"Sing to the Lord, you saints of His; praise His holy name" (Ps 30:4)
"How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth! Sing praises to God, sing praises" (Ps 47:2,6)
"I will sing of Your strength … for You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble" (Ps 59:16)
"I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations" (Ps 89:1)
"I will sing of Your love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing praise" (Ps 101:1)
"Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything" (Eph 5:19-20)
As God's people, these verses remind us we are all instructed to sing out our worship to God. As musicians, it is such a privilege to sing in worship - whether as a worship leader or backing vocalist - and to help lead people into God's presence and even encourage or inspire others to worship. As both a worship leader and a singer, I'd like to share a few things I've learned over the years about musicianship and character.
- make sure you can sing in tune, and harmonise well: I'm not the world's greatest harmoniser - but once I've learnt it, it's in there! If you're not confident, work with the other singers to be clear who's singing what
- take care of your voice. Don't be out late Saturday night, drink lots of water, and get enough sleep. Warm up your voice each time, and practice; little and often is best
- develop a good repertoire, and know the words to many songs by heart. Ask worship leaders you sing with regularly for a list of songs they use. You are so much freer without your eyes glued to a lyric sheet!
- be alert, and learn to anticipate what's coming next. You are not 'lost' in worship and oblivious to everything around you. You are worshipping, though. It is possible to be aware of the worship leader, of where the congregation is 'at', and still enter fully into worship at the same time! It gets easier with experience. If you haven't heard the worship leader call anything, look and catch the signal to the band. You only need look when a decision needs to be made - at the end of the chorus, for example. Also be alert to help the worship leader if they need you, bringing music forward and so on
- listen to what's happening in both the worship and music dynamics, and sense when it's good to join in or step back. Check what the worship leader is happy for you to do, or work out specific places for harmony with the other singers. Consider the sound of the whole band, that means blending with the other singers, not standing out as the soloist. It's not a performance, it's a team effort - enjoy it!
- handle the soundcheck 'professionally'. In your foldback you probably just need your voice, keys and are able to hear the worship leader. A lot of rehearsal time can be wasted if people don't know how to soundcheck properly, so if you're unsure, ask someone who knows
This is where the rubber hits the road for all worship musicians. There are a lot of gifted people out there, and in secular music people will forgive any kind of behaviour from those that are extremely talented. Obviously it's not to be like that in church or more importantly, for God. What makes you stand out here is attitude - what's in your heart.
- I love to work with great musicians but on my worship team, first and foremost I want worshippers. People who are the same in the congregation, in the prayer meeting, as well as on the platform; they love to meet with God. They love the secret place with God - they don't need an 'audience'
- have a servant heart. If you want to serve in this ministry, don't just do it when you feel like it or it suits you. We all get asked at the last minute sometimes, we all have busy weeks … count it your privilege! The flip side is not to have a 'what about me' attitude if you're not asked - see the 'What about me' notes for more on this. Be a team player
- place your security in God and not in what you do or don't do. Your identity is in God and not in your abilities. It is very important to think like a team, which is a process - it takes time to develop friendships and feel genuinely secure with each other. But do make that your goal - you will get so much more out of it if you come with an attitude of 'together we are going to lead people into God's presence and give Him glory and meet with Him' than if you are feeling 'this is my big opportunity for everyone to finally know what a brilliant singer I am'… Know your gift is exactly that - a gift - and it's not just a gift to you, it's a gift to the worship team, to the church. Be a good steward of it - don't take it for granted, practice so you can be as good as you can be. Don't in any way feel threatened or rejected by the size of your role. If you're singing two lines in harmony at the end of the second chorus, "be faithful with little", enter into the worship with everything you've got and bring your bit of colour to the whole painting. To continue the analogy, develop a 'big picture' mentality! Matt Redman's song, 'Heart of worship' is so brilliant: "It's all about You, it's all about You, Jesus"
- be able to express worship without being inhibited, but at the same time without drawing attention to yourself. Singers who never smile and seem rooted to the spot are not an inspiration to worship. Experience helps, but just be more focused on God and worshipping Him than being too aware of yourself. We can enhance the worship, but be careful not to distract - don't over-ad-lib which can seem 'show-offy', or let your voice be too 'dominant' in corporate times of singing freely
- aim to grow in singing prophetically. Know the Word of God and aim to bring timely things of depth and weight that are consistent with the progression and flow of worship
- be positive, encouraging and supportive. It's very discouraging for a worship leader to say 'We're doing to do such-and-such' song, and the singers or band respond with 'I don't like one, it's too high' or similar (whingy) comments. Please have a bigger perspective than that! If you think someone led worship sensitively, or sang or played well, tell them. "Encourage one another daily" (Hebrews 3:13). Be fun to be around but know when to be professional. That means have a laugh, by all means, (it is supposed to be fun) but know when to stop talking, pay attention and listen
To sum up, we are positive, supportive servants, who are genuinely worshipful, secure in God and who we are in God, 'professional', with a clear understanding of our role, we're alert, well-prepared and we have a 'worship sensibility'. We're not there to promote ourselves but to honour and glorify God, and what we do, we do it excellently. We are team players, who love God, who love to worship, who have the Word of God (and whole songbooks!) in our hearts, and who genuinely love to see people meet with God and to see God being praised. Not much then! But go for it and give God your very best.