Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Mess We Make - Kent Morris

Seminars 4 Worship instructor Kent Morris examines 10 common mistakes that worship teams can avoid during worship services.

Why do we make the act of worship so difficult? Is it a fear of divine intimacy that causes us to have a “cannot succeed” mentality? The mistakes worship teams commit while approaching God do not preclude His presence, but they do erect obstacles to the flow of the Holy Spirit. Here, then are ten common errors churches can avoid in the pursuit of God:

1. Turning minor errors into public spectacles
When a vocalist forgets to turn on a wireless microphone or a technician commits a track cueing error, the worst thing a worship leader can do is to proclaim the mistake to the entire congregation. If the audience didn’t notice, why bring it up? And, if it was an obvious error, then everyone already knows about it. Far from being a way to humanize the proceedings, public notifications only hinder the work of the Spirit and demoralize the person responsible. It is better to go on with the service and discuss the incident in the context of love at a later debriefing.

2. Playing too much
Some musicians live to play and feel compelled to use every chord they know each service. Just as too many cooks spoil the pot, so, too many notes spoil the song. If each segment can be giv en some air to breathe in the form of silence around the song, then each part that is played takes on added value and weight. Ed Kerr says it best, “Make every note you play count toward the goal of communication and away from a focus on your ability. ”

3. Playing too loudly
Worship wars are known for their resounding barrage of noise. The goal of the band should not be to destroy the congregation’s hearing, but to play music that encourages the audience to participate in a journey to the throne of God. How loud is too loud is a question each team must answer based on the culture and circumstance of the local assembly. However, a rule of thumb is to keep the stage level low enough that unamplified voices can be at least partially understood from a one-foot distance. The house mix level should be below 95dB-A average response.

4. Choosing inappropriate material
I recently attended a worship service designed for forty year olds that incorporated a musical style more appropriate for twenty year olds. While the audience seemed to appreciate the band’s efforts, they never became engaged in the proceedings. There were, though, a few Gen Xers in another room who were drawn to the sounds emanating from the sanctuary. As a church consultant, I have been asked to referee many battles between the old and new and have discovered the new is more readily digested when coated with cues from the old. No one wants to be outmoded and there will always be someone who lives to hear Journey-esque music performed by a Steve Perry wannabee. Keeping everyone happy is one way to direct people to Christ.

5. Selecting songs average people can’t sing
In a recent informal survey of non-participatory church goers, the majority cited the frustration they feel when they desire to worship in song, but are hindered by a musical selection beyond their range. While the team members may impress themselves with their virtuosity and skill, the average Joe in the pew just gives up and stares into space. Engaging people is never accomplished by making them feel inferior and inadequate. In the words of Chariya Bissonette, “It doesn’t matter what you [the vocalist] can do. It only matters what Christ can do through you. ”

6. Starting the service late
If the service is to begin at 10:00 AM, then it should begin on time, lest those who made the effort to be there promptly are disenfranchised while those who failed to arrive early are greeted with an “it doesn’t really matter mentality.” The most precious commodity people have is time and starting a service late implies their time gift is not important to the staff and team.

7. Treating rehearsal time as practice time
As Jamie Harvill states, “Rehearsal is crafted to polish the song, not to learn it. Individual practice time is when learning occurs.” Curt Coffield uses the time/money scale to weigh the value of rehearsal. If each member’s time is worth $25.00 per hour, imagine the total value of every rehearsal event and treat it appropriately.

8. Buying a Hyundai, then driving it like a Ferrari
Audio and video systems cost what they are worth. There is no way a modest system can perform like an expensive, properly designed system. Churches love to set system budgets, and then try to force the integrator to “make it work.” Unfortunately, God’s laws of physics apply in His house just like they do at an Eminem concert. As the cliché says, you get what you pay for. If a church needs to reproduce video and audio at a high level, it takes the right equipment and personnel to achieve the goal.

9. Presenting a hip image of Christianity in place of the image of Christ
God does not call us to make Christianity cool. There is nothing cool about suffocating to death on a cross while stripped naked. The Gospel is a wonderful message and conveys hope, but not at the expense of truth. Our message must be applicable to all people for all time in all circumstance.

10. Creating virtual music
Performing Muzak versions of rock tunes with guitars played through modeling modules and drums banged out on electronics drums does not endear the message to someone raised on real rock-and-roll. If the situation is appropriate for virtual instruments and the room acoustics are atrocious, then virtual may be the answer. However, if authenticity is the goal, then authentic instrumentation is the means for success. Discernment is needed to understand when to wail and when to use in-ears.

Kent Morris is a veteran media system designer and Seminars4Worship instructor focused on the ministry aspects of technology.

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