What I Learned in my 11 months as a Worship Team-Leader

I’ll never forget that day. I was at the 2017 MTNA Conference in Baltimore, Maryland when I got a text from a good friend letting us know that a big announcement would be made at our church that Sunday. It sounded really, really serious.

Since I wouldn’t be there, I called him immediately and was shocked to hear that our Senior Minister, who had been with nearly 30 years, was being let go. (The nitty-gritty of the reason why, of course, is not pertinent to this story, so we’ll skip over those details.)

After hanging up the phone, my next outing at the conference was brunch with my good friend (and author of The Varsity Musician’s Playbook), Christina Whitlock, and Wendy Stevens.  Bless their hearts, they were very sympathetic to my blubbering shock at the information I had just received.

That is one of my life moments I will never forget.

Fast-forward just over a year. It’s now the summer of 2018.

Our church was going through a formal “transition” process with a company called Interim Pastor Ministries. It was a long process, but the results were well worth it in the end.

During this time, a person in our congregation who had been a worship leader in a previous career had been filling in as our worship leader. After a year he was ready to step down, but our church still had not hired a new pastor and wanted to wait until the new pastor came before hiring other staff.

Thus, I was next in line as the most obvious person to ask to lead the worship team.

This is another one of those life-moments where it throws you a complete curveball.

MY plans for 2018-2019 were to vamp up my work here on Piano Pantry, open up a shop, etc. His plans were otherwise, however, and I am so glad I took the fork in the road.

 

The Job Situation

Since this was a temporary situation and I already had a job playing for a small Lutheran church in our town, the elders wanted to ensure I did not have to quit my job to take on this role. Thus, it was set up that I was the “coordinator” of the team, not necessarily the weekly “up-front” worship leader.

My duties included scheduling the team, choosing music, putting together all the chord charts and sound files, and rehearsing the band and vocalists every Thursday night and Sunday morning. (Plus all the other little things that get wrapped up into it that you can’t really articulate).

On Sunday mornings, I would arrive at our church at 7:00 am to prep, rehearsed the worship team from 8:00-9:15, left to play at the Lutheran Church at 9:30 (while our worship team led the 9:30 service), then came back and attended our 11:00 service with my husband.

Every 6 weeks or so, I would take a week off from the Lutheran Church (I just recorded the music for them on a Yamaha Clavinova) and would lead worship at my church. Otherwise, we had 3-5 team members we rotated as worship leaders from week to week.

It’s been a whirlwind, but the past 11 months has taught me a lot as it’s been a new and unique experience for me. The only other time I’ve been in charge of music in a church was for two summers after I graduated high school. I moved out of my parent’s house and lived with my aunt and uncle so I could lead music at my uncle’s small church. That was 20 years ago though, and things have changed quite a bit!

This week is my last week in this role and I thought it might be nice to share with you some of the things I learned not only so you might glean some tips, but as kind of a final recap for myself mentally.

It’s that whole “putting a period on the end of a sentence” thing in life where you mark the end of one venture before moving onto another.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past year:

 

1) Appreciate the person who is leading.

Just like a lot of things in life, it’s easy to nit-pick and finds fault if things aren’t exactly the way you would like them. We tend to like things catered to our exact tastes.

There is so much more that goes into the role of worship leader – I had no idea. I learned that I need to appreciate the person who is in that role more and be positive and supportive of that person, even if their “style” or the way they operate things is not exactly the way I would do things.

 

2) Plan with Planning Center Services

Planning Center is a website for churches focused on managing different areas of the church such as member databases, check-ins for child programs, church event management, and so much more.

One of those areas is Planning Center Services which is designed to organize all things worship-team including team schedules, weekly planning, and file-sharing. We have our own song database, can organize our songs with tags and can see a history of when and how often we’ve done each song. I don’t know what I would have done without it!

Planning Center Services also has a sheet music app called Music Stand that links to your P.C.S. account and syncs your Order of Service playlist so it will create a set list from your service order. The best part is that if you make any updates to the files, it will automatically update in Music Stand as well.

It even has the ability to connect everyone’s iPad on the team to one “session” so one person can turn everyone’s page at the same time. (This feature never worked for us quite the way we wanted but it’s still a cool feature!)

 

3) CCLI is the church music copyright agency

In their words: “Christian Copyright Licensing International enables real-time access to licensed Christian music and media while at once easing the burden of administration in the many complex issues related to copyright.”

You pay a set annual fee of $150-$200 per year and get access to all the worship music you could ever want via Song Select (mentioned next) without having to worry about obtaining copyrights for very every individual song.

From what I understand, you don’t have to be a church to get a CCLI License. You can just be an “organization.” (I’m not 100% sure on that though, as I got access because of our church’s license).

 

4) Song Select rocks

Song Select is an amazing database of worship music that comes with the CCLI license. Not only can you see what’s popular and trending, but you can get access to chord charts, lyric sheets, sound preview files, lead sheets, and vocal sheets. Any song can be automatically transposed to any key of your choice as well.

This was my main go-to source for worship music charts this past year.

 

5) Praise charts rocks

Next to SongSelect, the next best place to get quality chord charts is PraiseCharts.com. While some may not love the two-column format of their charts, their charts are very precise and worth paying for.

The times I found myself getting a chord chart from PraiseCharts.com included:

  1. When I didn’t have as much time to map out the piece myself (Song Select just gives you the verses, chorus, and bridge but not necessarily in the exact order the recording goes). Praise Charts maps out the pieces from start to finish in the exact order. Since we rotated 3-5 different worship leaders, it was important that I make it easy as possible to follow the charts
  2. When I needed a specific characteristic melody that I didn’t have time to sit down and figure out/notate myself
  3. I needed a chart in a key that was not offered by Song Select. (This only happened once I think.)

 

6) Spotify Is My New Favorite Music App

If you’re not using Spotify yet, it’s time to reconsider.

If I recall correctly, the first time I heard about Spotify was from Natalie Weber of Music Matters Blog (we’re talking 8 or more years ago). It’s one of those programs that until I had a specific reason to use it, it was not on my radar. Now that I’ve been using it regularly though, it’s been the perfect tool.

The biggest reason Spotify is so useful is that not only do you have access to lots of music for free, but you can create your own custom playlists.

Spotify was my go-to program for “research.” Here are some of the ways in which it was most useful for me.

  1. Discovering new worship music, including both contemporary as well as updated versions of hymns and even contemporary hymns.
  2. See what different kinds of variations of a song were out there so I could find the version I liked the best or even find an acoustic version of a contemporary song.
  3. Creating playlists. I created a playlist for the worship team of the newest music we were going to be rotating over a several month period. I also created a playlist of worship music at Easter time that focused on Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. I shared it with my church and also with you (if you get my secret monthly letter).

 

7) Itunes is The Place to Get Your MP3 Files

This wasn’t necessarily something new I learned, but iTunes was a big part of my resources. Spotify was my searching tool then I would go to iTunes to purchase mp3 files if we didn’t already have them in our song database.

 

8) Atmosphere Matters

The one little thing that really can make a difference in music services that can really pull things together and create smooth transitions between songs, is to integrate a Pad sound.

The previous interim worship leader helped me with this late in my stint and now I wish I had asked him for help on it sooner. I thought what he was doing by integrating this was much more complicated than it was.

A pad/atmosphere sound is simply a sound file track we downloaded from iTunes that runs for 30 minutes on one chord. It’s not just a plain sold chord but has more of an atmospheric sound. We have one track for every key and created a playlist on the iTunes app on one of the iPad Air’s on stage.

That iPad is connected to the sound system and a guitar pedal that the bass player controlled. The pedal allows you to slowly fade the track in and out.

The pedal you see here is not the exact pedal we have, but you get the idea.


I’m sure there is so much more I could add to this list but for now, I am just feeling thankful that I’ve had this experience!

“Worship is the continuous outpouring of all that we are, all that we do and all that we can ever become.”

-Harold Best in Unceasing Worship

 

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