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!

When Does the Task of Worship Leading Begin?

I’ve been thinking recently on the question: when does the task of worship leading begin? So I thought I might jot down some points here.

As a preliminary point, we need to understand that worship leading is (obviously) a form of leadership. John Maxwell defines leadership as influence – nothing more, nothing less. A person who thinks he is leading and has no followers, according to Maxwell, is simply taking a walk.

For the gathered congregation on a Sunday, the task of worship leading might begin at the moment when the countdown clock reaches zero, the drums click in, the electric guitar screams and the worship leader steps forward into the spotlight and says something inspiring to get the crowd going. The prominent traits here are charisma and stage presence.

But worship leading begins well before that.

For the music team, worship leading begins when the worship leader charts out the worship set. He or she has chosen the songs, planned the transitions and leads the musicians and singers in a productive rehearsal. Here, technical skills and visualisation are key. (I’m not a technical person by the way, and I failed a recent music theory test. But I recently discovered that one of my giftings is that I am able to work well with music directors – something I’ve been very grateful for over the years of ministry because my hard-working music directors have always propped me up and made me look good!)

Incidentally, visualisation, in my view, is probably more important than technical ability. It is about being able to see the entire worship set being played out well before anyone else does – anticipating how the congregation might react at certain junctures of the set; sensing the ebb and flow and movement of the music; and being able to recite the narrative of the worship journey.

But worship leading begins well before that as well.

There is an interesting principle known as “the principle of Absalom at the gate”. In 2 Samuel 15, the Scriptures give us a pointed counterexample of how influence may be garnered. In that passage, Absalom is plotting how he might usurp David’s throne. So he stands by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Verses 2-7 say this:

Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “what town are you from?”… Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land. Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice.”

Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way towards all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”

It didn’t actually take much for Absalom to win over the majority, and before long, David was fleeing the city.

To the church (and I use this term in the sense of the “local church” and as distinct from the gathered congregation), worship leading begins at the gate! The key issue here is relationship. You might actually say that the task of worship leading had begun ages ago, when you first joined the church. How did you relate to the people around you? Do they like you as person (irrespective of what a wonderful on-stage persona you have)? Do they feel you are on their side?

At the end of the day, you can’t lead people who don’t like you. It’s actually a really simple proposition. And it’s also a simple proposition that it doesn’t take much for you to win the hearts of people. Sometimes, people just like you to say “hi”, shake their hand (since kissing is probably not entirely appropriate in our modern day churches anymore) and listen to them.

I have always wondered how Lucifer was able to deceive a third of the angels of heaven into following him into rebellion. There is no doubt about it: Lucifer was one of the best worship leaders there ever was. His job was to lead the hearts of heaven into expressing affection towards God. Imagine the strength of the influence he had to be able to convince angels accustomed to God and His presence – God, who is Truth embodied and Glory unparalleled – into joining him in an uprising!

Most of us don’t lead huge crowds in a stadiums. But I remember Carlos Whittaker writing once that whenever he leads worship in a large conference, he will walk amongst the crowd half-an-hour before the set begins, just to chat with those who have come. They get really surprised (and feel quite special) when they realise the friendly guy who had been chatting with them just minutes before is actually the worship leader on stage!

I have been in Faith Community Church now for about 15 months. I started leading worship during Sunday services in March this year. But my task of leading worship actually started well before that. It probably began when I started helping out in the prayer ministry, becoming part of a cell group and actively contributing to cell life, hanging out with some of the young people, helping out whenever I can and being involved in the life of the church. That was when worship leading actually started.

As worship leaders, we must love our local church. We must love it enough to serve the people in whatever way we can, even before we start serving them as worship leaders. And when you serve the people, you will win their hearts and worship leading on a Sunday will be easy.

Just be careful not to go crazy and lead them into a rebellion…

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!

Why We Need to Continuously Teach on Worship

As a worship minister, I feel that God’s call on my life is to go just beyond being a practitioner of worship, but also a teacher of worship.

And here’s why.

John Maxwell once said this:

Unless the why behind the what is taught consistently, 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.

Obviously, this goes beyond just worship ministry. But it’s a reminder that we can’t just keep “doing” the worship without going back to the roots of understanding what worship is all about.

Recently, when I was studying at Arrows College, one of the things a lot of the students said was how surprised they were at how much they enjoyed the Worship module. This was because a lo of them had thought that worship was a specialist subject and was relevant for only those in music ministry. But when they realised how worship, when correctly understood, encompassed all of our Christian life, manifesting itself in different expressions of service, they were inspired and enlightened – to the extent that even the most non-musical students happily participated in doing something entirely musical – songwriting!

If worship is so all-encompassing, then I think we owe it to ourselves to study worship in the Bible, and beyond that, also to teach worship regularly and consistently so that as John Maxwell exhorts, we never lose focus of the “why” in all that we are doing.

Going Back to (Worship) School

Today, was my first day back at school following my last exam at uni and after 12 years of working life. It was quite a surreal experience. I almost felt like I should have packed a piece of fruit and a muesli bar and 15% juice in a tetrapak. I also wondered whether the cool kids would want to sit with me.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but I was glad to be back studying again, even if it was just for one week at the Worship Module of Arrows College with Pastor Ray Badham of Hillsong College teaching on worship and songwriting.

The first thing that really amazed me was just how many students had set aside 10 weeks of their life to complete the Arrows course. There were people from all generations and all walks of life. I was really impressed by a young worship leader from Faith Community Church who decided to step out of the comfort zone of his job as an accountant in a Big 4 firm to pursue God’s call for his life in church ministry.

During the morning chapel time, Pastor Benny Ho shared an insight from John Maxwell about three zones that we can live in: the challenge zone; the comfort zone and the cruising zone. When we operate in the challenge zone, this is where we are stretched and stimulated, ultimately leading to our growth. When we are in our comfort zone, all we are doing is something we already know. The worst is when we fall into the complacency of the cruising zone. This essentially leads to stagnancy and death. Pastor Benny encouraged us to always reinvent ourselves and put ourselves back on the shelf of the challenge zone.

I feel that this year, God has really challenged me beyond the things I am used to – particularly in the context of ministry where I am stepping out to do more things within the city itself. I feel completely out of my depth but at the same time needing to rely on God all the more.

So there I was, sitting in a class of 30 or so students, hoping that God would somehow speak to me about this next phase of my journey. I didn’t come with much of an agenda, except perhaps that I was getting a bit tired of my day job and hoping that this will be a week of refreshing and re-firing and being receptive to whatever God would say to me.

Today was also about going back to school on the basics of worship.

Pastor Ray shared about what worship is: essentially making the point that it is a lot more than just what we do on Sunday.

I have in two previous posts, Defining Worship and Defining Worship Part 2 sought to define worship. Looking at worship in contrast to idolatry, Pastor Ray adopted Timothy Keller’s definition: “worship is ascribing ultimate value to something in a way that engages the whole being.” And Pastor Ray shared that the primal design and direction of our lives is to worship God. When idolatry comes in, it distorts our lives.

Martin Lloyd-Jones says this:

An idol is anything in my life that occupies a place that should be occupied by God alone… An idol is something holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts me so easily that I give my time, attention and money to it effortlessly.

The psalmist observes in Psalm 135:15-18:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them

We become like what or who we worship. And that is why Paul says in Romans 1:18ff that as a result of idolatry, God gave humanity over to futile and foolish thoughts and to the degradation of their bodies.

True worship on the other hand transforms us into the image of God. So worship transforms us in an upward spiral towards becoming more and more like Christ, from glory to glory, strength to strength. As Christ-followers, we don’t always engage in true worship, but when we do, transformation is always the result.

We often equate worship with music and singing, but it was great to be reminded about this foundational truth: Worship is much more than what happens on a Sunday. It is about ascribing God his true worth and in the process being changed to be more like HIm.