My 12 Go To Apps for Worship Leading

Increasingly, I find myself pulling my phone out before, during and after worship gatherings. Not so much to update my social media, but for reference and support as a worship leader. Here are 12 helpful apps (admittedly, some of these are only shortcuts to websites that I save to my home screen) that I am using consistently in worship ministry.

1. ESV Bible

As worship leaders, we need to keep the word of God close to us. The ESV is the version of the Bible my church uses, so I keep this app handy. This particular app is free, well designed and functional. Some traditions might discourage reading from a phone on the stage, but I have found that it’s nice to have an illuminated screen and reading from a device models a great use of technology. Additionally, it models what real life might look like.

A WORSHIP LEADER’S GUIDE: Surviving and Thriving This Christmas {VIDEO}

Ten years ago, leading into the Christmas season I had a nervous breakdown as I was frantically preparing songs, dramas, and choirs for our medium sized congregation. The pressure of making Christmas “extra-special” for everyone nearly broke me. Below is a video of my story and a few ideas of how I reclaimed the Advent season. This is a VIDEO re-post of a previous text blog from last year.

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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Creative Gear for the Worship Stage

Your Backstage Inspiration

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Drums. Bass. Guitars. Piano. Vocals…. what else????

After 20 years of leading worship in the contemporary church, I have acquired various musical instruments that have helped me develop musicians, challenge bored creatives, and inspire possibilities on the worship stage. Most church backstage areas have an excess of unused gear just collecting dust. I hate this! These unused instruments could be a pathway to new inspiration and opportunity.

There is a good chance most of your teams have under-challenged musicians that could use another instrument or two to wake them from their three-chord slumber. Adding new instruments will excite the band and elevate its sound. It will also inspire the congregation as they see and hear new instruments. Adding new instruments will require your musicians to be flexible, vulnerable, and courageous, but I found most musicians appreciate the challenge.

If the Church is the hope of the world and we are tasked with sharing that gospel of hope through music, why should our instrumentation be so limited? Here are some creative gear ideas that might already be hiding backstage:

IN YOUR BACKSTAGE AREA

  • Tambourines and Shakers – Extra percussion is a great tool to have for modern worship. Often times I will employ a horn/string player to use percussion on a song if it doesn’t call for their “normal” instrument. Background singers can also help out by adding percussion to a song. If you can clap in time, then you can play hand percussion. 
  • Hot Rods, Brushes + Mallets – Many times newbie drummers or folks that play with only one style of music will not have alternate sticks. I have found that in most 4-6 song sets could benefit from one or more stick changes depending on the song. Encourage all your drummers to have a variety of sticks, but the church should have some on hand. 

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  • Accordion – This is not a joke. I have lent out the church accordion to MANY keyboard players over the years. I encourage  them to search youtube for lessons and play along to a slow song using the keyboard (not the button) side. It’s a fun and life-giving musical tool to use for a song or two. Can sound like a pad or cello, not always polka. 
  • Ukulele and/or Mandolin If you have more than one  guitar player, often times I will ask one of those players to learn mandolin or ukulele and use it in a song or two. 
  • Cajon or Any Hand DrumI have trained up many drummers starting on hand percussion. They play along with the main drummer. As they get better I eventually have them trade seats with the drummer for the slow song. All of a sudden, I have more drummers! Check out Monk Drums, a very cool drum company that makes affordable custom cajon’s.
  • MelodicaIn Germany, they use this instrument to teach kids music. It’s a fun little piano that just about anyone can play. Don’t use it for every song or every week, but you can pull it out for a little inspiration. Keep the alcohol wipes handy.
  • Glockenspiel or Bell KitThese instruments add a loud and significant punch to melody or riffs on vamps. They get a workout at Christmas time! 

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  • Baritone and Hi-strung Guitars. Baritone guitars are tuned super low and sound in between a guitar and bass. They are fun and can work on some songs. High-strung or Nashville tuning is a way to string your guitar to make it sound “chimey“. If you have extra guitars hanging around the church, consider making one of them hi-strung.
  • Extra Snare Drums and CymbalsSince the snare drum and cymbals are so critical to the overall sound it’s nice to have some extra high-quality options for drummers to choose from. If you have better drums and options at church you will suddenly have more drummers! 
  • A Midi Keyboard Controller and Old LaptopI lent out an $99 midi keyboard and an old church laptop (with Reason and Garageband loaded) to a 10th grade homeschooler. She came back to church with pads, Rhodes, and all kinds of sounds loaded up ready to play. This stuff is no longer rocket science. CPU>USB Cable>Old Laptop>1/8″ cable>DI Box>Sound System. 
  • A Real Fender Rhodes Electric PianoThis is a popular sound that you hear on recordings and many keyboards already have a “Rhodes” sound built in. I have found it to be inspiriting to actually have the real thing on stage. They require some maintenance but really add to the overall expression of sound. You can usually find them on craigslist for $600-1000. 

NEW INSTRUMENTS IN PRACTICE 

  • Lead your drummer to use mallets on the cymbals for the slow part of the song to create dark orchestral swells to add emotion.
  • Ask your bass player to play the glockenspiel for a song that doesn’t need bass.
  • Instruct your drummer to use brushes on a slow 6/8 song to help create a softer element in a song.
  • Have your acoustic guitar player play the tambourine on their thigh like they are clapping.
  • Lend out your Cajon to a youth who has good rhythm, invite them to play the next week.
  • Strip down the stage to acoustic guitar, hi-strung acoustic guitar, accordion cajon and Fender Rhodes.

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Contact me to talk about how we can raise the bar through virtual or on-site training for your worship ministry.

Mike O'Brien - Worship Team Training and Development

Planning Silence in Worship {VIDEO}

Planning Silence

As we gather to worship consider adding a time of intentionally led silence. This practice is both historical and Biblical; silence could be one of the most “cutting edge” tools for modern worship in our sonically saturated culture. Check out the quick video below.

“Solitude and silence are not self-indulgent exercises for times when an overcrowded soul needs a little time to itself. Rather, they are concrete ways of opening to the presence of God beyond human effort and beyond the human constructs that cannot fully contain the Divine” –Ruth Haley Barton

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Contact me to talk about how we can raise the bar through virtual or on-site training for your worship ministry.

Mike O'Brien - Worship Team Training and Development

A Worship Leader’s Guide to Not Leading Worship

5 Big Ideas

ON STAGE

Whether you are a volunteer or paid worship leader, your influence within the community is operating both on and off stage. What you choose to do and don’t do will impact your teams, future leaders, and your own family. Let’s consider a wider realm of influence for our key leaders, one that takes into account more than just the “worship leading” role, which is vital. Leaders, consider these questions:

  • Do your teams get a chance to see you follow or are you always the boss?
  • Do you intentionally plan time away from the stage?
  • Does your church culture reward rest and simply being present?
  • When was the last time you took communion or received prayer at the altar? Are you always playing music or fixing issues?

NOTE: Although, this article is worship leader focused, these concepts can work across the board in kids ministry, preaching teams, and any conceivable team in the church.

Here are 5 PLACES you can lead, by not “leading”:

1. On the Stage, co-leading 

This is all about developing those around you. Train others to do everything you do. You could ask up and coming leader to run the rehearsal, lead the opening prayer, or facilitate the communion invitation. If you are interested in growth and discipleship, there should be several weeks throughout the year when you are simply supporting someone else who is leading. If music is your thing, form disciples as you make it!

BIG IDEA: Always be training someone to do everything you do. 

Winning the Volume War for Drummers VIDEO

Drummer Volume WareYour drummer and the drum set together make up one of the most critical variables in the overall sonic landscape of your gathered worship space. Many of us struggle from week to week and drummer to drummer to get the right balance.  This quick video will give you some tips to achieve the volume and velocity from the drummer that is best for your room.

You might want to check out the Introduction to Winning the Volume War HERE

Winning the Volume War for Drummers gives 4 simple tips on how to help control volume and perceived volume in our services:

1. Tune your heart
Drummers, know the power you have to make the sound beautiful or brutal. Lay down your preferences (and your heavy metal cymbal set) and be a team player. You have been given incredible influence.

What is Your Investment in Worship Training?

Worship Leader Bootcamp: Nashville TN June 14-17 2016

As a worship leader there are many things I learned in the local church by just faithfully showing up. I was the the guy who could just make it happen every week, and I did it for years. Ultimately, I realized that my call to worship ministry was more than just putting together 5 songs. I had to recruit and grow a constant stream of musicians. I had to choose accessible songs for teens, parents, and retirees simultaneously. I had to ask musicians to practice. I had to deal with a legacy church member who didn’t let anybody (including me) touch the soundboard. I had to learn how to care for my soul. I was expected to do the work of a shepherd, knowing only how to hold the staff, not actually knowing how to lead a flock.

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Desperate to overcome the challenges, I attended conferences, seminars and began to read more. My most significant leaps forward in worship leadership came from learning environments outside my church. Specific worship leader training did things that immersion could not.

Dear Pastor: Here’s Why Worship Leaders Struggle to Play Fast Songs

Worship Leaders Struggle to Play Fast Songs

 

Dear Pastor,

I get it. You want an engaging and energetic service. You don’t want to ignore the pain and depression of this world, but you don’t want to contribute to it. Musical worship takes up a significant portion of our services and sets the pace. When the Church gathers, those that are leading and the worship band should be hopeful and expectant. For the record, the Bible backs up your desire, continually telling us to worship with fervent hearts:

Psalm 100:2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Somewhere along the way, many musicians in the church thought that if we desired to be “real” or “relevant”, we should only show fear, shame, or melancholy on our face! See Dan Wilt’s post on Smile. Because of this, our songs started to match our emotion – all in the name of authenticity. We watch perfectly edited mega-church videos full of exuberant congregants clapping and singing; yet, we hang our head knowing that it’s what you want, but we can’t deliver.

Designing Goals for Worship Leaders

Goals for Worship Leaders

God is very kind to build seasons into our lives. Every new season is an excellent time to recalibrate and make new what has become tattered and worn.

For many, our worship ministries and personal leadership have plateaued. Sure, we get the weekly worship set out and go through the motions, but there is something deep inside that says there could be more. The non-stop voice in our head says, “I wish….”. For years I wanted a better voice but I was too embarrassed, broke or distracted to take a voice lesson. I also wanted a real Hammond B3 Organ. I wanted to get high quality counseling… and the list went on and on. All these dreams (and more) connected with my calling went nowhere year after year. In 2002 I started making a list and a plan of action for everything I could dream in the area of worship leadership and our team. That year, by March – EVERYTHING had already been accomplished! Needless to say every year since I have continued to pray, dream and designing goals for that next year.

We so easily discount these goal making sessions as RESOLUTION PLANS that will only fail. But let me say this: You will inevitably begin and restart cycles of sin this year without a list or a plan. I promise. Knowing that the one who comes to steal and destroy is always working, we need to take the time to listen to what God has for us. There are more tools today to help us succeed than ever before.