Lesson 9 - Common Questions and Best Practices | Free Online Biblical Library

Lesson 9 - Common Questions and Best Practices

Course: Worship Pastors and their Teams

Lecture: Common Questions and Best Practices

Hey, Everyone. This is Carl Cartee. We’ve been talking about worship leadership. I’m here with my friend, Brandon Gates. We have thought of some common questions and best practices that a lot of worship leaders ask, and we wanted to do the best we could to answer some of those questions and give you some good practices, to handle some common challenges that worship leaders have a lot. Brandon, I’m glad you are doing this with me.

I. How do you Introduce a New Song to Your Congregation?

Question: First question. How would you go about introducing a new song to the congregation?

A good way to introduce a song to a congregation, a brand new song, is to just go ahead and take the long view with it. So, we are going to lead this song, we are going to introduce it, not just one Sunday and assume that everybody knows it; but really, I have found introducing it three Sundays in a row, back to back, to back; letting people get familiar with it. Usually the first two times I introduce a song to the congregation, I will say, we want to remind you guys, let you guys know, this is a new song. I always say that. It kind of lets people off the hook to know that this is not familiar, I don’t have to feel bad about not knowing it, I’m here to learn this. Then I usually take a chorus and just teach it to them on my instrument, sing it to them. Just say, get this in your ear, a couple of times. This is the way forward. I always take the long view and understand that people learn things a little bit at a time and let that be the way I teach it, a little bit at a time. I don’t expect them to fully embrace it until three, maybe four times in a weekend that I have led it, so repetition is the key. Repeating things for people because I learn that way. I have to be told over and over again. That’s easy.

Giving people permission to know that not everybody is going to know this song. We are just inviting you in. We want to help you with a new expression. This is a new thing, so you have to get into it. I have had so many times that someone has said, you know, the first two times you led that song, I didn’t really like it. Then, the third time….. I think we as worship leaders are prone to get tired of things way quicker than maybe people in our congregation.

II. How Do You Choose the Best Songs for Your Congregation?

Question: So how do you go about choosing the best songs, best fit for your congregation?

The best way to think about it in terms of choosing what songs and what kind of songs, themes, I think of myself as the musical dietician, the content dietician for my congregation. I try to make sure that there is some nutritious stuff that I am feeding them. There are some things that are enjoyable, that they like, like dessert, that is good. It is a balanced diet. It’s not so much sugar that they don’t have any nutrients; but it’s not so much broccoli and good things for them that it is too much. It’s a balanced diet across a whole spectrum of emotions, because that is really the way people live their lives. It’s not in this narrow frequency range. I want to experience all that there is, and there is a lot to talk about in the Christian experience. For me, the easiest way to look at it is, if I pick a song, I ask myself, where does this fit in a healthy diet of thought, expression, emotion, intellect? The best songs for the congregation tend to be the songs people can sing with, people can engage with. It doesn’t take eight times for them to hear it before they can understand the sophisticated musical subtleties of the song. They can get in quick. Hymns are that way, they are designed that way, to invite people in.

III. How do you Find a Balance Between Traditional and Contemporary Songs?

Question: So going off of that, how do you go about finding a balance between the new and the old, the hymn and the contemporary in a blended service? What are your thoughts on that?

I think it’s fair for the worship leader to know who he is leading worship for and to not alienate them by singing things he knows they will hate; but also not patronize them and stunt their growth in expression and their capacity for thought. A lot of people get attached to a song or a sound because of sentimentality, because this is the way it has always been, so that certainly must be the way it should be now. That really does not have a lot of roots in growing in your faith and deepening your expression. It is not that it is all bad, but the reason why you would sing a hymn. I would hope that it is blended with the same reason that you would sing a new song, teach a new song because both of these have value.

I’ve heard the critique, the new songs just aren’t as good as the old hymns. Maybe that is right, but there are some new songs that outdo the old hymns. You can take a hymnal, not all of them are solid gold. There are some in there that you might think, now that I think about it, even though it has been around for a long time, it is not necessarily worth keeping around. Of course, the cream rises to the top. The way I approach the number of hymns that I would use versus the number of new songs that I would use, is to look at the people that I lead and try and find a balance between inviting them forward in their expression, without jerking them forward. And exposing them to the new so as not to just patronize or indulge sentimentality. That is not an expression of your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection. It is making yourself have warm, fuzzy feelings, but for the totally wrong reasons. Hopefully that is helpful.

IV. How Do You Handle Auditions for the Worship Team?

Question: Next one, how do you handle auditions for team?

This may be specific to some context because I don’t want to assume that everybody has enough people to hold auditions. A lot of churches now are in an era, in a time where a lot of people want to serve on the worship team, and it might make sense to take an analysis of, who do we have and what are they good at? For me, I always do auditions like this: I will say, we have one song that is a control, so everybody learns the same song. You were telling me earlier about one worship pastor who, “Sing Happy Birthday.” It is a simple song. But everybody sings the same one, so that it establishes a baseline for, can you sing in tune? Do you have good time? Do you have good tone? Can you play this song? Establish a control that everyone plays and then give someone the opportunity to present something that they feel like, this is good for me, this is my wheelhouse. I give people that opportunity and let them sing or play.

Then I ask people two more things. For singers, I’ll sing a simple song and ask them if they can harmonize with me. It is usually an ability to do that. It is a pretty good indicator about where someone’s musical proficiency is. For a player, an instrumentalist, I will ask them to look at a simple chart and read it for me. For a person who doesn’t sing, plays guitar, keys or drums, can you read this chart, can you tell me what it means? It is very simple. I hold auditions and kind of use that format. What I also do is, I establish a baseline for the people by saying this: “This is the kind of person I’m looking for. If the people who are already on our team are between an 8 and a 10 out of 1-10, so the people already on our team would be an 8 or a 10, you don’t have to be winning American Idol or be the most professional person. The highest level of musician is not necessarily the standard we’re looking for. But the people who are currently serving you in the capacity on our team, if they are an 8 or a 10, that is what I’m looking for.” And kind of set that up.

V. How Do You Tell People That They Didn’t Make The Worship Team?

Question: Going along with that, how would you tell people they didn’t make the team? It is always very hard. There are a lot of conversations about whether or not that is even a good thing. If it’s church, why wouldn’t you use everyone to be on the worship team?

I usually respond to that question, by the same standard that we don’t let everyone preach, we don’t let everyone lead worship. We are looking for at least a measure of skill and ability and a gifting in that area. So if someone auditions and it is a “no,” I always start this way: They know the standard, the people I’m looking for – our current team are 8-10. I always ask them, how did you do, 1-10? You give yourself a number on that 1-10 scale, understanding that I’m looking for 8s, 9s and 10s. That can get them. Their answer to that question is usually a good opportunity for me to know what their awareness is about how well they did.

People are pretty good at self assessment. There have been a couple of times where someone said to me, I think I probably did 7. They might have been cheating themselves up a little bit. But what that does is give me the opportunity to say, for me, you look more like a 5. So you have this established criteria. It is not a moving goal post. We can reference this lady and that guy, they are 8 or 9, so we would have that. I always do this, though, if I say no to somebody, I let them get involved in saying how they think they did. If it is different, I will say, I thought you were a 5, so for now it would be no. I always do this, it is never a no, period. It is always a no with hope. As a pastor, as a shepherd, as a worship leader, I’m not in the business of forming super groups that are trying to impress people on Sunday mornings. I am in the business of people development. So I always say, it is no for now; but if you are willing to invest the work that it would take to improve you from whatever number you are now, to whatever number I need you to be, I will make the effort to help you get there. I always do this. If I say no to somebody, I tell them, I will start right now, I will buy you three private lessons with a professional instructor, whether a guitar player, a singer, out of my pocket. I will buy those lessons for you if you will take them and get started down that path. Three is not enough, but I want that person to know that to my no, I am adding my commitment to help them develop. Some churches may not be into that, that’s great, that’s fine. But I think a person who looks at life like, I want to develop people, I want to help people. It is okay to say no; but the best thing that can happen is no is the beginning of a conversation. And you say to someone, no, but I’ll help develop you and here is my skin in the game – I’ll pay for you to have three private lessons. I’ll get you started and then we’ll re-audition.

That has been a very effective way. Sometimes people receive personal critique and it is very hard, especially, you didn’t make this team, you didn’t pass the test, the audition didn’t go great. You take a personal value hit. It has happened to me. It’s fine. I understand it. It is a part of growth, though. As someone who is not doing this because you are working exclusively for professionals, being somebody who is saying no, but then adding to that a desire to develop people, is probably the best practice I have come up with.

VI. How Do You Handle it When Someone Needs to be Removed From the Worship Team?

Question: Another thought that came to mind later on through this, when dealing with someone who is currently on the team and there needs to be a change made, maybe someone needs to be taken off the team for a specific reason, how do you go about handling that?

It would have a little bit to do with the specifics of why. If it was their lifestyle or choices that they were making off the platform becoming a distraction to the congregation because, I know so-and-so is up there singing, but I also know that they are cheating on their taxes, or they are a chronic shoplifter, or they are doing things in the community that are eroding their own testimony and the reputation of our church. That is kind of an immediate distraction type of thing, and that would be a thing where, we have a conversation about some things that I have heard. The expectations of a Christian leader are applied to you if you are on this platform, influencing worship and being a part of worship leadership. So just like we would say that same thing to the pastor, I need to have a conversation with you. Have a frank dialogue with that person; and if it is time for them to go, if they are unrepentant, then it is time for them to go.

If it is a musical thing, a frank conversation and a reminder to them of what expectations are: Prayed up, prepared, punctual, in tune, in time, good tone. Just kind of reorient; because if we don’t talk about these things, people drift and things happen. It might be time to say, hey, I think I might need to remind you of the expectations that have been set up. If you have to have that conversation in the absence of some previously set up expectations, it might be a process over time. We have to establish them. Say, look, it is a new season for us, it is a new day. This is what I really want from you guys. People will tend to elevate to the standard that you set for them. Most people are smart and you give them an opportunity to elevate their game first. Then if people don’t want to, if people have authority issues or character issues, problems with leadership, things like that, it’s hard to diffuse those things in one conversation or in one fell swoop. But you had best begin by starting the dialogue with whatever person, versus leaving something you hear, a sideways comment or somebody says something you hear secondhand. Letting those things simmer and remain unaddressed is kind of where the trouble starts to brew.

VII. How to Collaborate With Your Pastor

Question: Your thoughts on how to collaborate with your pastor, working alongside him.

That is a very good question because the relationship dynamics between a pastor and a worship leader can be all across the board. I’ve had the great fortune of always working with pretty healthy pastors who are supportive and they didn’t see the worship as the thing that they had to endure so that they could get to the preaching. I have tried to be the kind of worship leaders that led worship that was not the main thing in my mind, but really a joint effort to teach and to preach and to instruct and encourage just as much as the sermon. And hopefully the pastor is preaching and teaching and encouraging and leading worship just as much as the music does. Sometimes, though, pastors can be more thinkers, and a worship pastor can be more of a feeler; and sometimes those two, like worldviews, can collide. I think one way to navigate those waters is to think of it in terms of, when you are trying to collaborate with someone, establishing an understanding of how they hear you, versus needing to say what you have said, is an important dynamic.

I remember when I was first married, I came from a certain kind of family, we were loud and demonstrative. We weren’t fighting, but we were just being loud. But when my wife heard me being loud, in her family loudness was bad, always bad. We were just on different pages. I think it took me, not fighting for my right to be loud, but understanding I need to speak in a way that she can best hear it and acknowledging we are from different worlds. You are a thinker, I’m a feeler. We don’t have to change that, but what we need to do is to open up our understanding of one another and just say, I’m not going to say how I want you to hear it, I’m going to try and say how I think you can best hear it. And the collaborative process really opens up a little more under those terms. It is a very nuanced relationship. At some point I think, to the senior pastor of a church, the worship leader might do well to say, it is your call to make, you are responsible for this congregation. I will do what you need me to do. That is an important point to draw out, that if he is the leader of the church, God has put him there and it is okay to trust that whatever direction things seem to be going – even if you don’t love it – that you can say yes to the Lord. He has called you to follow that.

One more thing about that. It has been my experience for many years that the worship leader is younger than the pastor. In every dynamic, cultural dynamic, in a church or not, it is harder for a younger man, takes longer for a younger man to earn the respect and the trust of an older man. It just happens. It will always be that way, for it has always been that way. That is one of those things. I wanted to bring up Paul’s admonition to Timothy. 1Timothy 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young.” I think Timothy might have been in his 40s when Paul was writing this to him, so he wasn’t necessarily so young, at least by our modern standard. But “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” If a young man wants to earn the trust of an old man, he’s not going to do it with his or her ideas and performance. He is going to do it with his character, the kind of things he says, the way he handles himself. How does he love people? What kind of faith does he demonstrate? Honestly, is he pure in heart? Is this a pure guy? Sometimes young guys get a reputation. If you will earn the trust of your pastor in a lot of contexts and your pastor is older than the worship leader; If you want to earn the trust of that man, don’t try to impress him with your skill. Show him what kind of man you are, he won’t be able to look down on you.

VIII. How Do You Best Communicate with Your Team?

Question: How do you go about best communicating with your team?

Working with volunteers is tricky business. You have to be nice to people and at the same time you have to ask them to give more. It is really challenging and people more than ever are super busy. Communicating with people, letting them in on what is going on is a great way, I think, over the long term , to enhance how they lead the congregation in worship. If it is communicating with them on an informational level, that is great; but I think there is kind of a three-tiered way that a worship pastor can communicate specifically with his team, to really deepen their connection and deepen their understanding of what they are doing.

The first level of communication is information. The rehearsal, at this time we are going to play these songs in these keys, it is informational. The next level up from that is encouragement. Here is the information. I want you guys to know how good you guys do, or, thank you so much for a wonderful weekend. Encouragement type things. Once you move past encouragement – information, encouragement – then you are able to be somebody who can offer insight. Hey, what about this? I think we could be doing this. Or, I was reading in the Scriptures and the Lord showed me this. I have been praying for you for these things. So, over time you consistently communicate on those three levels – information, encouragement and insight. It is cumulative. Random communication I think annoys most people. So-and-so sent an e-mail, it has been months since we have heard from them. But information, encouragement and insight cumulatively over time has a great effect to solidify a team and help that team mature; because if you get to the place where you are able to offer them insight, that helps them to mature in their own faith, to understand a little bit more deeply, not what they are doing, but why are we leading worship? What does this mean?

Most people get into worship volunteering and being a part of the team just because they like technical aspects of things. They like learning sound, they like playing the drum, it is fun! But open up the dimension of worship leadership to them on another level. You like this, but this is the big why that we are trying to accomplish here. I think that is a really helpful way. Consistently, over time, it accumulates, kind of like interest in the bank.

IX. How Do You Follow the Leading of the Spirit When There is an Organized Plan?

Question: How do you follow the leading of the Spirit when there is a very tight, organized planned service?

That is a very good question. I’ve been part of a lot of churches where you don’t deviate from the plan. A lot of churches are in a situation where we have multiple services. If you have multiple services with child care and parking and different things like that, the service needs to end on time. It has to follow in some ways, a plan. I think it is important for worship leaders to remember that just because there is a plan, doesn’t mean that God can’t work, that we have somehow limited him by putting time on our services. God is outside of time. He uses an hour the same way he uses a minute. He is eternal. Remembering that and use it as an act of faith, like God, if I sing an extra song, it doesn’t increase or diminish your power in any way; or if I only get to sing one song, this plan, this part of the service doesn’t call for a big music set. I’m okay with that because the quantity or the quality of the things I get to do doesn’t determine how powerful God can be and how he can use things. So, say, in the midst of even a tightly programmed service, this is the Lord’s service to run. If it runs right on the plan, that’s great. It also is a work of faith to be competent in a moment, to say, we are going to get off the script just for a minute. I know we have lots of things to do and I know people have lots of places to be; but just for a minute we’re going to get off the script and sing a different song, say a different word, pray a prayer that seems important and eminent in the moment. That is the work of faith. Both of those things following the script. It takes faith to do that, to follow the program – it also takes faith to say, we’re going to stop and break to this.

What I would say to worship leaders who are wanting to follow the Spirit in those moments: Make sure that you remember that it takes faith to do all of this. All of this takes faith. The work that we do is a work of faith, it is a step of faith. Ask God, Lord, lead this. The Spirit works in a planning meeting on Tuesday in the same way that he works spur of the moment on Sunday morning or Wednesday night.

X. What’s a Worship Leader’s Job When You’re Not Singing?

Question: What’s your job when you’re not singing?

That’s a good question. A lot of times there is some confusion about, should I say something when I’m not singing? Can I talk? What do I say if I am talking? A few thoughts. If you feel like you should say something, but you don’t know what to say, read the Bible. I would say, read the Scriptures, pour over the Scriptures. Find a verse, the chapter, the Psalm that is applicable to what is going on. If the songs you are singing are reinforced by the Bible, you will be able to use the Bible to read those over your congregation. Offer insights or wisdom if you are able to connect what God is doing in your own life to a song or to other people. I mentioned this in one of the other lectures, use the feel, felt, found. If you feel like this, I felt the same way, but what I found. You don’t have to use those same words, but it is the concept of, I know what you are feeling because I have felt it, but God is the one who makes the difference. Connect that wisdom or insight, providing a “why” to contextualize something that we are doing. Do you know why we have communion? Do you know what this means? Do you know that every time we do this, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. This is a picture of what was, but it is also a picture of what is to come.

Contextualizing. A lot of people, especially in a post church culture, don’t have the years and years of understanding why we do this. They didn’t grow up in church, they don’t know these things. When you are not singing, if you have an opportunity, contextualize. Help people understand a little bit more clearly what is happening. Tell your testimony of God’s goodness. I grew up in this culture where sharing your testimony was a weekly occurrence. We’d be in church, who has a testimony? Someone popped up, somebody else would pop up. I thought it was really cool. We don’t do that much anymore. Maybe we are too tightly programmed. But for a worship leader to say, I want to remind you guys one more time how good God has been in my life. You might not know this about me, but I used to do this, but God delivered me from that. Then he called me into this ministry and now I have the honor of standing in front of you guys and helping you sing about Jesus. When I am singing about Jesus, I’m not singing about something that I don’t know about, I’m singing about a Savior that has changed my life and my heart. You say your testimony. That has so much profound impact. It draws people in. That is another really good thing to do when you’re not singing.

I’ll say this, thoughtful prayer. You cannot be more influential on a person than when you are praying for them. You could say the coolest things. You could come up with the best concept. You could say, I have so much help for you. But I still think you could never be more influential in a person’s life than when you are praying for them. For a worship leader, to decide not to just phone in some prayer with a bunch of Christian lingo strung together; but look at your congregation and pray specifically for them, about things that you envision by faith that God would do in their lives, that is awesome. I want to hear my worship leader pray for me, I want that. So, when you’re not singing, read the Bible and pray for people.

XI. How Do I Use Production Elements Without Making it Feel like a Show?

Question: Next question. How do I balance production elements like lights, haze, without making everything feel like a concert or a rock show?

It’s very different across a lot of contexts. Some churches, it looks like a lighting factory exploded on the stage. What is going on here? Other churches, it’s like a windowless room, looks like a doctor’s office. I think there is a pretty good place to go for though in this. Really, my objective in leading worship is to tell the Gospel story: God is holy, man is sinful, grace is amazing, Jesus is the hope of the world. Use those things to help people sing. Those production elements, visuals, lighting, haze, all that stuff, I wouldn’t say to throw it all away. What I would say to do is use those as a means to enhance people’s capacity to engage. If we get to the point at which all the production elements invite people to watch more than it invites people to participate, we have gone too far. If the lights move and it helps to facilitate the congregation’s expression; or if you show something on the screen, an image that inspires somebody to respond in worship, whether it be with their body, with their voice, their arms, then I’m all about it. But at the point at which people fold their arms and look up and start checking it out versus engaging with it, that’s where I think you have gone too far.

Find that balance, always doing everything you can to invite people in, to participate. I think some production elements are able to do that, they have a very cool capacity. We have awesome technology, I think it’s great. I think it can be used for as much good as it can for evil. It doesn’t have to be self-serving or anything like that. There are a lot of people who are gifted to create visual atmospheres and use lights and sound and video to invite people in. I think those things are so useful when executed in the service of a congregation and inviting them in, I’m all for it. The point at which it becomes a spectator sport is too far.

XII. How Can I Take My Team to the Next Level Musically?

Question: How can I take my team to the next level musically?

I’m a big believer in setting expectations for people, saying, hey, these are the marks that I want you to hit. We’ll talk about it a little bit, but I want you to play in tune, I want you to play in time, I want you to have good tone. Those are important marks to hit. A lot of times a worship leader might do himself a favor or herself a favor by saying, I want you to be at this point by this time in your musical maturity and your progression. Here is an example of something that I ask of players that I work with: I don’t want people to use charts, I want you to have your music memorized. But, I always try to make sure that I know my music, because no one will do anything that I ask them to do that I am not already doing myself. So, if I don’t want you to use charts, then I don’t look at charts. If I want you to have your lyrics memorized, then I don’t look at lyrics. Memorizing music for some folks is hard. Actually it separates the wheat from the tares really quickly because if you can get that done, that eliminates anybody from showing up, not having listened to the music beforehand. It is setting a standard first, being willing to meet it and then holding people to it. I asked you to do this, do you think you could do it next time? All ships are out on the tide. If the worship leader is setting an excellent musical standard, I think when his team sees that, or her team sees that, they will rise to the next level.

XIII. How Do I Get My Congregation to Engage more?


Question: Next one. How do I get my congregation to engage more?



I think it is important to remember, if you are looking at a congregation and you might be asking yourself, these people aren’t involved, why aren’t they engaging? It may be true that they are not, but it could also be true that they engage differently than you do. Let yourself off the hook just a little bit, to say that different people engage in expression across a wide range. A person may look like this on the outside, -- arms folded, head down, not participating – but they may be having an experience that transcends anything that ever happened to them, but they don’t show it on the outside. Another way of doing that is giving people a good model for expression if you are interested in helping them express with their body, their mind’s attention and heart’s affection. I think that worship really is mind’s attention and heart’s affection expressed. It is not the thought that counts, it is the expression of a thought. It is letting that thought take shape, the shape of an action. The Bible is full of ways that we can use our bodies to express how we feel about God. I think it is mandated. Christianity is not purely a thought, it is the expression of thoughts. Christianity is the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It was expressed and as we worship God, we express.


Helping people understand, this is how you engage in worship. Sometimes people don’t know. First you give yourself permission to remember that everybody engages differently. Secondly, you take the authority that God has given you as the worship leader and use that to help model what expression and engagement would look like. Remember that that is a slow process. Over time it takes a lot of faith and it takes a lot of patience. But I have seen it happen over time, that as people have been discipled in worship, encouraged in worship and given a model to follow, they become more Biblical worshipers. It is a process over time.

XIV. How Do I Minister to People Outside the Realm of Worship?

Question: Next one. How do I minister to people outside the realm of worship?

When we have opportunities to lead worship, I always want to remind people that that is just one small dimension of who you are. You are first a child of God. You minister to people wherever you go not as a worship leader. Your capacity to be a child of God doesn’t end when you walk up the stage and you are not wearing an instrument anymore, you are not singing into a microphone anymore. You are a child of God always.


Secondly, you are a minister to people, no matter where you are. If you are in a grocery store, if you are in a hospital, if you are at a funeral, if you are at a football game, if you are at work, you are a child of God always and you are a minister to people. You are a worship leader, third. That is kind of down the list. So see yourself for who you really are at your core. I have been a worship leader all my life, but I am absolutely sure that there will come a time when this job will not be my job anymore. There might even come a time when I’m too sick or too old to get out of the house, but I could still be a minister to people. I could still in some capacity, even if it’s for my neighbor or my kids or just somebody that comes to visit me, I will be a minister to people. Even if my health fails me and I can’t see or speak or do anything, I will still be a child of God as long as there is breath in my lungs. Let worship leadership not be the only vehicle that you have to express your faith. Things could end tomorrow as far as your ability to do a thing, but who you are has already been set if you are in Christ. So minister outside of worship through those perspectives.

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