Where Is Your Worship?

Everyone who has anything to do with church ministry world will say we hold this truth to be self-evident: Sunday is coming. Ok, Saturday for you Adventists out there. Regardless of your actual day of worship, the fact remains that there is an endless list of details, big and small, that needs addressing every week, and no one knows this more than a church tech team. Sunday is coming. Again. Rinse and repeat.

There are input lists, patch sheets, sermon notes (and the inevitable last-minute changes to said sermon notes), lighting cues, a new Crowder song with a bouzouki part– something you didn’t even know was an instrument, much less what it sounds like– a video to edit (wait, are we even allowed to use this clip?), and that’s all before we even talk about the double ear infection your daughter brought home from daycare and the two-day trip your wife has to take with her co-worker, and…

As funny as the “headless chicken” picture can be, it doesn’t make a very pretty picture of leadership. Yes, you read that correctly: leadership. You may be thinking that leadership is for someone else. Leadership is the luxury of churches with a big staff and the budget to match, right? You can’t even recruit a volunteer to help set up a mic for this Tuesday’s handbell choir alumni luncheon.

“No, I’m not a leader. Not really. Am I?”

You are a Worship Leader

That may sound strange to a person used to coming in through a door that no one else uses at a time when no one in their right mind should be up, dressed in all black, trying not to be noticed. In fact, you have probably been told something along the lines of, “You’ll know you’re doing a great job when no one notices you.” And sometimes, you may have even walked away enjoying the confidence of a job well done while preserving your anonymity. However, being invisible does not mean being insignificant. You need to understand that you are a worship leader. How can you be a worship leader? Isn’t the worship leader the person on stage with the microphone? Yes. And so are you. We all know it doesn’t matter what the person with the mic says or does if it’s not communicated or translated well by the crew pressing the buttons and making the technical decisions.

Our role in tech world is to help prepare and facilitate an environment for the people of God to experience the presence of God through the praises of God. The first facilitators we know about are in the Old Testament. Aaron was the very first high priest called from the tribe of Levi to serve Israel. Exodus 28 goes into great detail on what he is to wear, when he is to wear it, and why. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t say, “Wear all black.”)

The high priest’s job was to be God’s instrument to connect to the people. This is such an essential part of worship for the Israelites that even details involving underwear choices are carefully described. (No – we are not going there.)

Before we skip over all the varieties of colored threads that made Aaron a fashion plate, I want you to pay attention to a couple of key verses:

Carve the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a jewel cutter would carve them. Then put the stones in fancy gold settings. Connect them to the shoulder straps of the linen apron. The stones will stand for the sons of Israel. Aaron must carry the names on his shoulders as a constant reminder while he is serving the Lord.” – Exodus 28:11-12

The high priest carried the weight of the people he served on his shoulders. Literally. God wanted the high priest to have a constant reminder present on his body. And, if that wasn’t enough, you may have noticed this on his forehead,

“Make a plate out of pure gold. Carve words on it as if it were an official seal. Carve the words set apart for the Lord.” – Exodus 28:36

He was chosen, set apart, and plainly marked for serving God and the people. Of course, the High Priest is not an office anyone holds now because Jesus has clearly taken on that role for us. The example of a priesthood that operates in a way that helps others see God is an office held by people of every generation. You hold that office, or you probably wouldn’t be here. Turns out, you’re a lot more than an invisible button-pusher after all!

How does that make me a leader?

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How does this realization change our attitude toward leadership? Here are three ideas for how we move from the button-pusher mentality to the instrument-for-helping-people-connect-with-God mentality.

First thing’s first – Worship. As in the verb. Aaron worshipped first. The priests who served in the temple worshipped first, then they served through their worship. Their service was a natural part of their own expression of worship. As Chris Tomlin’s FOH engineer for the last eight-and-a-half years, I’ve been to over 600 of his concerts (I know, I’m pretty lucky). Even though I work with one of the best worship leaders alive, it’s still too easy for me to think that proximity to worship equals engagement in worship. “Worship by proxy” is not where God calls us.

I talked to a church staff guy a few weeks ago who said, “I’ve been here for three years and haven’t missed a Sunday, but I feel like I haven’t been to church in a long time.” What has been a huge catalyst for my own engagement is remembering my priesthood. When I can see myself as an integral part of helping to facilitate Chris’ vision for where he’s leading people, it causes me to keep my head up, my eyes open, and my heart ready for what God wants to do. A win for me is helping to take that guy at the end of the row from arms folded and mouth closed to hands raised and singing along.

Second – be brilliant! God placed such high value on the group of people who served as the conduit between himself and his people that he marked them. They were to reflect who He is. This call to excellence continues on through every generation of believers.

Whatever we do, we are not called to be mediocre at it; we are to be excellent at it.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” – Ecclesiastes 9:10

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” – Colossians 3:23

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people…” – Ephesians 6:7

“…Play skillfully…” – Psalm 33:3

For some of us, this is about getting practical and stepping up our game in how we train our teams. Sometimes the “headless chicken” scenario is merely a reflection of a team that isn’t well prepared. Here are some simple, practical things you can implement:

  1. Develop systems that work for your team. They don’t have to be intricate. They just need to bring clarity to the processes.
  2. Create stage plots, color-coded cables, and well-labeled inputs so there’s no confusion. Hold regular training on gear for your team. This demonstrates your value of excellence.
  3. Be clear about the “win” for each member of the team on any given week. When they can see a bullseye on the target, they have a way of knowing what success is. Everyone can celebrate when they hit it, and there’s a way to measure progress when they don’t.

As important as practical steps are for developing a topnotch team, being brilliant is more than just being skillful. Think of brilliance in terms of LIGHT.

Matthew 5:14-16 tells us that we are “the light of the world…”

How do you reflect the light of Christ to the rest of the team around you? How do you reflect that light to the people you serve? How do we as a team reflect His light to the entire church? The best way for our congregations to experience authentic worship is to be led by a team that’s worshiping authentically!

Lastly – Feel the weight. I know that sounds strange, but it’s important that we learn to humbly carry the weight of the people we serve on our shoulders. And no, we are not talking about bringing back the carved stones or the ephod, although if we did I think Instagram would get a lot more interesting. No, we’re not on an ephod reinstatement mission, but they do present a great picture of what we’re carrying. Understand that you are clearing the path between the people and their God. You get the awesome responsibility of making sure people who need to connect with Him have the best opportunity to do so.

Here’s an easy challenge for you: Share the story of Aaron with your team and challenge them to pick two people this week to “carry.” It’s amazing what happens when we work alongside people who we know are cheering for us, challenging us, and who are bought into the same vision as us. Encouragement and accountability have a way of infecting an entire team, and it’s always for the better.

You’ve Got A Friend

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One of the best ways we become better leaders is to surround ourselves with other leaders who share the same priorities and are on the same path moving toward the same goal. Church Technical Leaders is a great place to start. Fostering community is something we all talk about, but it’s a core value for CTL, and they make it practical by providing great ways to connect online with like-minded leaders who understand the tensions we all experience. Get connected online, or attend a Lead Lab to connect in person.

Live training events like MxU are also a great way to meet people and hone skills as we talk together about best practices and tried-and-true techniques. A day at MxU is hosted by Lee Fields (Bayside Church/Lincoln Brewster), Andrew Stone (Church on the Move) and myself, and it’s a great place to learn and connect. More information is at www.mxu.rocks

I have also developed a resource called Sonnet House, where we try to deal with one particular tension: Church production teams, especially those whose churches set the bar high in this area, are some of the most spiritually vulnerable people on campus. Sonnet House is a place where production folks come together in community to address the tension of both the technical and the spiritual. We want to give teams the tools they need to be excellent at what they do while helping them grow stronger as disciples of Christ. We reinforce the importance of both sides of the tension by training production teams on best practices and new pieces of gear, providing interviews with experts, tips and tricks, and emphasizing the importance of the technical aspects, while providing a way to come together as people who need each other, fostering spiritual encouragement and deep community with one another. We make that connection through online small groups that meet in 6-session modules.

There’s a new group starting soon, so if you’re interested in finding out more, I’d love to connect with you. Email me at jeff@sonnethouse.com.

sandstromJeff is an independent music producer and engineer for the last eighteen years. He produced the Dove Award-winning series “Shout Praises Kids” for Integrity music (think lots of kids, lots of time and lots of takes…but an amazing process), and continues to produce, arrange and record many worship music projects in the studio.

Since 2007, Jeff been the Front of House audio engineer for Chris Tomlin, and have circled the globe several times, leading the production of the live concert sound for Chris and for Passion Conferences. Jeff has been a member of North Point Community Church, pastored by Andy Stanley, since its beginning, and was part of the team that launched North Point’s innovative family ministry environment, KidStuf. Jeff lives in Atlanta with his wife Elizabeth, their daughter, Stella and Lula the dog.

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