The Multiplying Power of Teamwork

As I reflect on this morning’s worship service, one thought which comes to mind is how much I love my music team. I feel so invigorated each time we serve together. It’s not that we always get the music and arrangements right. But it’s in knowing that it’s not so much about the results – it’s about the journey we share together.

I often tell my team that we aren’t the best musicians in the church. We have really good musicians, no doubt. But what I love about our guys is that we understand what it means to be a team, to bring together our individual talents and efforts and know that, when combined together, we become a lot better than what we could have been individually!

Today’s worship session was a great example of how our team works well together:

  • I’m not musical, but I reckon I’m pretty good at constructing a worship set and to make sure it flows and tells a story. So I communicate my vision to my music director, and he interprets my vision into something which our musicians can understand and follow.
  • My music director is brilliant. Like me, he goes by feel. So what he does is that he goes hunting on youtube for different links and points out to each muso what parts of different arrangements they can play and emulate.
  • Our musos then go off and learn their own parts before we have a rehearsal. I really value this. The preparation means that when we actually gather for our rehearsal, we keep momentum going and rehearsals are fun!
  • Our sound guy pulls it all together and makes us sound great! When the sound sparkles, our own confidence in our playing increases!
  • And our AV person rehearses with us on Sunday morning to make sure that the lyrics follow with the flow of the songs.

This week, we tried pushing the envelope a little by trying a pretty tricky version of “Trading my Sorrows” by Israel Houghton. We don’t normally play gospel. But our bassist spent hours learning to slap the bass; the drummer followed the gospel rhythms; one keyboardist had a computer program which allowed him to capture the youtube recording, change the key on the recording and slow it down so he could play the piano part exactly right; another keyboardist wrote her own charts! Our singers blended well together in three-part harmonies. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by how much ownership we all had of the worship set!

In his book Beyond Talent, John Maxwell says that teamwork multiplies talent! He sets out the following principles:

  • Teamwork divides the effort and multiplies the effect
  • Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships
  • Teamwork is not about you. Maxwell quotes C Gene Wilkes who observed: “Team leaders genuinely believe that they do not have all the answers – so they do not insist on providing them. They believe they do not need to make all the key decisions – so they do not do so. They believe they cannot succeed without the combined contributions of all the other members of the team to a common end – so they avoid any action that might constrain inputs or intimidate anyone in the team. Ego is not their predominant concern.”
  • Great teams create community.
  • Adding value to others adds value to you.

It also so happened that Joe Wee Chuah ended up in my team this week! I’ve got a goal of training and releasing as many worship leaders as I possibly can! I tell people that I am trying to work my way out of the job by training others to replace me. Joe Wee is a great worship leader in the making. So I was really privileged when he agreed to lead half of today’s songs. (I’m actually harbouring 3 other worship leaders in my team!)

Here’s the recording of today’s worship (unfortunately, we missed recording the awesome introduction).

I’m really proud of what our team did today, and I’m generally proud of our team. I know that I can’t do much without each and everyone of them. But together, we can raise the watermark of worship in our church! So, here’s to more culture-defining gigs for 2014!

Our Toughest Set Yet

Christmas

For the worship team, Christmas is both a time of celebration and dread. Celebration, because of the wonderful theme of Christ’s incarnation and the manifestation of God’s salvation plan for all mankind; and roast turkey and festive carol-singing. Because everyone loves to sing carols. But dread, because whilst everyone loves to sing carols, the worship team usually hates to play them.

In the context of a Sunday service, a carols service always presents dual challenges. The first is that singing carols can devolve into mere singalong without the elements of worship engagement and verticality. The second is that there are so many arrangements for carols that there are no reference points for church musicians, unless you write your own arrangements.

Yesterday, we had the first of a series of Christmas-themed services at Faith Community Church. And what a challenge it was!

Three weeks earlier, my music director (the ever hard-working and talented Lukey Luke) sent me a youtube link to a Lincoln Brewster-led Christmas service. It was such a fresh guitar-driven sound (yet reminiscent of Christmas because of the bells and tambourine elements). So we decided to style a set around this idea, including refreshing an old song (Graham Kendrick’s “The Servant King” which contains such powerful lyrics).

I also wanted to get Diana Wee to start leading worship with me on the team and we were on the same page when we both decided that “This is our God” would be a great focus song.

So, after fashioning the set, we were all ready to go and there was quite a sense of excitement within the team. However, there were no illusions about how easy it was to play the set – it was going to be challenging.

Rehearsal on Saturday afternoon was tough. We went from 4.00 pm to 7.30 pm. In the words of Caleb our drummer, this was “the most difficult set yet”. He wasn’t kidding (and Caleb had to play for a Hillsong worship leader just a couple of months earlier). I was starting to wonder if we bit of more than we could chew on top of battling a stomach bug. And I got a little worried the set was going to be too long.

But something miraculous happened when we reconvened on Sunday morning. Suddenly there was a renewed sense of energy and we started flowing well. I suspect the team went home and put some more work into the set and then rested well. And as I timed our run-through, it came to a well-timed 26 minutes!

As we played through the service, there was a growing sense that we were going to musically nail it. But not only that, it felt like we had entered into a divine flow and there was a real sense of God’s presence. By the end of it, if felt like our team had just broken through new frontiers of musical creativity. Carols might never be the same again!

So here is the set list from yesterday:

// Musical prelude
// Hark the Herald Angels Sing (E)
// Angels We Have Heard on High (E)
// The Servant King (E)
// This is Our God (E)
// O Come All Ye Faithful (F)
// Joy to the World (C-D)

And here’s a recording of it by our amazing sound guy, Senny.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the band for all their hard work musically and their continued pursuit of God’s presence. Playing with you guys have been an amazing honour. May God continue to grow us together and take to new realms of His glory. The best is yet to come!

Weekend Ministry with Ray Badham

Ray Badham Photo

I had the honour last weekend of serving with Ps Ray Badham as he led worship at Faith Community Church. Ray is a music director and songwriter at Hillsongs and currently serves as principal of Hillsong College. One of Ray’s songs, “Magnificent” has gone around the world and was most recently re-recorded on Darlene Zschech’s album Revealing Jesus.

Ray led worship with Fantastic Team 3, a great bunch of humble and capable musicians.

Whilst the rehearsal was gruelling (even more gruelling I suspect for Ray who had just arrived in Perth a few hours earlier), I learnt a lot about the hard work that goes into the preparation phase. Because we went over a lot of the details of transitions and turn-arounds, the delivery of the set went really smoothly on Sunday and there was a powerful sense of God’s presence.

Needless to say, our team really enjoyed ourselves (even Caleb our drummer, who shouldered most of the load).

We also got to ask Ray a lot of questions under the guise of taking him out for dinner and lunch!

I am really grateful to Ray for his servant leadership and for our amazing team for supporting him so well.

Last weekend, we also saw the return of Ps Yoy Alberastine to FCC’s worship team. Yoy and I have been close friends for some time even though we had served in different churches, but we both had a heart to see churches connect together through worship. So when I came to FCC, I had always hoped to serve together with Yoy with the team. Unfortunately, around that time, Yoy had just begun his itinerant ministry. Yoy has been a defining influence in my own ministry after I had met with some 8 years ago, and we continued to serve together in various capacities in inter-church events. So I felt a real sense of joy when we finally got to share the platform together at our home church last Sunday!

On a sad note, last week was one of our vocalist’s last day with our team. Tim Loy has been serving with us for some time and was one of the individuals I connected really well with early on when I first joined the church. Tim has just answered God’s call to go to Kingsway Christian Church and help with the pioneering work. I really admire his courage and conviction for taking the step of faith, especially when he felt that a lot of things he had been praying and hoping for in FCC was starting to come to pass. I was told that when Timmy first joined the ministry, he was a bit of a “rascal”. But five years on, he is passionate in his pursuit of God, a ministry leader and a leader in the marketplace. It is a testament to how people’s lives can change when you believe in them! We are going to miss you Timmy!

Set List: Faith Community Church (15 September 2013)

It’s actually been a long time since I last posted on this blog. In part, it has been due to the busy-ness of my new role as Assistant Worship Director of Faith Community Church. It has meant spending more time with people and less time in terms of my personal pursuits, such as writing.

I used to say (quite tongue-in-cheek) that I would never consider taking on any pastoral function because I didn’t like people much. In a sense, nothing can quite disappoint you like people. But on the other hand, nothing is more rewarding than seeing people come alongside each other, supporting one another, loving one another and changing for the better. In the last couple of months, I have grown in utmost admiration for my worship director who has unending capacity; my band music director who is one of the most humble and kind people I know; and the amazing members of Band 3 who always work really hard to bring excellence to their worship whenever they are rostered on. I have even had a young guy from youth ministry ask me to mentor him in all things worship. So I am really enjoying this aspect of my journey even though it has taken up more of my time than I might have at first been willing to spare.

The reward of working with people was all the more apparent this week.

As usual, I was really excited to lead today’s worship with Fantastic Team 3. Unfortunately, we couldn’t rehearse on Saturday so we had to come early to church at 6.30 am to set up, sound check and run through the set. I had sent out some instructions during the week for the team to prepare, but then on Friday night, I came down with a bad fever. Like, really bad.

I got worried about whether I would still be able to lead. I tried sleeping it off, but that night, I had chills all night and was aching all over. Saturday came around and I started pumping myself full of antibiotics. I still wasn’t sure if I would make it for Sunday but I was reluctant to get someone to replace me since I was so excited to serve with my band this week. So with some prayer and meds, I felt a lot better by Saturday afternoon and I was determined to keep going.

For a sick person, waking up at 5.15 am on a Sunday morning is no mean feat. I dragged myself trance-like out of bed, had something to eat, took some more meds, took a shower and drove off to church. I felt a bit light-headed, thinking maybe it was a mistake after all trying to lead worship in my condition.

But when I got to the church car park, our sound guy enthusiastically ran to my car and asked me for the keys to the auditorium to open up the place. Normally, I would have to do that. But I was really touched by his servanthood. Everyone looked so excited, I didn’t want to let them down.

By the time we started rehearsing the first song, which I thought was quite tricky (it being a new song after all), my spirit had lifted. These guys had practised hard during the week and everything came together on the first go. From that point on, I could just feel my team ministering the love of God to me. It was a great experience that just flowed through right into the service!

The theme for this week’s worship came from Isaiah 54:10:

Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you

Our chairperson Amos Ngoi opened the service reading from 1 Corinthians 13: that God’s love never fails! As we sang, I just felt the Lord ministering His love to His people. When we got to “Joy of My Desire”, Pastor Benny came up to release a word from Ps 46, that there was a “river of life which made glad the city of God” and that God was our refuge and fortress.

Even though I often try to, when preparing for worship, separate my own needs from the needs of the congregation, today, I really felt God ministering to me during the worship time, that even despite how I was feeling, His love for me never fails.

Here is the list:

// One Thing Remains (A)

// Nothing is Impossible (A)

// Above All (A)

// Joy of My Desire (A)

// Forever Reign (bridge and chorus only) (A)

Here’s One Thing Remains by Bethel Church:

Have a blessed week!

Worshipping Generations

I shared the following thoughts with the band of which I am a part at Faith Community Church on 20 October 2012. We call ourselves “Fantastic Team 3”. Below I reproduce my sharing almost verbatim (with a few edits).

Lisa (the worship leader of our band) has asked me to do a 10 minute sharing with you and I asked what she wanted me to share. She said I could share anything I wanted – which actually is a bit dangerous.

But I think it’s important for us to every now and then get back to the roots of why we do what we do because worship is so much more than what we do here on stage once a month. It’s so much more than singing songs, playing music, dancing, even about getting into God’s presence, although all those things are important.

John Maxwell said this (quoted from Darlene Zschech’s The Great Generational Transition):

Unless the WHY behind the WHAT is taught consistently, that unless we preach a standard and not just a method, then clarity, precision and most importantly the original WHY becomes distorted in all the DOING.

This is why for me, even though I love to be involved in worship, I am always trying to understand more about what the Bible teaches about worship, the foundational things.

In fact, I said to Lisa a few weeks ago, that it’d be a really awesome exercise to go through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and study all the texts about worship.  That’s probably going to take a few years to get through!

Anyway, as I was thinking about what to share today, I thought about this team and the fact that you are all so young and vibrant.  I’ve been in Faith Community Church for about 7 months now and one of the things that drew me to this church was its worship and the sense of God’s presence when I first step foot into the auditorium.

When I joined the worship team, I was wondering which team I’d be put into and I was actually really really glad that I got put into the so-called Fantastic Team 3.  As I said, you guys are so young and vibrant and there’s always a great sense of excitement, but also a sense of unity.

So the thought came to me to share about worshipping generations.

Have a look at Psalm 145:3-7:

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The psalmist says that because God is great and worthy of praise (or in the Message, it says He can never be praised enough, there are no boundaries to his greatness”),  one generation praises His works to another.

There is a powerful principle of worship here: worship is never confined to any one generation.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with say Hillsong United, grungy, guitar driven worship. That’s something you may enjoy.  Nor is there anything wrong with Gaither Homecoming and old-style country gospel. These are really matters of personal preference (and things you’re used to as you are growing up!)

But if your worship is confined to one generation only, then it is incomplete.

Because of the greatness and transcendence of God, a God whose greatness has no boundaries, it takes the crossing of generational boundaries to fully express worship to Him.

So one generation commends God’s works to another.

Notice that there is no “chronology” to this.  We often read this and think: well the older people must pass on the baton and teach the next generation how to worship; to leave the right principles and to blaze a trail for the next generation to follow.

I used to think this.  In fact, at one time, I was so proud as to think that there had been a “degeneration” in our worship.

When I was growing up in the church, we used to have break out in spontaneous worship for extended periods; people would shout prophecies and tongues and interpretation of tongues, people would fall over in worship.  And the songs… Well the songs were so much more Word-based, theologically robust and yes, simpler to sing. None of this syncopation stuff and “fluffy” words with very little biblical references.  And I used to think “man, as I’ve seen how the worship of the church has developed in the last 20 years; it’s just not the same as the good ‘ol days”.

What the psalmist is saying that one generation will commend God’s works to another generation. There’s no sequence.  The old teach the youth, the youth will teach the old, the children will teach the youth, the youth will teach the children, the old will teach the children and the children will teach the old. One generation will commend God’s works to another.

And as far my worries about “degeneration” are concerned, once I began to understand this principle of generations standing side I side,  I realised that the next generation wasn’t degenerating; they were simply different and they ways they expressed their worship were different.

And in fact, sometimes when we reminisce, we often give our memories a good deal more force and gravity than they actually deserve. As an aside, music is particularly good at carrying memory. Recently, I was at a Chinese restaurant when (as they do) an old theme song from a Hong Kong television series was playing. I remember watching that serial when I was a kid and how wonderful it was; the great storylines; the intricate plot; the great acting. I suggested to my parents (with whom I was eating dinner) that it’d be quite fun to take out the DVDs of the old serials and watch them again. They categorically told me that it wasn’t worth it – those old serials aren’t as good as I remember them to be.

I think sometimes we need to recognise that our memories play tricks on us. Yes, the events of the past were great. But they were great for that time. What was great for then may not necessarily be great for now.

Anyway, back to our main thought. We must embrace the different generations and their different expressions, because it is when we can be united in our diversity that we can fully express a worship that’s due God and His unbounded greatness.

Lastly, notice the echoes of the Psalmist in verses 5 to 7.  They (the generations) speak of God’s glorious splendour, so I (personally) will meditate on His wonderful works.

They (the generations) tell of God’s power, and I (personally) will proclaim His great deeds.

Worship is at once an individual pursuit, but it is also a corporate one. And an intergenerational one at that!  Our collective worship inspires our private devotion.

So, that’s why I’m really glad to be in Fantastic Team 3. I’m glad that older ones like me can work side by side with some of you younger folks. And I’m glad that our songs reflect that intergenerational-ness.

Let’s continue to strive to be excellent worshippers in our generation, but also inclusive of the generations before and after us. Let’s be a generation of worshippers, but also generators of worship across the generations!