Saturday, August 18, 2018

Top 10 - Advice For Worship Guitarists

I had a friend ask me today, “can you share with me your top 10 suggestions or advice for a worship electric guitarist.” So here you go.

10: Own great gear. 
You don’t have to own the newest, most popular or even the oldest most vintage stuff. You just need to own quality gear. A quality guitar, quality amp or multi-effects pedal, and enough quality stand-alone pedals to be able to create the soundscape of the tunes you are being asked to cover. Sometimes that’s a solid body guitar, a hollow body guitar, single coil or humbucker guitar, or a combination of sorts. 

9: Master your gear. 
It is great to have a pedal board full of tools and toys but not knowing how to use them to make them work for you is suicide. Understand what does what and what to do to achieve the desired sound is essential. Understanding how each pedal works individually and how it will affect other effects will serve you well.

8: Be Prepared
Rehearsal is not practice. Rehearsal is coming together and combining what everyone has been practicing on their own time with their own gear, hopefully, and dialing it into a cohesive execution. Please don’t be practicing your parts for the first time, or worse listening to the song for the first time. Now as a worship leader, I’ve been guilty of throwing my team under the bus by uploading the wrong key or worse the wrong song (same name). But do what you can to come prepared and ready to rehearse.

7: Remember It’s Not Your Show
Worship is about creating a welcoming environment for your congregation to engage the presence of the Holy Spirit. That means they are not there to see you perform. Even if they say they came to see you. I would venture to guess they mean worship is one of their easiest ways to connect to God. You help facilitate that. So remember it’s not your show. The only thing on display should be your team’s love of worshipping the Creator.

6: Be Punctual
If you play with a ton of gear, get their early and get it dialed in so you are ready for rehearsal.
You are one of many on the stage that weekend so honor your band mates by being punctual. Some of them came off of 50-60 hour work weeks to serve with you. Some left a stressed out spouse trying to take care of all the kids heading into bedtime so you could come and volunteer your time. Others have labs, finals or tons of homework they really need to get back to, finally, some work the graveyard shift and are heading to work as soon as rehearsal is over. So don’t hold the train up by rolling in on whatever time is convenient for you.

5: Serve The Song
Some of the best guitarists can easily be identified by their tones. Their tone is often what the song is built around. Many guitarists want to be known for their sound, but because we are often playing covers of other people’s worship songs, we must be able to put our agenda on the back burner and play what the song needs. That would include the parts needed and the tones. Often silence can be the best part of a song or shortening or eliminating a guitar solo to prevent the congregation from moving into a watch and wait. Don’t take issue with the parts or lack of, that you are playing. They are not beneath you. If they require you to dial back your play or alter your tone to something you would not normally play, be ok with it. My second year as a worship leader, someone started me down a journey about tone. They played some of my favorite rock songs from when I was growing up. He pointed out, these songs never used as much overdrive as we thought they did. They were almost clean. But the emotion of the song made us remember them a certain way. Serve the song, not your ego.

4: Serve The Church
Depending on where you serve you may need to alter what you bring to play. Smaller churches may need you to play direct, other churches might ask you to have your amp backstage, make sure you have what you need to accommodate the church. You are serving them, and by doing so you are serving Him. Make sure you know the dress code before you show up in your Iron Man T-Shirt, Suit jacket, and Fedora. Make sure you are aware of the thickness of your sundress material before you step in front of that backlit floor stage light to sing and give everyone a different kind of show. When it comes to planning and scheduling software. Get to know it, and respond. Block out days you are not available, respond to whoever is doing the scheduling with and accept or decline. If something comes up, let people know ASAP. If you block out a date please remember that sometimes there is immense pressure on worship leaders to no lose players, so communicate enough to not violate your privacy, but enough to communicate that you are not about to quit.

3: What Ever You Do, Don’t Noodle
Stop, Look & Listen. The worship leader stops a song to make a change. And the guitar player keeps noodling. All I have to say about this is FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY….STOP PLAYING. Remember not everyone has a mic, so the worship leader may need to hear someone speaking to them off mic. Be respectful of the other players and singers on stage. Most of all, be respectful of your leader. A worship set with a stressed out worship leader is a non-functioning worship set.

2: Personal Worship Time
Sit with your acoustic guitar alone and just worship with the songs as if you were the leader. Let them sink into your spirit so you get a taste for what it will be like to be lead. I believe God will meet you and help you to better understand what will be appropriate or not when the time comes. But unless you are the leader, you still need to follow.

1: Take Time Off
Being off the stage, at church, and in the congregation when your fellow volunteers are leading you in worship is wonderful. It shows them support. It reiterates the worship values and culture of the team. It sends a very strong message to the congregation that you are also a worshipper and not just a worship leader. It also places some of the most critical listening ears in the congregation so when feedback needs to be given it is coming from someone that knows how to critically listen to a mix. Most of all it allows your team to serve you. Once we had been doing a song for months in our congregation and one weekend another worship leader did it and I was out in the congregation. It was then I realized, this song was horrible. No one could sing it, no one could catch their breath between phrases, not to mention the lyric slides trying to keep up. After a while, people quit trying and just watched the band until the song was over. It was unbelievably fun to play as a band but had I not been in the congregation when I was being led by it, I would have never gained that perspective.

Well, you might have noticed I didn’t talk about theory, inversions, chord voicings, tremolos, pedal board layouts or basic musical lingo. I am assuming if you are on a worship team, you are committed to constantly getting better. There are some great tools out there. I encourage all of you to be lifelong learners and take advantage of them. However, don't forget to be a mentor and find a mentor to journey with you down this road we are on. 

Talk to you later.
Charlie Hines 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Hitting On The Bride

Recently I shared some excerpts from the book "How To Worship A King" when I had to teach on worship. One analogy jumped out at me. It was so clear, so concise and so relatable because as a guy we can all imagine how we would feel if...

Someone starts hitting on our wife.

What I loved about this story was the writer's awareness of the role of the server. Let me sum it up for you, or at least tell you what was going on in my head as I read the author's example. 

You take your wife to dinner and instead of the server coming over to serve, he starts entertaining your wife. Next thing you know, he is sitting down in the booth next to her taking his sweet time to capture her attention. Frequent stops at the table, not to refill your drink or see if you need anything, no, just to tell your wife a funny story, or get a reaction from her. Eventually, you feel like you are the third person on the date between your server and your wife. Your wife is polite, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. Your wife says "he's just trying to make polite conversation, or get a nice tip." But now you are angry, you are jealous. Because your agenda has now been hijacked by this entertainer who was supposed to be simply serving you. 

This was one of the best analogies I've ever read about the wrong way to lead worship. As a worship pastor, we get the honor of putting words into our congregation's mouth to offer back to God in worship. We get to take the pulse and temperature of a room. The songs we choose, the order we place them, the details of the arrangement, how long we let them breathe, how much negative space we place in certain parts of the song all play into the worship experience. A song we opened with one week, might be the closing song another week. Do we do the song the same way, at the same tempo, with all the bells and whistles, clicks, loops and a full complement of singers? Or do we strip it back, slow it down, focus on the words, skip the guitar solos and wait for the congregation to take the song from us and own it?

I've always felt the combat of a worship set. I've always felt that in worship we were engaged in battle with the enemy for attention, time and space. Thoughts like you don't deserve to be up there seemed to be the mantra of the enemy during worship. I knew I was prepared and spiritually ready, but for some, maybe we had one too many beers the night before at a friend's party. Maybe, we stared a bit too long at the summer dresses during the opening songs of the set or watched something on cable that we knew we shouldn't have. Maybe you had a fight with your spouse or child and in anger said some things that were hurtful. Maybe you just buried a family friend or loved one, or found out your best friends marriage just ended.  The enemy takes all this as fuel and uses it to fan the flames of doubt, insecurity, fear, shame, and pain. Anything to take our attention off the focus of the set.

Now there is a different noise that we allow the enemy to use as fuel. I would say hold on tight..... this is when the real battle is about to begin. The enemy no longer has to scream our insecurities into our ear, he only has to whisper. "Dang, you are killin' it." Another whisper, "check out this crowd, they are diggin' you." Another whisper.." man this band is tight today, way to go!"  

Then it begins. Eyes start darting around the room, we start seeking affirmation from the
congregation. We start looking for who else is diggin' this. We start shouting commands to put hands together and we tell them we need their energy. "Give a shout out to God!" The lyrics flash across the screen and we creatively analogize our feelings about how God makes us feel. Twenty-five minutes later, we are sweating and exhausted and we haven't even brought water to the table, much less the meal. Remember that whole who are we serving at the table. The caution is this. Did we just spend 25 minutes hitting on the bride of Christ? If we look back at our lyrics, did we even speak directly to him?

So what can we do about it? What are the guardrails and warning signs we can install to warn us when our worship set slips off the rails?

A professional who is very well respected in the worship industry shared something with me that changed my life. It has also changed how I view my role as a worship pastor, and how I execute a worship set. He said there are three types of churches. The first is the one that from the ground up is designed and structured to chase the absolute creativity and presence of God. Their organizational chart, their ministry focus, their reporting structures, inward and outfacing communication, purchases, budgets, vision casting, hiring and consulting are all designed around how to best follow the heart of Christ creatively and put it on display for the world. 

The second is the church that copies everything the first church does from an outward appearance. They are not at all structured to operate like the first, but they have become so good at looking the same, dressing the same, sounding the same and even imitating the special Holy Spirit moments that were organically a part of the first church's expression, that they look identical. 

Then there is everyone else, the rest of the churches. They want to be like church one and two but have no idea which one is the real thing and which one is the clone.

Man, that rocked me to my core. We want the testimony without the test, we want the 
appearance of diversity without actually having to do the work of being diverse, we want the performance so badly that we elevate talent over character or worse we just want the look even at the expense of quality.

Are we hitting on the bride? Are we serving our congregations or are they being used to validate our ministry agendas? If Christ showed up during our worship set standing at the back of our rooms, would we be able to continue doing exactly what we were doing when we noticed him? Would Jesus look around the room, read the lyrics of our songs, and feel like He was being worshipped. Would he even recognize our worship? Or is is out of sight out of mind?

In an earlier career making and selling ophthalmic optics we would say, if you are off by a millimeter here, by the time this person is driving home and looking hundreds of yards down the road, they can't see. When designing a telescope, if you are off by a millimeter here, you could miss an entire planet out there. Yet, we are pointing people towards eternity and the consequences of us missing here are beyond comprehension. This may sound like I am putting a larger than life emphasis on the musical part of worship. However, I do feel strongly about the participatory aspect of worship during a church service. I believe it is an opportunity for hundreds of people to participate collectively while God works individually and collectively simultaneously. Therefore if our worship is about us and measuring the vibe and energy in a room and not seeking opportunities to direct people to Him, then what are we pointing people to? How are we any different from the world? 

Are we serving our congregation as the waiter or host, meeting their needs, checking in on them from time to time but all the while allowing the groom to attract his bride to Him?  

Let's get back to the concept that hungry people go where there is food. Don't waste time setting the table if we can't feed people. Hungry people will take a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a brown bag over an ornately elaborately decorated table with no food on it. To be able to effectively do both is awesome, powerful and impactful. As worship pastors, we must prepare to serve those we are leading. We must point people away from the stage and towards the story coming from the stage. The story of the grace, forgiveness, salvation, and service. 

As religious organizations, if we can take the time to understand the culture that we want to emulate rather than plagiarize the end result, great things can be accomplished. Don't settle for what we think is a one size fits all. God is creative enough and big enough for all of us to have a unique voice and approach that fits our church, our culture, our community, our people and our volunteers. With that in mind, we have what we need to lead well and stop hitting on the bride.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Virus Of The Stage

Being a worship pastor has been one of the greatest opportunities to serve in my life. I grew up a military brat and I traveled the world because of it. When you are the son of an Army General you grow up on the stage. No lights, no haze, no crowd, just all eyes on you every day. Every grade, every curse word, every bad penalty taken on the soccer field, every girlfriend, every date, every shift at the job, every speeding ticket, and every newspaper ever delivered on my bicycle was under the microscope of, that's the General's son. So when I entered full-time ministry at the age of 37 to become a worship pastor, it was a fairly easy transition for me to assume the mantle of being on stage again.

Different stage, big screen, lots of lights, huge congregation and once again all eyes were on me. I was under the microscope of Pastor now. I was once again my father's son. I understood service, I understood what it meant to be "on". I know what it's like to walk into a room and have all eyes on you simply because of the number of people you play in front of. I was on the job just three weeks when I was listed as one of the top 20 worship leaders in the country. I had only been a full-time worship pastor for 11 months. Being on the stage, meant a lot of this stuff just came with the job. It was a job, one I didn't realize I had been preparing for my entire life.

So what happens when it comes time to leave that job? What happens when the stage literally shifts under your feet. All of the sudden the reason you were on the stage is no longer the reason you are wanted on the stage? You try to preserve your culture, but the culture continues to shift. You try to leave a legacy and implant your DNA, but your legacy is being challenged by people who supposedly knew you best. You try to protect your teams and the volunteers you served alongside all those years, however, your volunteers, you are told, belong to the church. Obviously, there is a ton to unpack here but I want to do this in pieces in case there are others out there that have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience what I'm still processing.

I've learned over the years that when the potential for something evaporates I am no longer interested and need to move on. The problem with this philosophy is not everyone sees the potential you do. Not everyone has the same vision for what you have a vision for. Finally, your vision may not be what you were hired to bring about. It was like this for me in corporate business. When you arrive at the corporate office and realize you enjoyed the front lines better. To leave the corporate office pretty much ends your upward potential. So similar to a church. I arrived at the big church, big stage, big team, big resources, big sound and lights, and big opportunities. Often the case with larger churches is your focus narrows. Just like as a company grows, not every great idea gets equal time. Eventually, you end up in a culture of yes men and women where good ideas can only generated from the top down, but communication has multiple layers going up, losing translation with each layer but maintaining its ability to roll downhill at lightning speed, loud and clear. You quickly realize you feel a lot like a hamster on a wheel. Just do your job and keep this machine moving. No room for failure, no room for growth, no room for creativity or change. Now you realize the potential for a future that includes you or your vision in some capacity is gone, and you are not even sure when the bus left the station but it is gone, and you are no longer on it.

This is where I found myself more than a decade after pouring my heart and soul into being a worship pastor. I had good job offers after I made the decision to leave, but my family situation was changing. My girls were graduating and heading to college my wife had seniority and tenure in her job and our entire lives were wrapped up in this city, our community, our small group and those we did life with. The big salary was gone, the big stage was gone, and all of the sudden so were all the people that insulated you from the harsh reality that somehow the enemy gained a foothold and part of what you did became part of your identity. This is when the real pain began.

I have shed many tears of pain and anger. We tell ourselves all the time, our identity must come from our relationship with Christ. So you can only imagine the pain of realizing that no matter how I protected myself, no matter how many guardrails I had in place, no matter how nice and tight my hazmat suit was sealed up, that virus still got in. It got in because I brought it in with me.

Part of my self-worth was in my ability to use the gifts God gave me to create something special, to leave a mark, to impact a culture or take a team and make it better than the sum of its parts. Now the thing I spent years protecting myself from, is trapped inside with me and I am its only enemy.

I now lead worship for a much smaller church, I am back to doing the job that 5 people did for me at the larger church. I have a great opportunity at this new church to settle in and not relocate my family but still continue to lead worship, develop a team, and for the first time to be heard when it came to impacting change on a larger scale. But no hazmat suit this time. No way I am going to go through that again.

Where do you go when the job no longer feeds the virus? I don't know. I don't know if you can do your job well and not take pride in it. But we all know what the bible says about pride. I don't know how to pour yourself into people and their families for over a decade and then flip a switch and remove yourself from those communities. I don't know how to push yourself musicially and bring the best out of your team until the wow factor is acheieved, then act like eh' it was nothing. But I do know this. None of that is what God called his worship leaders to do. Our job is to simply facilitate a God-focused worship experience and stay out of God's way.

Nowhere did it say, arrange and produce a killer set with the city's best musicians, nowhere did it say to have a photographer capture great shots under the lights and haze so we can build our social media traffic. Nowhere did He ask us to produce a worship set that sounded exactly like what our congregation hears on the radio. We were never asked by God to own the best gear or write the hit songs. We were never asked by God to monetize our social media channel or build a fan base. We were never asked by God to launch our worship leaders into professional concert worship ministries. 

This is the virus of the stage.

God wants our character first, then He will use our competency. But we live in a world that tells us we have to lead by example in order to be relevant, however, all over this planet, there are tens of thousands of worship leaders that are relevant to their volunteers, to their congregations and to the families of those they serve with. They have no means to produce a killer set, no resources to buy the best gear, and no physical space big enough to light, haze and film a killer worship set to post on social media. I've been on both sides I've seen both worlds, and while ego, pride, self-righteousness can infect anyone at any level, I am writing this to caution those of you who will one day find themselves no longer on the big stage, no longer surrounded by the best players, and longer with any capability to produce and film something special that happens during worship and share it with the world.

Who do you want to be when the room goes dark, the career that should have never become a career comes to an end and with each passing day, you find yourself further and further away from where you thought you were going?

Me... I want to be a worship pastor who still finds pleasure in the beauty of a transparent song written to our creator, not to our congregation. I want to be a worshipper who still cries when it's just me and my instrument in an unfinished basement. I want to be a servant who will bring whatever gear he has left to help another musician find his/her gifting to serve at church. I want to be that lover of worship culture that always gives a guitar away or buys a guitar for a kid that wants to do what you do. I want to be that person who doesn't need a worship set to have their heart of worship validated. Some of you may read this and think this is just a bitter former worship leader whose time has come and gone and they weren't ready for the new reality. I hope that is not the case. I hope you will follow me on this journey so maybe I can spare some of you the pain of the virus of the stage before you are fighting for your spiritual lives. I know a lot of good came from my service in worship. I know lives were touched and people opened their hearts up to Christ because of songs and experiences they had during worship.

All I know is when my children put me in the ground and I have no more songs to write and no more words leave my lips in praise this side of heaven, I will be remembered not as a worship leader, but as a person who loved God and His presence and spent time in it. Even when that time was a painful detox from the virus that can be so easily misdiagnosed as worship ministry.