How To Be A Good Modern Worship Leader
This hub is written for the instance in which you are a singer or guitarist and singer who must now lead a band of musicians for church which include a drummer, a bass guitarist, other singers, and possibly a keyboardist and other instruments.
You may pick up general managerial advice on how to properly lead a team of people in this hub by proxy as well.
What is the sermon message vs lyrics?
It is a good idea to pick songs which flow with the theme or topic the pastor has set forward. For example, if the message is "Dealing with doubts and dispair" or "Where is God in this bad economy" and you put forth your happiest songs about God's love, it might feel like salt in the wound to the attendees. A quick phone call will yield a cohesive meeting.
What is the style of this service?
Let's say that you are relatively new to the church, but you can sing amazingly. You are asked to become the music leader for a short time. This is your chance to showcase your passions to the world in the form of all Mo-Town all the time, or possibly all power metal falsettos!
There is a style already put forth, and a particular demographic that this church attracts/serves. It is not your stage to be you.
You might remember when Michael Scott in The Office tv show was asked for a financial report. He created a "feel-good" video showcasing the charming, small town attributes of his staff. As charming as is was, the expectation was a paper document containing the financial facts of his branch.
Work within the structure set forth, and after giving what is expected, your personality may leak out slowly if need be.
What is the makeup of the group?
If you have an abundance of guitar players, you should do more rockier songs than r&b songs.
If you have a strong keyboard player and more female singers, you should do more quiet, tender songs and ballads.
Work to the strength of your current members within the style/structure that is expected.
Whether your worship team looks this...
Set a Tone & Give Instructions
For how to start and finish, for beginnings and endings, if the band doesn't know what is going on, the crowd will be paying attention to the band's indecision and not to God. Spirituality should be about God, the Holy Spirit, not about you, the random dude or dudette on stage.
You are the leader, so you can say, "Sarah will start this one and Jim will start the next one."
Many of The Office's funny moments came when Michael the manager would not choose a health care plan, would not choose an employee to lay off, would not choose a promotion, etc... and kept trying to pass it off to his employees but then blame the employees for those things that went wrong. Don't let this be you.
Give Hand Signals
People who think or say, "but what if I'm concentrating on playing my part or closing my eyes focusing on hitting that high note?" do not understand the role of the leader.
As the leader in basketball, it may not be your job to say, "I'm the best, and I know how we can win. If I just run faster than the other team and jump over everyone and dunk it everytime, I can crush this other and we will win!" Sure, but more realistically, the team will be looking at the leader for hand signals such as "Go to the basket", "Slow down", "Run play #2" and so forth.
The band will be looking to you for hand signals such as: quieter, louder, faster, slower, chorus, bridge, repeat last part, stop. It is your job to figure out how to communicate these and how to not focus so much on being rockstar awesome but directing the music.
Be Prepared to Speak on the Spot
How, you may ask?
Be well-versed in the verses...of the Bible during some times during the week.
On the spot speeches may come in life, and hopefully you won't just say, "Well, uh, stuff is cool, and stuff. You know, like, I'd like to thank the academy, and well, all y'all, for uh..."
Or your worship team looks like this...
Before picking out some songs to sing, just thinking, "Well, everyone knows these...", listen to the recordings (Youtube?) beforehand. Communicate real, practical demonstrations of your ideas to follow with web links.
When practice comes up, you don't have to say, "How does this one go? What is the rhythm/tempo?" Different people may have differing opinions of how a "commonly understood popular item" is remembered.
This is much like telling different people to "draw a phone." Your responses will greatly vary. Telling people to "draw an iPhone 4s" will produce much more cohesive results.
Listen to Ideas
The bass/drums/backup singers might have a musical idea. Instead of saying, "Well, I'm the leader and I say no" right off the bat, who's to say some musical harmony or break is immediately bad without trying it in practice.
You will get much more responsive enthusiasm out of your band members with a willingness to listen to and A / B test a few ideas rather just pounding your fists saying, "Well, I'm the manager, I run the show, and you are just the assistant to the regional manager." One new idea from the [slaves]/team members per meeting might contribute a lot to team morale.
Study Story Composition
Although your outline for playing songs might be, "Play song 1, play song 2, play song 3", using form and structure from story composition might yield a more meaningful experience for the crowd.
For example, you might read of a five act play in which there is a conflict and a resolution.
You might take note that a movie consists of a big opening, a time of hurt, and a triumphant finish.
Pre-existing story-telling idioms might help you communicate song and live set structure easier.
Don't Get a Big Head...
Allow Time/Make Teams Work Together
You're the leader, so everyone should just follow direct orders from you, right? Not necessarily.
Certain groups of people that have related jobs need to work together to compliment each other. These include:
bass guitar + drums
and alternate instrument (violin/banjo/lead/effect guitar etc) with instrument lead.
Irregardless of the band or leader, these teams need to be together with each other. Part of the leader's job is not just to say, "Well, I feel great with my singing, I feel I'm doing an awesome job" but "bass player do you connect with drummer? Higher singer do you feel comfortable with lower singer? Alternate instrument do you know where you are supposed to come in?"
Even if they don't want it, make time in your practice session to force these teams together and get them to talk to each other about their parts and how they feel they fit together. The end result will be much better.
Mark Solomon's inside tales book
Music is made up of melody, harmony, and rhythm. You can be awesome at melody and harmony, which is why people enjoy you as a singer, and probably why you are picked as the leader. However, to "lead the band", you will need to be able to speak rhythm to your other band members as well, who occupy the third side of the triangle of music.
You have a "natural gift" for singing, but often the drummer studied reading and writing sheet music, watching instructional videos, taking lessons, reading musical tabs and books, and listening and practicing to a greater variety of international and niche music to become a drummer. They often are more fundamentally trained and educated in music as a discipline. Do not fear this, but you must be able to communicate with her/him and the band in overt musical terminology to clarify issues if they arise.
Although you may be a singer and not a guitarist, keyboard player, drummer, or other instrument, you should be able to understand and communicate to the band:
- double time
- half time
- songs in 3 (feel) versus
- songs in 4
- muted chords
- open chords
- building emotion/intensity (how to, such as fast, even strumming)
- releasing emotion/intensity (how to, such as strumming once every phrase)
- doing a musical section with a riff versus
- doing the same musical section straight-forward
- 1,2,3,4. If the words start on 1, do we end together on 4, or on 1 of the next phrase?
- how to count or feel the breaks such as a guitar solo or other instrumental break. If the keys play for 4 bars in between verses, can you come in on time?
...it's not always going to be like this
I, and many others still make mistakes, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be uncaring and lacking effort or preparation. Playing for church is not a place to showcase your star ability and do it perfectly, but to serve the local community, help other people and bring glory to God. You will often get to work with many races, ages, and cultures, put your differences aside and have some fun.
I hope this guide will help you with a basic guide to getting started!