1) BE PREPARED
I define being prepared as making all of the necessary arrangements in advance that will help the rehearsal, and ultimately the worship service, run as smoothly as possible. Being prepared shows that I respect the time commitment and effort that my team members give me week in and week out. While it’s true that most who are reading this are ministry leaders, we also need to remember that we are servants.
So leaders – serve your team members by respecting their time!
People tell me that I’m a pretty organized person so I thought it might be helpful to outline what a typical week looks like for me as I prepare for our rehearsal and Sunday services.
MONDAY: When it’s available, I review an outline of my pastor’s message and come up with song ideas that will help support the theme.
TUESDAY: I email the first draft of the Worship Service Set (WSS) to my media ministry leader so that she can begin preparing the lyric slides.
WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY: I actually do a prayerful run through of the WSS to check on things like song choices, arrangements, keys, song placement and general service flow.
THURSDAY: Once I’m happy with the flow of the service, I email the final master schedule to my media person so she can make any adjustments to the song arrangements before our rehearsal. I then upload the worship set on line at praisevocals.com so my team can logon and review their vocal parts. If we are introducing a new song, I make sure to let them know well in advance and make sure that they have a recording of the song. Thursday is also the day I email the final WSS to them so they can see more specifically what to expect. In addition to the WSS, I send out a production schedule. This schedule is mainly to alert the personnel who will be involved in the services, from the band, singers and tech team to those in addition to the senior pastor who will be speaking during the service.
FRIDAY: I play golf!
SATURDAY: I make any final tweaks that are needed. However, at this stage it’s very rare that there are any significant changes to be made. I spend the morning going over the entire set as many times as I need to be confident that I know the songs and transitions inside and out. It is important that I do this for two reasons. First of all, I believe I am most effective as a worship leader when I’m not distracted by trying to remember chords, lyrics or song structure. Secondly, if I’m busy thinking about what I’m doing during rehearsal, its difficult to be fully aware of what everyone else is doing. Before every rehearsal I make sure that the distribution of lyric sheets, lead sheets or chord sheets for my musicians and singers has been covered. I am also responsible for providing the sound and lighting cues. If you’d like to see the outlines we use for our rehearsals, contact me and I’ll be happy to send you an example.
We begin rehearsal at 5:00pm and end by 7:00 (You may be thinking that we’re crazy for rehearsing on Saturdays but I will attempt to make our case for Saturday evening rehearsals later on in one of the other 10 tips). The media person and sound tech that are scheduled arrive at 6:00pm as we begin the full the run-through of the entire set.
SUNDAY: We have an opening prayer around 8:00am and begin a final run-through with the worship and tech team that continues until 9:00am. We then have a meeting from 9:00 to 9:10 with everyone who will be involved in the service including the senior pastor to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows exactly what to expect. Our first service begins at 9:15.
Here’s something to consider. If you arrive unprepared to rehearsals why should your team come prepared? Why should they spend time learning or reviewing their vocal parts prior to rehearsal when you haven’t taken the time to make sure that you’re ready to rehearse? It all starts with you. You set the bar. I’ve found that others will only rise up to the level to where the bar is set and not an inch higher. So be an example of someone who desires and requires excellence and your team will adopt the same philosophy.
2) BE ENCOURAGING
In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Paul makes it clear that we need to be encouragers when he writes, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up….”. There are other times when we need to practice the art of criticism by ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Eph 4:15). Rick Muchow from Saddleback church uses the principle “3 strokes for every poke”. In other words, for every critical comment that is uttered, 3 affirming or encouraging comments need to be communicated.
We try to not only affirm the abilities of our singers and musicians but also convey our appreciation for their special, individual contributions. For example, being on time, coming prepared, having a positive and cooperative attitude or pointing out their individual growth as vocalists or instrumentalists. The more you get to know your team members the better you will be able to encourage them in specific ways that they best respond to. I am encouraged to be able to report that in the 10 years I’ve been a worship leader I’ve never had anyone actually want to leave our ministry. I attribute this in a large part to creating an environment where people feel accepted, cared for and encouraged. The thing to remember is that although we want our rehearsals to be productive, they should also be rewarding, educating, encouraging and inspiring.
When someone from our congregation tells me how our ministry has impacted their lives or their relationship with God I am quick to share their comments with my team. It both encourages them and helps remind them that we are making a difference in the lives and hearts of those in our congregation.
3) SET ASIDE TIME FOR PRAYER AND DEVOTION
We begin each rehearsal with prayer. I randomly ask different praise team members each week to offer a prayer before we dig in and rehearse. We sometimes pray that we will sense God’s presence even as we rehearse and that the noise we make will be pleasing to His ears. We often pray that we can lay down our cares and troubles of the week at the foot of the cross so that we are undistracted and free to practice and worship. By the way, I believe that practice IS a form of worship. When we practice we are honoring God with our commitment to give Him our best. Another prayer might be for us all to be of one heart and one voice. The point is, we want to try and be on the same page spiritually so right off the bat we place the focus where it belongs, on God.
I try to leave 10 to 15 minutes at the end of rehearsal to have a short devotional with the emphasis on worship. We happen to have someone on our team with a real gift for this so lately we’ve been letting him use this gift to build us up and help us focus. There have been seasons when I have passed this responsibility around by cycling through our praise team members so that everyone can have a chance. I found that this works best when I let the team member know a few days in advance so that they have time to prepare. I believe that it is equally important to make sure that they are comfortable with delivering a devotional at all. Some people are either too nervous, too shy or don’t want the added responsibility. I respect that and just let those who can…do. As far as the content of these devotionals, sometimes we would draw from how God worked through a life experience we recently had or we might simply read a devotional out of a book and comment on it afterwards.
After the devotional we have another time of prayer where we redirect the subject of the devotional we just heard in the form of a prayer and that closes out our rehearsal time. I let people know that others and I will be available after we are officially dismissed to pray for any individual prayer needs that anyone may have.
4) REHEARSE WITH PURPOSE
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men…”
~ Colossians 4:23.
This is one of my worship leader ‘life’ verses. Constantly remind your team of why we do what we do. Remind them that the ministry they’re involved in has purpose and eternal impact. Let them know that they’re not crazy for working hard every week or committing themselves to your ministry. Remind them of the vision of your church in general and the mission of your ministry specifically. If you don’t have a music ministry mission statement I would encourage you to write one. This keeps everyone focused on the goal that has been set before them. The following is ours : “We exist to EVANGELIZE seekers, EDIFY believers, and GLORIFY God”. We at Gold Coast believe that worship is the authentic expression of our love for God in response to the love of God. As team members, our desire, goal and responsibility is to communicate the reality of Jesus Christ, to usher the church into the presence of the Living God and to skillfully assist in making a meaningful connection with Him through music.
Insist on excellence. This is not to be confused with perfection. I have adopted the Willow Creek Church definition of what excellence is: Doing the best we can with what we have. Another worship leader life verse that encourages me is from Psalm 33:3 – Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy”. Play skillfully. For me this is not merely a suggestion so I try to incorporate this as part of the DNA of our ministry.
5) HAVE FUN!
What a concept! All work and no play can make rehearsals seem more like a burden than a time of joyful fellowship. Proverbs 17:22 says that ‘a cheerful heart is good medicine’ so lighten up! We don’t have to work every minute. A humorous diversion or antic-dote is good for everyone. I want my team to look forward to coming to rehearsal. It helps if they know that a good time will be had. So don’t forget to take time to enjoy each other’s company and uniqueness. Worship leaders, it all starts with you. Remember that, like it or not, you set the tone. Here’s a thought, try cutting your rehearsal in half and surprise them by going out and grabbing a burger and a Coke.
6) ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
A two-hour rehearsal is plenty of time to achieve your goals. If it’s not, maybe you need to take look at your agenda to see where you may be wasting time and think about ways to conserve. Maybe you’re not as prepared as you need to be. Look at tip #1 for some ideas on how you might improve on this.
In addition to be an excellent singer, my wife happens to be an excellent vocal director. During our first hour, I rehearse with the band and in a separate room my wife rehearses the singers. She is not an instrumentalist, so the Rehearsal Tracks (R-TRAX) that we offer at praisevocals.com are very useful. Since the vocalists have already learned their harmony parts via our website prior to rehearsal, the entire hour is spent working on technique, dynamics and general interpretation. The second hour we combine the band and singers and tweak anything that needs to be fine-tuned. Maybe you already have someone on your vocal team who could take on the role of vocal director. Maybe your strength lies in this area and you can find a band director within your ranks to lead the band rehearsals. Or maybe there is someone waiting in the wings that you can mentor and develop that would allow you to utilize this type of rehearsal plan.
The bottom line: people get tired and fatigued especially if you have mid-week evening rehearsals. Be conscious of this and respect the fact that there comes a point in a rehearsal where you will get as far as you’re going to go and leave it at that. Have faith that God will take your effort and use it for His purpose. Some of our most powerful worship services have come on the heels of a dreadful and seemingly hopeless rehearsal!
If you have services on Sunday’s only, I also suggest moving your rehearsals to Saturday night. This ensures that everything you’ve worked on remains fresh in the minds of your team. I know most of you are probably thinking I’m insane, so let me explain. We started Saturday night rehearsals out of necessity back in the days when we were a set up and tear down church at the local Boys and Girls club. We did this for 6 years and I’m happy to note that those days are finally over! We would arrive at the facility at 3:00pm, set up for an hour and a half and then have our vocal rehearsal. Once we got into our 24/7 facility, I assumed that everyone would want to go to a mid-week but to my amazement, almost everyone wanted to stay with Saturday nights so that’s what we continue to do to this day. We meet from 5:00 to 7:00pm.
7) SING IT THE WAY YOU WANT IT SUNG
Sometimes we make things harder than they have to be by trying to explain what we’re after in the language of ‘Worship Leader-ese’. You know, using cool music major terms like legato or rubato or using word pictures that often leave your team thinking, “huh?”. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t enlighten or teach our team using these methods and sometimes they are effective. However, often the best way to get what you want is to simply give an example by singing it yourself. Have them ‘parrot’ back to you what you’ve just sung exactly the way you sang it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the “ah-ha” expression come over the faces of my team through this simple technique. This works well with phrasing or when trying to explain the way you may want a specific word to sound. It also is helpful with stylistic nuances. Just sing it the way you want them to sing it and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they get it.
8) USE HARMONY TO ADD IMPACT
I had a singer once tell me that they didn’t want to sing the melody because it was boring.This person doesn’t sing on the vocal team anymore.Maybe you can relate to their statement because your have singers who feel the same way.Maybe you even feel that way.Let me remind you that the melody is the heart and soul of the song, the primary vehicle to communicate the lyrics in a way that transcends the spoken word.OK, maybe I’m over doing it a bit but you get my point.
The melody is the foundation on which the songwriter wrote the song. Without it, your congregation would be completely lost, no one would be edified and God would not be glorified. I’m here to tell you that a strong, confident unison melody is a beautiful thing, a very beautiful thing. Along with the lyric, it’s the most important thing. In my humble opinion harmonies should be used to add color, nuance and dynamics to a song. If every line of every verse and chorus is harmonized the song never goes anywhere. On the other hand, if you utilize harmonies sparingly to punctuate and enhance a section of the song, the song will take flight and become a journey instead of just a destination.
9) A SMILE IS WORTH A THOUSAND NOTES
I’ve visited a lot of churches over the years and it still amazes me how many worship teams seem to wear an expression of constipation rather than exaltation. My senior pastor once put it this way; “if the joy of the Lord is in your heart then notify your face!” I’m not talking about a plastic, phony smile that seems contrived; a ‘performance’ can be spotted a mile away. I’m talking about simply allowing what we feel deep within us to be expressed by having that ‘unspeakable’ joy show up on our faces, naturally. Rehearsal is a great time to remind your team of this or even encourage them to practice smiling as they sing during rehearsal where there isn’t the added pressure of the actual worship service. It will also help to encourage them to focus on what they’re sing and not just on how they’re singing it.
Being as prepared as possible by knowing your harmony parts, knowing the song arrangements and memorizing the lyrics helps a great deal because you will become freer to express yourself when you aren’t constantly thinking about what’s coming next. One last point here, when we smile we brighten up our vocal tone so let those pearly teeth show people! It will improve your tone and, as an added bonus, will communicate to your congregation that the joy we have in the Lord is worth singing about!
10) MEMORIZE THE LYRICS
Things aren’t the way they used to be. When traditional hymns were the staple of church music there were lots and lots of songs with lots and lots and lots of verses! As we all know, contemporary praise and worship music for the most part is much simpler than many of the old hymns and easier to memorize. But why memorize when I can put the lyrics on the music stand in front of me or we can project the words on a screen in the back of the auditorium? I alluded to the answer in the previous tip. First of all, when we have memorized the lyric we free ourselves to be more expressive with the interpretation of the song. Secondly, and most importantly, our praise team singers are worship leaders too. I hope your team knows that. They may not be the ones out front but they are certainly instrumental in leading people into God’s presence. When you encourage them to memorize the lyrics you are encouraging them to be better worship leaders. Unfortunately, once we have become dependant on the written note or word, we tend to stay that way no matter how many times we’ve sung a particular song. For example, I used to play in casual bands where we used “Fake” books. For those who don’t know, a Fake book is a collection of sometimes hundreds of songs encompassing many different styles of music. It is designed for musicians and singers who play in a variety of venues for quick reference to popular songs. I found that no matter how many times we had played a particular song, I never seemed to be able to memorize it. Why not? Because without my knowing it, I had trained myself to become ‘dependent on the page’. To get your team used to singing without the lyric, try starting out by excluding from the music stand each week one or two of the simpler songs that your team has been singing for awhile. Eventually you should be able to have the majority of your repertoire free from the crutch of the lyric sheet.
Consider this. Singing praise and worship songs are all about giving God our best and most heartfelt worship. As worship leaders, helping to bring people into His presence is both an indescribable joy and responsibility that we shouldn’t take lightly. If we are constantly glancing at lyric sheets or lead sheets, can we be fully engaged in worship? Only when we have memorized and absorbed the lyrics and our vocal parts, when they have become second nature and when they are our tools instead of our focus are we able to authentically express and communicate the song to God and the congregation.
Patrick DeRemer has been the Worship Leader for 10 years at Gold Coast Christian Church, a regional church in Ventura County, CA. He is also the creator of a new website; www.praisevocals.com. The site was developed primarily for Worship Leaders. It offers downloadable audio files of vocal harmony parts of popular praise and worship songs.