After several years away from it I started playing bass at my church a few months back. My question to all of you experienced worship leaders and musicians is, what are we supposed to be feeling when we're up front and playing at a church service? Personally I'm thinking about a large number of musically technical issues (setting up for the next chord change, following the worship leader, trying to work out where he's going off-piste next, tracking the drummer, listening to the keyboard player to work out what frequency space he's giving me to work in, generally attempting to tie it all together). As a result it's basically a technical exercise for me, the idea of the 'heart of worship' seems a bit distant from the rhythm section. I'll admit to not being an especially emotional type (I work as a scientist so I can do empirical rationalism), but is there supposed to be more to it?
So, firstly, what scripture can you suggest that might illuminate this a bit? Also, what are the experiences of the rest of you? Is this just me or is it one of those issues that several of us are quietly thinking about?
Can't put a scripture to it offhand, but the reality is that on a typical worship team, you're playing in less than ideal conditions. What I mean by that is, you're playing with (mostly) non-professional musicians who meet once a week for practice (at best) and the song list changes week to week - always something new to learn. The result is that you never really get to "nail" the song to the point where you don't have to think about it while you're playing. So, yes, your mind is going to be caught up with the technical stuff just because of the sheer challenge of what you're working with and in.
Contrast that with watching bands like Paul Baloche, Matt Redman, and others, who really have their stuff down and do it for a living. As a result, they can really let go during a set, and (I think) it leaves much more room for the Spirit to work, and for the individual band members to be free to worship while they play/sing.
On another front, the worship musician's time for personal worship is really not during the corporate worship time. They are there to lead the people in worship - i.e. they have a job to do, just like the pastor who is going to preach the message. I don't know many pastors who really get blessed by their own preaching, especially not in the middle of the sermon that they themselves are giving (at least not in the same way).
So I focus on getting close to God during my own private times, and if it happens during the worship set that I'm leading, then hey, that's an added bonus. But in reality, my mind and spirit are more focused on giving out during those times than on receiving.
I don't know if Paul Baloche or Matt Redman are able to get rid of the distractions either. I've heard a few interviews by professional musicians who play the same thing every night for a 9 month tour and it's the same for them.
OK, first hurdle, I don't think you have to feel a particular way when you're playing in worship.
Rick highlighted a particular issue relating to practice. Until a couple of years back I headed up a worship team in a small (by US standards) church where we had a variety of different worship leaders who each had different styles, about 300 songs that might be played (sometimes without prior notice) and a relatively small band. Rather than try to replicate what was on CD, instead we'd have a much more open musical approach with simple intros and more conventional chord structures, and (more or less) wing it every song. This was great, because as long as you had a reasonable ear you could relax and follow the song instead of worrying about what part went where: all you had to do was flow in the music.
Why say all that? Because it sounds like that's a bit more where your band is at musically, and changing approach will really help you relax and flow with it.
How do I feel when I've played in worship? It's usually a mix of things. Starting off is sometimes nervous, sometimes full of anticipation. If things head toward praise then often there's a lot of energy and adrenaline flowing, feelings of happiness, thankfulness, strength, joy even. Sometimes I can get self-absorbed with what I'm going to do or how good I sound. If it goes toward worship and quiet then I'll usually be looking and listen to the congregation to see how and if they're responding, where the Holy Spirit is at work, to try to find ways of bringing them out, maybe to find a way for them to break into singing in the Spirit. Sometimes I'm really aware of the Spirit moving and can come close to tears, while other times I may just be bored with playing pedestrian stuff over and over again.
I'm being honest here - I don't always have an overwhelming sense of God at work when I play, and sometimes I'll get caught up the the technical too, what song is coming next/oh goodness, not that key again etc. Sometimes I'll soar and sometimes I'm on the ground with a sore head.
Eric - that's what operating sound is like - there is no flow or relaxation, and only a dash to the fader or EQ to fix things in the hope no-one notices. It's made me even worse for visiting other churches too, because now I listen to their sound as well as the band. :P
As leaders, it's our responsibility to make sure we ourselves are getting fed and refreshed, and so often it doesn't happen while we're serving (sometimes it does, or it does in a different sort of way, but it's not the same). That's why it's so important to get away and attend things like worship conferences or even other church services, because then we can relax, let go of the "responsibilities" and find time just to be in God's presence.
Again, I'm not saying it doesn't happen on stage Sunday morning, but it's really something quite different than what the rest of the congregation is experiencing.
I always pray about my worship and set out with great intentions of concentrating totally on the Lord, but in reality, it just doesn't happen. If we want to give the best we can, it's only natural that our minds are overloaded with all the different aspects involved in leading worship. But you know, that being the case, shows commitment to our worship and that we are taking our worship seriously. The way I see it, we are doing what we are doing bacause we have the ability to take on board all the stuff that fills our heads and we are able to put it into practice.
As a rhythm guitar player that can identify with what your describing, I find some songs are a technical challenge and I have to stay focussed on the chord sheet and notes I have to get the various sections right. So I don't get into any 'emotional' worship with songs like that yet I really enjoy it. When we get our parts right and the song comes together really tight, I feel really good about it. That is a moment of worship for me because I know it came together partly out of our training and practice but more so out from the Holy Spirit. There are other songs that are simple and/or well know that we need little attention and so there can be a more 'emotional' worship. One form of worship is no better than the other so my advice is to not be to concerned about how you are 'feeling' but how you are serving and glorifying God. It may be nice to nail the songs precisely but in my experience, even our train wrecks have glorified God and the congregation is drawn to worship as well.
And for what it's worth, I'm an engineer so I know what you mean about 'not being an especially emotional type'.
Have fun and love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength
1) For me, God's closeness in not related to how or what we are playing, therefore all my human stuff is on stage with me. Sometimes i feel "god close" and sometimes I don't. I just try to offer up my best.
2) Playing in a worship band is like playing football... as you get expereince, the "experience" slows down...you become less conscience of making chord changes..they happen. The more you play together, the more ready you are to pay more attention to what others are doing in an unconscience way. You respond to the other members worship and your part of the worship flows along. The more you play, the more you are able to let go.
3) There is a great point in a earlier thread that talked about the difference between Pros and people who are not. Practice time is necessary to be in the pocket tight. we use planningcenter's rehearse feature and that has been a huge help. I can rehearse when I need to with my guitar and my PC. We can always be tighter. You have to be willing to carry the practice cross to get there, to be able to let go and play.
Dear James, I really like your post here.. straight to the point and very clear. I also do agree with Tony.
Something that really helped me is that during the week I get prepared to our Session. Nonetheless, our Saturday / Sunday Sessions are an extension of our week.
If we remember that we were created to worship God then there should be no sense of guilt if not feeling anything. What I mean is that it is not that important that we feel anything super spiritual during the praise/worship session.
It is more important that we live a life of worship. And there is nothing wrong in being selfish, turn the sound knob of the guitar to zero, close our eyes and listen to the lords words... thats my opinion
I don't think there is anything to worry about. We are in service to the Lord and that has nothing to do with how you feel. The fact that you are thinking about technical issues proves that you are giving your all that that's all you can give. Even professional musicians like Paul McCartney who have been playing for years find a lot going through their heads on stage.
Not to minimize the band - but up to a certain point, it's up to the congregation to get worshipful. You are there to provide the best atmosphere and encouragement, but they have to respond.
This is why the idea of "stage presence" needs to be brought into the discussion. While it might sound like we're faking it, the Spirit is more likely to move and work through you when you're not aware of His working. So if you're able to minimize the distractions to the congregation and generally keep a gentle and pleasant spirit on stage, I think the Spirit will work in the congregation. He knows what you're dealing with and would only expect that you do your best.
It would be interesting to do a survey and ask worship leaders how often they feel that the service was "worshipful" in their minds. Then you could contrast that with how often the congregation felt the same way. I'll bet you'd be surprised!
Right on, Stevo! I played for a worship leader once that was obsessed about what she was feeling during the worship sets. Whenever she became worked up about her own issues the worship and the worship team suffered. One day while we were meeting with the chaplain (this was in college), she went on and on about how she was feeling during worship. He held up his hand to stop her and said, "What has ever given you the impression that leading worship is about you?"