“Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet,
what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.”
Bernard of Clairvaux
There is a deep transformation that happens when cleaning up the waste of those you are leading in worship. This is my story of going from worship star to janitor in one day.
A couple of years ago, when I was about to finish up my prestigious Master’s degree in Worship Studies, I got word that our church was making some cuts and had to let the cleaning company go and they put me in charge of all church janitor duties. 15,000 square feet of carpet to vacuum, tile to mop, walls to dust, 20 trash cans to empty, and yes, 11 toilets to clean. I thought for sure I would have written a hit worship song by now or maybe have an assistant after all these years, but nope… I’m a 40-year-old janitor/worship leader for a resource-strapped church. Sweet. Dream come true.
The acoustic guitar is a wonderfully complex instrument with countless harmonic and rhythmic variables that can affect the overall mix of your band. Having played with over 30 worship teams in the past year, there is perhaps no greater musical dysfunction than the overplaying acoustic guitar player. If you play acoustic guitar in the worship band this video is for you:
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.
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.
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.
- 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 Drum – I 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.
- Melodica – In 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 Kit – These instruments add a loud and significant punch to melody or riffs on vamps. They get a workout at Christmas time!
- 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 Cymbals – Since 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 Laptop – I 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 Piano – This 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.
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.
As the Christmas season approaches the demands for those overseeing the worship experience in our faith communities multiplies exponentially. Just like others, our calendars fill up with parties, pageants, and family gatherings but unlike everyone else, as musicians, we are responsible for adding the soundtrack to the season. That means recruiting more volunteers, more prep time, more rehearsals, and more stress. If you are like me, EVERY Christmas in memory (since I was 5 years old) has some sort of production attached to the season. Every. Single. Year. This yearly rhythm can steal our joy and get us into a mode of just surviving the season.