My (Short) Response To Ed Stetzer’s “Letter To My Worship Leaders”

I am deeply grateful for Ed Stetzer, and the profound wisdom and insight embodied in his articles posted by Christianity Today, “A Letter To My Worship Leaders” Part 1 and Part 2. Every worship leader should read them, own them, and keep them in front of them. I have trumpeted similar calls in everything I have ever written or said as a trainer of worship leaders/pastor for 25 years. However, there are just two areas within the letters, one macro and one micro, that disturb me. They disturb me not because they are explicitly wrong – they disturb me because they represent two classic Evangelical approaches to corporate worship that are “in the water” and need to be addressed.

Short Response Stetzer

Again, I encourage every worship leader to read Ed’s well-written articles. Thank you for them, Ed. But we should not read them like baby chicks, swallowing everything that is delivered to us from an authoritative source (I always suggest my readers thoughtfully and critically approach my writing as well). I want to challenge two of the assumptions in Ed’s letter.

Manners 101 For Worship Teams (Or 5 Ways Your Attitude Changes Everyone’s Sunday Morning)

Many of us have been part of a worship community where worship leaders, musicians, sound techs, and visual techs have interacted for years. Every worship community has a “relational climate,” a tone of interacting that (eventually) dramatically influences both the worship experience of the church and the Body Life of the worship community. From my experience, especially during rehearsals, we could all use a Manners 101 course. When Susie has stress in her eyes, and JimBob is wrestling with some hidden anger, it changes the music.

Manners 101 For Worship Teams

Having watched some great teams in relational motion for years (and enjoying the dynamics of our own worship community) here are 5 ways we can show some manners – and lift our church’s worship experience.

1. Be Polite In The Middle Of The Task – Literally, Watch Your Mouth.

Speaking with “please,” and “thank you,” and not assuming on relationship is important. How many sound techs, there to serve, get nothing more than requests or demands from the band? A simple smile, a “Thanks for turning that up, my friend,” or “Could you please give me more of my voice in my monitor? Thanks.”

Honoring one another, while still handling our division of labor is important. As a worship leader, there are times I need something to be done that someone may not agree with me about. I must take leadership in those moments, but do so in a spirit of friendship. If you’re asking for something of your drummer, respect who they are as you describe what you’re after.

We should be the most polite to those closest to us, that we see all the time. On Sunday, it affects people and their contribution. Keep the environment dignifying, valuing, and more. If you’re blunt, soften your edge. If you’re timid, take chances on encouraging another. If you’re an encourager – roll with it.

2. Laugh Through The Rehearsal – Without Hijacking It.

One of my favorite things about rehearsals (even the potentially stressful, pre-service rehearsals), is when we laugh as we go. If I jump in on vocals, and take away the part the other vocalist was singing, we look at each other, laugh, and then defer. One says, “No, you take that harmony, Mr. SnatchMyPartLikeAThief.” We laugh.

It’s hard enough coming in on a Sunday am early to rehearse, especially on peoples’ precious weekends off. Honor that. Make it as light and fun as possible, while still staying on task. People choose to be there for a reason.

Some of my more naturally playful musicians over the years can humor a bit far, and distract people from the task on which I’m trying to keep us focused. In that case, I give them a stern look, then we laugh again. Or, I just call us to attention. Over time the “less socially aware” become aware the task matters to me because they sense I’m leading both with confidence – and grace for the play.

Note: I’ve often worked with a fair amount of sarcastic band mates, and can get caught up in that slice of humor myself. But sarcastic humor, in my experience, actually lowers our sense of connection, and raises a hyper-awareness of our personal idiosyncrasies (that’s what sarcasm often plays on). I usually don’t have to ask them to tone down their cutting humor, if I myself model a different approach.

 3. Encourage Each Other – Till You’re Just Shy Of Sick Of It.

Voicing encouragements to one another, about the little things we do, creates a worship team culture people like being a part of. For those who aren’t by nature encouragers, I encourage you to think about what you can appreciate in each person with whom you work on a Sunday morning. Work at it. It’s worth it.

Make eye contact. Be sincere. Pray for one another on the side. Email or text words of encouragement to the others on your team. We have a Voxer group and a private Facebook group for our leaders and team members that makes this even easier. No one can ever be “too” encouraged (unless you’re encouraging the wrong thing!).

After a set, encourage others in what worked that morning. Thank them. You’ll get more of the same in the future, and you’ll want to give more of the same when others encourage you.

Make it real. For some, this takes more effort than others. But try – and work to sustain the encouragement.

4. Fight For Love On Sunday – And All Week Long.

This is simple. Push gossip, competitive words, grumbling, complaining, and side conversations away from you. It’s not an option for us to entertain divisive actions. We’re called to be Jesus to each other, full stop.

When I hear gossip or whining, I say, “Pray more than you say,” or, if they say they have prayed, “Then go to them with love and kindness, and share your concern. Or ask Jesus to create the best moment for you to talk.”

Long emails about our feelings do not work, in my experience, unless there is clear permission between two people to share that way (a fellow writer friend and I have that unspoken permission, as writing is one of our ways of solid communicating).

Do small acts of kindness for each other, and lead a generous, giving culture where the people are difficult to offend. That starts with you. This starts with being difficult to offend yourself. Ask Jesus for help if you’ve gone through rejection in your life and you’re more sensitive to criticism or redirection than you might be otherwise. If you are easy to offend, tell others that, and get them to pray for you. We all have our stuff Jesus is using each other to heal. We don’t want to keep carrying it with us through life.

5. Be One Of The Best Parts Of Your Team’s Worship Experience – Consistently.

If my drummer decides to lead the way in encouraging others, it makes me as a worship leader want to do the same – and have them play with me more often. Become the best part of everyone’s worship rehearsal, worship set, and church life.

Just being aware of the way you speak to others, handling them and the burdens they carry carefully – even when you’re stressed – matters in a big way. It ultimately affects the worship experience of the whole church. Stay in tune with your own heart, and be a part of raising the bar.

These are just a few “manners” that I’ve seen deeply impact a worship culture over time, and strengthen the best of what we are together – a vibrant worship community creating a space for God’s people to meet with Him, and He with us.

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Question: How does your team encourage one another?

Resource: The Team To Tribe: The Heart Values Of A Worship Team – Video and PDF covers much of this ground, and works through the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5 with your team.

Bio: Dan Wilt, M.Min. is the creator of the Essentials In Worship Video Training Course for worship leaders and teams, and is the Founder of WorshipTraining.com, a media-training network of over 31K worship leaders and musicians. He serves as a worship leader in Franklin, TN, and has taught in Worship & Arts programs (for schools like St. Stephen’s University and Indiana Wesleyan University). Dan is a songwriter, hymn writer, and author, and has served as a conference speaker in the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North America, Central, and South America. Dan works with his church family at Vineyard USA and Vineyard Worship in various support roles, and he, his wife Anita, and 3 young adult children live in Thompson’s Station, TN. His ancient-future worship leadership blog offers weekly tools and team encouragements at DanWilt.com.

Worship Must Do This One Thing – Or We All Just Need To Move On

One of my greatest mentors-from-afar, the late Robert Webber, nails it in this quote. Worship must do this, or we all need to move on. It’s from one book I ask every worship leader I’ve ever met to read.

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Image courtesy of Adam Mason Photography.

Drink deep, and read it 3 times until it sinks in the soil of your heart.

“The centrality of Christ to all of history and to the meaning of human existence invites us into Jesus Christ, through whom we read the entire Bible from beginning to end. As pastors of the Word, there is a strong need to soak ourselves in the Triune story of God with its detailed exposition of the central role of Christ in the greatest drama of human history – the drama of God who becomes one of us to rescue the world.

This theme of God’s rescue of us all – not inspirational topics, motivational speakers, or massive therapy sermons – needs to be recovered as the central message of our church.”

-Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 121.

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Question: Worship leaders, is this the intentional, central message of your worship set, or pastors, of every message you preach?

Resource: The video study, Essentials In Worship History unpacks the ideas in this book for worship leaders, and Robert Webber’s Worshipedia (available at WorshipLibrary.com and at WorshipTraining.com is a gift to us all. Robert wrote this article for me on the Christian Year when I was editor of Inside Worship magazine (Vineyard Worship).

10 Best Practices For Worship Sound Techs

Perhaps no technical leader faces more challenges on any given Sunday morning than the Sound Tech. With demands from every side, opinions aplenty, an ear to the Pastor (the real head Sound Tech), an ear to the worship leader/band, and an ear to the Holy Spirit, this role requires a saint, a sound technician, and a servant – all wrapped up in one. Gleaned from some of the most skilled and great-hearted Worship Sound Techs I know, here are 10 Best Practices For Worship Sound Techs.

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Worship is a dynamic environment in which God is meeting with people, and people are meeting with God. For that reason alone, the Worship Sound Tech must take their place – with active attention – among the worship leadership influencers in the room. [Note: In the age of digital boards, some things have gotten easier when running sound. With the push of a button, levels can be set. If you’re on a digital board, some of the following technical elements may not apply.]

1. Ride The Faders (Or, Never Set And Forget)

The worship environment is not a static environment, in which one can set all the levels then kick back in the booth. It is dynamic, and riding the faders as well as monitoring the congregation is a necessity for effective sound leadership. Imagine you are the conductor in an orchestra, and now that piano is highlighted as the band drops out, or a sweet violin solo now lifts from the music and is to stand out. Conduct, ride the faders, and make your sound work a dynamic ministry. You can help the band create dynamics. This verse is true about sound, and how it reinforces the message being shared: “… the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” (Acts 10:44, NIV).

Great, dynamic sound leadership can greatly enhance the effective hearing of the message, sung, spoken, visually expressed. or otherwise communicated.

2. Gain A Respect For Gain

Ever been in a hurry to get “sound done” and ignored getting all your gain levels right? Stop. Before everything gets going, set the right gain for each mic and instrument set. A friend of mine says, “I’ve seen gains change between shutdown on Saturday night and startup on sunday, even though nothing has changed on stage. If you don’t get the gain right, you’ll be fighting the levels all through the service.”

This may mean showing up early, getting yourself together, and being ready to go when rehearsal or soundcheck starts. Hustling at the last minute causes us to miss things.

3. Serve The Pastor, The Worship Leader, The Musicians, And The Congregation

There are no two ways around it; a Worship Sound Tech must be a servant to all, carrying skill and technical ability in one hand, and a real, living relationship with Jesus in the other. That combination creates Sound Techs who are asking how they can serve better, rather than insecure leaders pushing to get their way because people are acting like they know better. I’ve always told my Sound Team over the years that the Senior Pastor is the ultimately the Lead Sound Tech, and then the Lead Worship Leader (or someone they’ve assigned to oversee it). Why? At the end of the day, you and I will go home after the “event” – and the Pastor (and the worship leader to some degree) will have to deal with the effects of the experience – church growth, church shrinkage, people’s connection or lack of connection with the church. If the Pastor says, “Please turn that down,” or “please turn that instrument up,” or “please raise the volume and energy level in the room,” find a way to do it rather than resisting. It’s just good honor – and even if they’re wrong, it will come back as a blessing later.

Serve the musicians as to what they need, and then serve the dynamic in the congregation. Often musicians need training in “turning things down” in their monitors so that other elements stand out. Be a part of that training as able. You hold the reins on front of house; offer your best to see the best rise in the community.

4. Check Your Ego At The Door

Here’s the truth. People will look at you if anything is wrong with the sound. They just will. It takes a strong inner leader to carry that in a community. Technically oriented gift mixes, in my experience and that of many, can carry a subtle insecurity with them. When challenged, or asked to “please turn that up,” or “turn that down,” or “give me more monitor” (things are harder when no one is saying ‘please’ or ‘thank you’), it’s easy to react with ego. Lay it down before Jesus as you walk in the church doors each morning. Know that the Lord has your back, and the more like Jesus you are to the pastor, the band, etc. – the more it sweetens the entire worship experience everyone will have that day.

In fact, try this. Ask the pastor and worship leader, after you’ve done sound, “How was the sound? Is there anything you’d like me to change?” The first time, they will faint because you asked. The second, they’ll feel an open door exists for ongoing interaction. It’s wonderful.

5. Walk Around The Room

With iPads and more at our fingertips (digital boards), it is now easier than ever to walk around the room, surveying the sound from various vantage points in the room and making adjustments. But even if you’re not on a digital board, make sure you are moving around to get a feel for what is happening in different spots. The sound can change radically space to space, and recommending to certain people where they should sit is not a bad thing.

6. Make Recommendations With Community In Mind

This goes with #4. Do research, give input, then open your hands to the decisions the primary worship environment stakeholders (worship leader, pastor) must make. Sometimes you may desire to cage the drummer, for example (and they may deserve it!), to get complete control of the sound. But there may be another priority brewing inside the worship leader, or even the pastor, to have the drummer not be enclosed for the sake of the visual experience, and people not seeing this as just a performance. In short, we have to live with some things, and sometimes we may discover someone else was right. That doesn’t make us inadequate – it just means that sometimes there is more than one approach to something, and various priorities must be considered.

7. Be Difficult To Offend/Easy To Work With

When leaders in the same area of expertise are working together, sometimes we exert ourselves to “prove something.” No need. Trust Jesus, and work hard to work with others. Be difficult to offend. Be easy to work with. Only hold your ground when you feel so strongly about something you would rate it an 8-10 in life, rather than if it’s really a 2-3 rating in importance. Having a “domain” is important to all of us, but we must share, compromise, and collaborate in Body life.

When working with musicians, sometimes they need some training, but from a humble posture (even if the musician is not acting humble). Teach them that asking for more in the monitor may not be the win, but actually having less of something else. “Turn it up” is the natural response to not hearing something (but then you hit a ceiling with the knobs and the room). Help them get the best mix for them, as they must respond well to the monitors to lead well (IEMs fix this part, but musicians still need training turning things down so other things stand out).

8. Learn From Everyone; No One Is Past Learning

Ask local producers, or sound techs in venues you respect, if you can sit in with them as they do sound. If they say yes, listen, learn, and ask questions. Also, research forums on the internet, looking for tips and tricks from a variety of people working through the same issues you are. A friends says: “I am continually learning new things about sound, new tricks on my board (makes me sound like a surfer), new ways to set up the mics or the _____.” Be a lifelong learner.

9. Get Help If Something Is Challenging – And Read The Manual

A friend of mine says this: “Don’t feel inadequate if you (like me) are not someone who can identify a sound frequency by hearing it. I have an ipad with an RTA, and when I’m dealing with feedback issues, I have no problem firing it up (and humming the frequency into it if the feedback has already died down). You don’t have to be perfect at everything to be a good sound engineer, you just have to be good at using the tools you have.”

And read the manual. Read the manual. Read the manual (that was reverb).

10. Make Mentoring A Priority

Mentoring is absolutely vital. Always have someone shadowing you (standing beside you as you do it, and talk them through what you’re doing). Especially a teenager or twenty-something, as musical styles and sound environment palates change over time. You want ears that are listening to more than you are, through a different auditory lens. Don’t release them too early; you want them to succeed. Create a loooonnnggg mentoring curve.

After they’ve shadowed you for a long time, you start to shadow them. Here’s the Mentoring Cycle: 1) I do it, 2) You watch me do it, 3) I teach you to do it, 4) I watch you do it, 5) You do it, 6) You teach others.

Conclusion: A Great Sound Tech Is After Transparency

A producer friend of mine says, “A great Sound Tech blesses the church by insuring that the communication of the ‘word’ (speech or music) is clear and understandable to everyone. The quality of sound during a meeting can be a major factor in how people are able to engage in the activities at hand. What good would it do for the best worship set in the world to be played, or the best teaching to be given, if the sound is so bad that no one can bear to listen to it? Bad sound can be a great distraction to those engaging in a worship service. At the worst of moments, the quality of sound can even hinder one’s ability to understand and engage at all. At the best of times, good sound provides an opportunity for clearly communicated material (music or speech) to be received easily.

When sound is then transparent, and out of mind, the ‘word’ can become the focus of attention. A prudent Sound Technician is key to achieving this worthy goal.”

Amen.

Oh, and get the pastor to assign you an intern to bring you coffee and doughnuts. Thanks for all you do.

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Question: What best practices would you add to this list from your experience?

Resources: First, Is It Too Loud: Worship Accompaniment Vs. Worship Immersion Culture post seems to clarify some internal cultures challenging sound ministry in the local church today. Second, 7 Steps To Awesome For Worship Sound Techs offers more insights for Sound Techs. Third, Mike O’Brien’s Winning The Volume War Series is great for handling key sound elements (drums, etc.) in worship. Finally, this “heart” article, “A Great Sound Tech” by Nathan Rousu should be required reading for every Worship Sound Tech.

12 Elements Of A Thriving Worship Culture

Every church has a culture, and every worship ministry within a church has a culture as well. Our worship culture determines our long-term effectiveness at loving each other deeply, making beautiful music, creating environments that disciple, mentor, and release others (often to replace us), and building consistent spaces that empower our community in Kingdom worship. I put together the following “Our Worship Culture” statement for our own worship community at the Vineyard Church of Franklin in TN, and am posting it here if it can be helpful in forming your own for your church.

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The following ideas remind us who we are, and where we are going, as a worship tribe.

OUR WORSHIP CULTURE

Every church has a culture, and every worship ministry within a church has a culture as well. The following ideas remind us who we are, and where we are going, as a worship tribe. If we all put apply our hearts to embodying each of these ideas personally, our worship community will thrive over the years.

1. We Are A Worship Tribe First, And A Team Second

We function as a tribe more than a team, carrying our church’s story with us, caring for our personal health and growth, praying for each other, and serving where needed, as needed. We all want to be like Jesus – and that makes us a family more than a team.

2. We Have A Weekly Worship Culture, Not Just A Sunday Event

We serve our family through many worship experiences, not just on Sunday mornings. We see our other events, large and small, with just as much significance as a Sunday morning. We don’t covet stages or platforms – they are just one context in which we lead.

3. We See The Worship Experience As An Invitation To A Table, Not A Service Or Experience

We recognize that people have come to “meet with God” (Ps. 42:2). As worship leaders, musicians, and techs, our posture is one of hospitality – we help set a Table for meeting.

4. We Mentor Others, Rather Than Being Self-Focused

We do not cling to our roles, but rather look for opportunities to develop others and, when they are trained and ready, release them to be involved. We give away stages as others are trained.

5. We Actively Pursue Personal & Musical Growth

We are self-motivated to grow – on every level. We are teachable, even the most professionally skilled among us, and receive input graciously. We model the pursuit of Kingdom greatness. We choose to get better month after month, on our instruments, musicality, leadership, and more by taking consistent, small steps toward growth.

6. We Serve Our Community, And Each Other, With No Competition

We nurture servanthood in word and deed, and champion each other. We have a distinct lack of ambition/competition among us. We trust God with our callings, and find opportunities to serve. Praying for one another keeps us us tender to, and safe for, one another.

7. We Have An Open-Handed Ministry Model

We believe that an Open-Handed Ministry model, where we make room for others to be involved, lead, play, or participate, is vital. For health and growth, we choose to be flexible. We step on an off of stages easily, without fighting for platform. Our hearts and hands are open to all that God may be doing – in us, in others, and our church.

8. We Celebrate Creativity And Excellence, Without Sacrificing Community

We celebrate excellence in all aspects of personal spirituality and music, and yet we are also open to inviting others in and discipling – with all the mess it can bring. Creativity is a high value for us, and while it is always subject to the needs of our community when it comes to worship, we want to fan into flame the the creative passions of one another.

9. We Keep The Bar High On Musicality, Heart, And Skill On Our Team

We believe that excellence in Christlikeness, and excellence in musical skill, are both vital qualities in every worship ministry member. We keep the bar high on both of these for ourselves, all the while working to create environments in which people at all stages of progress can succeed along the way.

10. We Embrace Relational and Interpersonal Purity

We are vitally connected in relationships, in small groups, and in our church family. We pursue accountable relationships, we keep short accounts, and we are teachable. Family wins. Always.

11. We Care For The Poor, And Invite Them Into Our Lives

[While this may seem out of place, for those who practice it, you will understand how this empowers a worship community culture.] We see the poor as “us,” not “them” – and allow this Kingdom perspective to change us. As a church community, and as a church family, we lean toward the poor, building community with them. This community-building includes us as a worship community. Our hearts and attitudes are softened by the felt-needs of the poor. We will continue learning to become like Christ in this as we go, and connection with the poor will shape our songs and ways of leading worship.

12. We Communicate Honestly, But With Grace And A Willingness To Learn

We choose to be very difficult to offend. We don’t do politics or complaining; we serve where we can, honor the direction of leaders, communicate with grace and honesty, assume the best of others, and give grace generously and freely as we bring our best gifts to an imperfect Table.

These are some starter ideas to help you form your own worship culture, and it’s my prayer you find your worship expression growing in richness, quality, passion, intimacy – and a sense of the Lord’s power in your midst.

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Question: What other elements, in your experience, help a worship culture growth in strength over time?

Resources: Ideas on building a Worship Philosophy for your church are covered in the Essentials In Worship Ministry study (part of Essentials).