“Team”… we all know the definition. It’s more than one. Generally, it’s people (or animals) working together toward a common goal. If one horse can’t pull a wagon, a team of horses usually can. If one programmer can’t get the app created on his/her own, a team of programmers is the ticket.
Most hit songs today are written by “teams”. Co-writing is the primary way professional songwriters get the job done. There are many reasons for this, including the unfortunate fact that most artists won’t cut a song today unless they write on it, but the main reason professionals tend to co-write is because they understand that the best product comes when they collaborate with others. Some writers are strongest with lyrics, some with melody, etc. But also, “two heads are better than one” in most cases. But today my intention was not really to talk about songwriting collaboration. If you want to read more about that, check out the co-writing blog post.
We all understand the Biblical concept of the body, and its various parts … how one part of the body can’t say to another, “I don’t need you.”. So, how and why do you select a worship team?
Fact: A worship leader most often selects his worship team based on the musical instrument each individual plays. In other words, the worship leader selects a “band”. But a good “band” does not necessarily mean a good “worship team”. Be careful!
Put on your pastor or ministry hat and think through this with me. Is it more important to have exactly the right instruments in the band or the right people on the team? (This reminds me of the business book, GOOD TO GREAT, where the author, Jim Collins talks about the importance of “getting the right people on the bus”.) Let me go a little deeper here. What is the purpose of the worship team – to make the most awesome music or to enter into the most holy place?
I remember in the early days of our Worship Together ministry, I hosted several conferences around the US. There were two specific worship leaders from the UK that I invited to come lead at these conferences. Both of them turned me down for the very same reason. In each case I had explained to the worship leader that I could not afford to fly in their entire team. However, I would provide some of the absolute best-skilled, professional musicians (all Christian I might add) to serve as their band. Both of the leaders told me, in their own way, that they would not do it without their team. These guys were internationally known church worship leaders who had carefully selected their worship team members through prayer and because of careful attention to each member’s unique spiritual gifting (not just their musical gifting). They led worship as a unit, not as solo leaders with a band.
One of these guys had a long conversation with me, that I’ll never forget. He shared stories of how, at times, the Spirit of the Lord would rest upon one of his background singers during the service… or upon the drummer, or on another team member, and what would result would be a powerful worship service and time of ministry. He had great respect for each individual on his team. The worship leader understood that the group of individuals did “ministry” together and that one member was not more important than another. They were all trusted ministers, filled with the Word and the Spirit. The leader expected that the Lord would move however He wanted to move, through whichever part of the team He chose, to do His work in each service. The team was prepared, spiritually. They prayed together, sought the Lord together, were one in purpose and vision. The spiritual preparation and the ministry to the Lord and to the congregation was top priority.
I had this particular conversation in 1999 and I still remember it. Although I’ve shared it with friends on a handful of occasions, today it seemed particularly important to share. I’ve thought about it often and I’ve also thought about how a team is only as strong as its weakest link. We know that’s true musically for a band, but it’s also true spiritually. Just as your senior pastor is careful who he might put on the platform to minister the Word to his flock, or who he might allow on the prayer team to pray with his flock, as a worship leader you must use the same caution as you choose who ministers with you.
As contemporary worship music has become more popular in recent years, church leaders seem quite eager to put together full bands for their platform and the musicians in their congregations are eager to play (for both right and wrong reasons). It seems that too often we put the “cart before the horse” – or horses, as it may be. If you’re a leader, I encourage you to select and prep your musicians and singers with much wisdom and prayer – not for the best music, but for powerful and effective ministry as a team.