I have been involved with contemporary worship for the past several years. I was considering recently how many worship CDs I've accumulated during that time - probably about 3 dozen or so. (Half seem to have "I could sing of your love forever" on them and the other half "The Heart of Worship"! Ok, people, something new please...) I thought I'd take this opportunity to list my favorite ones. These would be the CDs I would recommend you absolutely ought to get no matter what. While other CDs I have enjoyed, none have really reached the level of these 9.
From Youth Group to Sunday Morning... and why I'm not a worship pastor
I don't consider myself to be a worship expert - if there even is such a thing. I didn't even plan to get involved with worship when I first left seminary and headed out into the wonderful world of youth ministry. Let me trace a little of my journey and then you can take a peek to see if anything else on this page is helpful for you.
When I started work at Trinity, Ripon, in 1992, I knew that I wanted to get my new youth group involved with worship, but I wasn't really sure how. I had taken piano lessons for about eight years and could play a half a dozen songs including Pass It On, The Entertainer, and the theme to Star Wars and The A-Team. Not real helpful for leading students in worship! We started out with a boom box and a split track CD in my office/youthroom with an overhead projector on the white board. Try getting junior highers (especially guys) to sing Pharaoh, Pharaoh in that setting! Yikes!
I knew something had to change. But at the time there were no instrumentalists in our youth group or among the adult sponsors. I decided I would learn to play guitar. I took several lessons and learned the four or five most important chords and pretty soon we had live music! Better than the boombox, but still lacking. Over the next several years students began to learn instruments so that they could play. (Either they took pity on me or just decided, hey, if Pastor Rob can do it...) I had a bass player and then eventually another guitarist. What we really needed was a drummer. I couldn't find any students who could play, so I decided I would learn. I took a year and a half of lessons and eventually could keep a beat with the worship band. (Once you have a drummer you can call it a band. Otherwise it's just a couple of guys with guitars.) Shortly thereafter another student said, "Hey, if Pastor Rob can do it..." He sat down at the drum set and after about a day and a half was light years beyond me in playing ability. (Go, Josh!) I did vocals for a while, but thankfully we had other students step up and join in.
We actually had a worship band. And a good one - most of the time, anyway. I learned more about worship than I ever imagined. And the students learned about worship. They learned that worship is a very important part of what we do and the high value of worship permeated the youth group at Trinity. Students learned to play and sing so that they could contribute using their musical gifts. Those not gifted musically were able to benefit from the talents of others as we all explored what it meant to worship. In this sense we were somewhat ahead of the "worship" trend that seemed to flood evangelicalism in the late 90s and early part of this century.
In late 1999 our church realized that we needed to do something out the worship services on Sunday morning. Our senior pastor at the time asked me to head up a new Contemporary Worship service. I had the most experience with this type of worship, plus we would need most of the youth group worship band to make it happen. I said I would. Sure, no problem. I'd be happy to.
Little did I know...
Learnings from my time as worship producer
[Just a note before we get started. I never liked to use the term worship leader to describe my position. I was rarely the leader from the front, which is what most people think of when they hear "worship leader." I did lead the team and plan the services. Plus I was the person who helped coordinate the technical aspects of the service to make sure that sound, lighting, drama, vocals, instruments, and everything else was in place and working. I worked to make sure that transitions between the various elements of the service were as smooth as possible and that any potential distractions were minimized. So I guess you could kind of say I directed the services, but we had a "director" for instrumentalists and one for vocalists so I gravitated toward the term producer to best describe my role. The term worship pastor may have also been appropriate, however I think of myself as a youth pastor first and foremost with worship as an element of that role that I fulfilled at the church.]
It takes more time than you think
The first thing I learned is that it takes a lot longer to plan a good worship service than I anticipated. A lot! The first week I planned I spent about 30 hours total putting the service together. I realized real quick that I couldn’t devote 30 hours each week to planning a service. After a few weeks I was able to streamline the process to about 5-10 hours. After six months I had enough of a system developed that I was able to plan a service in 2-4 hours. Some services would come together more quickly, while others required much more prayer, sweat and tears. With the additional time required to shepherd the service through rehearsal as well as providing leadership for the worship team I knew that I couldn’t continue the pace without something giving.
As much as I enjoyed using my gifts in the area of worship, my primary responsibility (and joy) was in the area of youth. The church was generous enough to realize that I would have to offload a good deal of the extra administrative work that I was doing. They hired Rosalie as Administrative Assistant for Student Ministries and Contemporary Worship. This was a huge help as she worked about 10 hours each week picking up some of those administrative duties (some of which she had been helping out with informally already). That left me with about 80% of my time to devote to student ministries and 20% to the Contemporary Worship team.
Why so long to plan a contemporary worship service? That goes to what I believe is the true nature of worship, no matter the style.
Why so long to plan a contemporary worship service? That goes to what I believe is the true nature of worship, no matter the style.Worship is NOT just about music! "Contemporary" worship is NOT about the style of worship or just using newer songs. One of the biggest misconceptions about contemporary worship is that it is about music style. Sure, there are modern songs used. But worship is about so much more! I've seen a lot of churches make this mistake. They will plan a service and use newer songs and call it contemporary worship. You can tell when a church does this by asking this question: could I substitute a traditional song or hymn for this contemporary song and would it work for a traditional service? I think it is definitely possible to have "contemporary worship" using all hymns.
Can we use another term?
I'd love to move away from the term "contemporary" altogether, however it has come into common use and I don't think I'm going to be the one to change it. Some will substitute the word "praise" for contemporary, but this is not accurate, either. The thinking is that if a song is not a hymn is it a praise song. Not necessarily. Praise is one part of worship, but the term worship is much broader than just the praise component. There are also songs that are primarily reflective, songs of community, confession, commitment, etc. Every worship service will have elements of God-directed praise in it, but to me the term praise sounds like the camp songs of the 70s. Maybe it's just me. For the sake of this article, I'll use the term contemporary worship to reflect a more recent understanding of what worship is.
So What Is "Contemporary" Worship?
Let's start with what is worship. Tons of definitions out there. One of my favorites is from John Ortberg: "The heart of worship is to reflect on and delight in the goodness and greatness and glory of God. And to express this directly to Him and to know that He receives it."
What is "Contemporary" worship? I don't know if I can come up with an all-encompassing definition, but I think one core reality of contemporary worship is that it's about creating "moments" where we can connect with God. It's about flow and creating movement toward God. It's about removing things that would distract and providing the opportunity for people to experience God.
Contemporary worship isn't just about the music. Someday I'd love to plan an entire "contemporary" worship service that didn't even include music. Of course, music is such a powerful tool for us to use in worship because it touches people deeply (which is why so many people get so bent about style - they want something that is going to touch and move them!) Contemporary worship will also include readings from God's Word, prayer, a time for mediation or reflection, silence, and any other element that will facilitate "connecting" with God. It's going to look different each time. You can't just plug in new songs to the same worship order and expect them to have any impact.
Samples of Worship Services
It's hard to explain, so I've included some links to worship services that I have planned in order to give an example of this type of worship. (These are the same sheets I would give each week to our worship team with notes on how the worship would flow. These downloads are in Adobe Acrobat .pdf format. Click the icon to get Adobe Reader for your computer.)
Here is a worship service based around a message I gave during the church's 40 Days of Purpose on the theme of community or fellowship. This included communion which I put in the middle of the message.
This is another good example of a typical service I would plan. We started out very celebratory and led to a time of reflection with special music sung by the worship team and supported by a PowerPoint that my wife created to the Peder Eide song You Are God.
What about a worship pastor?
I have come to realize that a full-time worship pastor is a real necessity for any church that wants to commit itself to excellence in this area. Not every church can afford a full-time person, but churches that are growing in this area will soon see the benefits of bringing in such a person. When I served as a worship leader I had to split my time between worship and student ministries. I always felt bad that I couldn't dedicate more time to worship, but I also hated to be drawn away from my first love which is youth ministry. Sure, it's doable for a time, but any church who sees a combination youth and worship pastor as a long-term solution may be fooling themselves. If you want to have excellent, God-honoring worship and an vibrant, active student ministry program you really need to have someone who is committed to each one full-time.
Arts Conference and resources from Willow Creek
Much of my philosophy of worship was developed through the resources and conferences provided by the Willow Creek Association. If you are involved at all in leading worship at your church or in your youth ministry, I would highly recommend the WCA's Arts Conference. I have attended three and I firmly believe that they are the best resources available anywhere for worship ministry.
Also, every worship team member should read The Heart of the Artist by Rory Noland (who is on staff at Willow). I'd highly recommend going through it together as a team. Our team read through it together several times. GREAT resource!
Nancy Beach just came out with a book called An Hour on Sunday. It looks wonderful! I can't wait to read it. Check it out here: www.willowcreek.com/houronsunday.
[This is information we developed at Trinity to describe the Contemporary Worship Service.]
Contemporary Worship Service Overview
To create a worship experience that makes God’s Word accessible to unchurched seekers, to give believers a place to invite their unchurched friends, and to challenge believers who prefer a contemporary style of worship. In short: a “Seeker-Accessible” worship celebration that allows believers to develop lives that are filled with worship including times of teaching and learning, fellowship and celebration, prayer and confession, times to observe ordinances like Communion and baptism, and extended times of praising God through music and song.
To glorify God by challenging believers and exposing unchurched seekers to authentic Christian worship and teaching.
Believers who enjoy contemporary worship styles and seekers who have little or no exposure to church or who have had negative experiences with churches in the past.
Contemporary style of worship that utilizes the teaching and the arts in such a way as to challenge believers to a deeper walk with God while exposing seekers to a God’s Word in a way that is accessible to them. Every component of the service will be examined from the perspective of a first-time, unchurched visitor in order to make it appealing and accessible.
Style of music
Contemporary, high-energy, musical style utilizing multiple instruments and vocalists. Song selection will skew toward modern pieces. Traditional hymns will sometimes be used but will often be done at a different tempo or style than the original.
Style of teaching
Biblical teaching with applications to both believers and seekers. The teaching time should not exceed thirty minutes in order to maximize effectiveness.
Flow of service
The service will typically feature an extended time of worship, minimizing barriers and interruptions which disrupt the flow and take the worshipper’s focus off of God or hinder people from bringing a fully engaged heart into worship.
[This is a sample of the covenant we asked each CWT member to sign.]
Contemporary Worship Team Covenant
· Contemporary Worship Team members are expected to have a growing walk with Jesus Christ. As a result I will commit to:
· Have a daily time alone with God (Proverbs 8:34).
· Memorize Scripture (Psalm 119:11).
· Team members are expected to have giftedness in their area of ministry and to develop their talents and abilities (Romans 12). We believe that excellence honors God and inspires people (2 Timothy 2:15). As a result I will commit to:
· Practice regularly so that I may give my best back to God.
· Prepare in advance (review music, memorize).
· Take advantage of opportunities to improve (may include private or group lessons, listening to worship music or training tapes, reading books and magazines relating to worship, attending worship conferences and workshops, etc.)
· Contemporary Worship Team members are expected to have servant hearts. As a result I will commit to:
· Submit to team leadership (Hebrews 13:17).
· Listen to direction (Romans 12:3).
· Have a positive attitude (Philippians 2:14).
· We are committed to ministering in community. As a result I will commit to:
· Consistent attendance at P3 and Sunday worship (Hebrews 10:25).
· Prepare for weekly discussion topic by reading assigned material in advance (2 Timothy 4:2).
· Be involved in a small group ministry at Trinity (Acts 2:46).
· Be held accountable for these commitments (Hebrews 10:24).
Please read and sign the following.
I affirm that I have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and I am endeavoring to grow in my walk with God. I will commit to offer my best through my talents and gifts in worship. I wish to serve and am willing to submit to the team’s leadership. I am committed to the team approach to ministry and will be consistent in attendance at both mid-week P3 and Sunday morning worship.
[When we started the Contemporary Worship Service we utilized both adult and student artists. In order to provide for consistency and to demonstrate excellence, we developed the following guidelines for team members up front on Sunday mornings.]
Contemporary Worship Stage Presence Guidelines
The goal of the Contemporary Worship Service is to provide an opportunity for believers to enter the presence of God using a contemporary musical style. Our second objective is to make this service appealing and accessible to seekers who may not have a personal relationship to Jesus Christ.
As such, we want to provide the highest quality experience, believing that excellence honors God and inspires people (2 Timothy 2:15). To achieve this quality we want to minimize any possible distractions that might prevent people from entering into wholehearted worship.
Therefore we have adopted the following guidelines to provide consistency and quality with regard to our stage presence and to minimize potential distractions.
Team members on are asked to dress up for worship. General guidelines include:
· Men should wear dress shirts, polo shirts, or sweaters (ties are optional). Slacks and brown or black shoes. Please no t-shirts or jeans.
· Ladies should wear skirts or dresses and a nice shirt, blouse or sweater. Please no t-shirts or jeans.
Because we are a team and minister in community we ask those involved in the service who may not be on stage to dress up, as well (i.e. sound and video tech).
Modifications of these guidelines will be made for special events (such as the church picnic, etc.) and with regard to any special needs of our worship team members (for example, pregnant team members are not asked to wear skirts and dresses when that becomes a problem).
We don’t want these guidelines to be burdensome or legalistic, but rather a reflection of our desire to give God our very best in a way that is reverential and honoring to him and that will facilitate worship for all those that attend.
You must present as the Lord's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you. Numbers 18:29
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