of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! (Psalm 96:7-9 ESV)

When we as worshiping beings realize that we have the thing of ultimate value, that we have relationship with this God of the universe, our lives change – they have to (once we see the splendour of his holiness and tremble before his throne)! It’s like the man who found treasure buried in a field and went and sold all he had to buy that field. He went from being a man searching, digging in the dust, seeking for something worthwhile to a land owner who discovered the greatest prize he could imagine and responded with his thoughts, actions, time and money because he saw the true value of the treasure, and it changed his life. When we come to lead others in worship – we need to prepare our hearts – we are not simply drawing attention to ourselves by standing on a platform, we are not seeking to play impressive solos so people will admire our skills, we are not just playing at yet another service and potentially suffering through songs we don’t like simply because the worship leader has poor taste. We are privileged to be leading people into a time and space in which they can publicly and corporately celebrate, praise and honour the God of the universe. That is a big responsibility and privilege.

The Psalms tell us to worship in song, with instruments and with singing, but the New Testament also tells us that we are to worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:24 – God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (ESV)

Philippians 3:3 – For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh… (ESV) Romans 12 tells us what this ‘spiritual worship’ means for us:

Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (ESV)

So, relying on God’s mercy, which makes access to His throne room possible [even though all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)], we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices. We are to use our physical bodies as tools to worship God rather than to gratify our earthly desires (eg. pride, attention-seeking, compliment seeking, wealth, comfort etc.) We are to sacrifice our time, energy, thoughts and actions and commit to worshiping God on Sundays through song and in our daily lives as disciples of Jesus. We are also to present ourselves as holy and acceptable to God. Granted none of us will achieve perfection in this life (Philippians 3:12), but we should seek to persevere and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), to fight the good fight of faith and to be obedient servants of the living and Holy God, submitting our wills to His word (1 Timothy 6:11-16). We are not better than those we serve, but when we lead others in worship we are in a position of leadership, so we should be seeking to set the example in these things. If we are not allowing God to sanctify us by spending time in His word, remaining accountable in our thoughts and actions, obeying his commands and loving those around us we should repent and ask for forgiveness, wisdom and strength to walk in a way that brings honour to His name.

It is important to note that we don’t have to wait until we have it all together to serve God or to serve in His house. Jesus’ death meant the temple curtain was torn in two and we now have free access to come to God despite our imperfections, however God loves us too much to leave us as we are. As Christians and as leaders in worship teams we should be seeking to live a life ‘worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory’ (Philippians 1:27, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonains 2:12).

The biggest dangers I see for worship musicians are pride and burnout or ‘going through the motions’.

Pride because you’re out the front. You’re a leader. You’re on a stage. You’re influencing the flow of the service. You’re being seen and heard by large groups of people.

Combatting Pride: always try to attend (or organise, if your church doesn’t have one already) a pre-service prayer meeting after the rehearsal but before the service begins. This is a great time to do a heart-check – would you be as happy in your role in the worship team if you were playing/singing from a different room and could not be seen by the congregation?

Matthew 6:6 talks about praying in private so as to not be focused on what others think of us because we think we look extra-spiritual. Similarly when we worship, we should ask God to make us transparent and help us to get out of the way (in terms of not drawing attention to ourselves or our skills) so that He might be the focus of people’s attention and their worship, rather than the quality of the music.

In terms of burnout – because church services happen often more than once a week (morning and night) every week of the year – it can be easy, especially if you have a small team, to get tired or to feel sorry for yourself regarding your time commitments, as the extra time required for setup, practice and pack-up can wear thin if you feel you are playing all the time. If this is the case, perhaps assess why and if you are really struggling to cope, ask to only play fortnightly or to take a break for a few weeks on the next roster. Ultimately, God wants us to serve him wholeheartedly not half-heartedly or begrudgingly. The Lord loves a cheerful giver when it comes to tithes and offerings (2 Corinthians 9:7) and I think the same is true when it comes to serving in the worship team. This doesn’t mean we always have to have had the best week of our lives and have super amounts of energy in the natural, instead it often means surrendering our feelings and emotions to God and asking Him to work powerfully in us, as His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). So again, prayer before a rehearsal and a service, perhaps even in the car on the way to church can be pivotal in terms of setting our minds and hearts on the things of the Spirit instead of our natural circumstances.

If necessary, taking a step back for a short break from the constancy of the music roster by asking for some time off can be wise and can allow extra time for prayer, renewal and much needed refreshing which can help prevent staleness, and a sense of duty overshadowing your delight in worshiping God. If on the other hand the constancy of the church routine has led to a sense of boredom or just going through the motions, it could be because your view of God is too small. We are to magnify God (Psalm 34:3, Psalm 69:30), but as John Piper says, we should magnify him like a telescope, NOT a microscope. Microscopes make tiny things seem bigger. Telescopes take huge things and make them easier for humans to admire. God is not a small, boring add-on to our weekend that requires effort on our part to make him seem big so that we feel it makes sense to worship Him. If you’re going to church to go through the motions it could be because you’re seeing God as smaller than he is and therefore your adoration for him has been weakened. When we see God for who He truly is then boredom and staleness go out the window. Try reading the accounts of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9 or Isaiah’s vision of God in Isaiah 6 or John falling at Jesus’ feet in Revelation 1:9-20. Why do you think these men were so awestruck when they came face to face with a Holy God? Why aren’t you? You may need to spend more time in God’s word, reading it like a child and marveling again at who He is and what He has done for us.

The Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). God is not a weekend novelty we can pick up on Sunday’s to help us feel like we’ve done church for the week. Instead God is so integral and essential that life fails to make sense without Him. As worship team members who lead the congregation into worship we should be constantly in awe of who God is so that we are pointing people to Him and ushering people into His presence on Sunday’s, otherwise we are not doing the right thing by God or His church. If it is a chore or a matter of going through the motions to lead people into the throne room of the God of the universe, we need to check our hearts and to ask God to reveal himself to us afresh. Whatever your situation; pray before you practice and before the service begins. Ask God to have His way in the service and to make you as His servant attuned to what He is saying through the Holy Spirit during the worship time. Worship while you rehearse – don’t waste a moment just playing notes on a page or singing words from a screen. Remember what you’re doing, who you’re singing/playing to and why, and let your worship be a response of love to and for Him.

2. What makes an effective team member?

Ask God to give you a servant heart. It’s as simple and complex as that. Corporate worship with a band of singers and musicians requires the same characteristics as any other successful team; loyalty, commitment, effort, friendship, accountability, encouragement, honesty, passion, grace and forgiveness (especially these two and especially late at night or early in the morning). Being a worship team member involves sacrificial service. The best players on a sporting team – the ones who get voted as ‘club champion’ or ‘best team player’ are often the ones who will do anything for their club or team in order to help them achieve their goal.

In church, the goal is to bring people week after week into the very real presence of the living God. This means submitting to pastors and worship team leaders and being willing to step up when asked – to sacrifice extra time and effort where needed, to practice longer hours for special services or events, to attend training workshops or worship retreats and to lead in the direction that God is leading the senior leaders, rather than in the direction you think church should go.

It also means a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of your teammates – it might be swapping or filling dates on the roster to accommodate other people, it might mean playing less often in times of growth as more musicians join the team (or more often if people have to leave the team for one reason or another) and it may mean arriving earlier or leaving later at times to help set up and pack up.

Remember to encourage one another. You’re not in it to get a pat on the back, but encouraging one another helps to spur others on to continue to serve with excellence and passion.

3. How do you be led by the Spirit during worship sessions?

Psalm 96 (quoted earlier) says to worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness, to tremble before Him. As I mentioned, God is holy. In fact He’s so holy, that if we were to see Him face to face we would likely fall on our faces before Him and wish we were dead because His holiness is too awesome to comprehend (see Isaiah and John’s reactions). For this reason a key part of being led by the Spirit is understanding that it is not our job to ‘lead’ the service as such as if we have some magical way of controlling God and directing Him to come and meet with His people. Instead it is our job to be sensitive to the Spirit and then to lead the people into worship based on the Spirit’s leading. There’s a big difference!

Practically, I find that the spirit speaks through prayer and the Word, so I try to pray as often as I can during worship. It is usually silent, but prayer between songs or even during a song can help to focus in on God. I also find that when I’m playing as a musician, my main role is to trust the worship leader’s direction. I think worship leaders need to have prayed over the service and the song choices ahead of time and dedicated themselves to prayer and to being Spirit-led. This person should be listening for the still small voice and be willing to change their plans if necessary. For this reason, musicians should always be attentive and ready for changes to the plan.

In terms of being led by the Spirit on an instrument, if the worship leader is listening to the Spirit I find this comes fairly naturally, as I can trust that songs will ebb and flow based on what the worship leader senses the Spirit doing. Often I have felt that something is shifting in the worship service during a particular song or a part of a song and it may be that I play louder or more rhythmically to reinforce the beat or I may play more simply/sparsely so as not to distract from a key moment or key phrase from another instrument. At other times I might improvise a bit more if there is room and if I can add to the sound [hopefully] without distracting. In these moments (as always) the band needs to be really listening to each other and I have found that often various instruments just fall into place and complement each other in ways that can’t be rehearsed or easily replicated. It isn’t a formula, it is a matter of being prayerful, being sensitive to the tone of the song/service and being willing to adjust what you’re playing or singing based on what the worship leader is signaling and where the song is heading.

P.S. – If you’re not comfortable with me talking about the Holy Spirit as alive, active and still working – sorry but I’m not sorry. That’s the ‘icostal’ part of bapticostal coming out. It’s also biblical – the Holy Spirit does not just regenerate and convict us of sin and stay silent the rest of the time.

I hope these thoughts have been helpful for those serving their local church body in worship ministry. If you’ve got any thoughts, questions or other tips – let me know in the comments!

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