Philosophy

The Worship Blog – The random thoughts from Jason Sears. I’m the Worship Pastor at  Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church (OMPC).  We’re a PCA church, located in a suburb of Birmingham, AL.

Our Style –
We have a “contemporary” style of worship – meaning that we usually use a full rhythm section in our Sunday morning worship – Full rhythm section being drums, bass, one or two electrics, one or two acoustics, and sometimes percussion, or synth, or even fiddle! I lead from the piano. I am joined by a praise team of 6-8 singers, and every 4-5 weeks our Worship Choir leads in worship.

Our Programming –
Our Sunday mornings are “balanced” in their programming. In other words, we use both praise songs and hymns. We sometimes include creeds, corporate confessions, and responsive readings, interwoven into the service.

Our Volunteers –
I love our volunteers. The ministry – by definition – is supported through the service of the volunteers. Without volunteers, we have a performance group. Our teams are made up solely of volunteers, and our goal is to provide an opportunity for ANYONE that wants to be involved.

My Worship Ministry Philosophy
When I think about a Worship Ministry – at the heart of the word “ministry” lies an involvement with people. Without people, it’s not a ministry, just a program. God has called me as a Worship Minister to involve people in leading congregations in His worship. From the onset, I believe that any thriving worship ministry will have its heart and pulse focused on meeting the needs of volunteers and seeking places for those whom God has called into this service.

Created to Worship
Throughout the psalms, we can see various commands for worship. Whether singing, clapping, praying, dancing, shouting, or laying prostrate, God has illustrated through the psalmists different forms of worship. As a worship minister, I have been called to involve as many people in the Worship Ministry as possible, and God has gifted me with the strengths necessary to not only recruit and train, but to shepherd both spiritually and musically so my volunteers feel loved and supported as they lead in worship. This serves as a visible and tangible reminder within a congregation that we are ALL created to worship, and allowing people to use their gifts, at varying skill levels, heightens an awareness of our privilege to worship.

A Community of Musicians
God has raised up a strong community of musicians and worshippers here at my church. Before coming on staff, the previous vision was for a single praise band, with only a handful of “qualified” praise team vocalists to lead the congregation. It was a ministry that was setup to isolate and exclude most from getting involved. The decision to hire me was in part due to my commitment to building a ministry that includes anyone that would like to be involved. By God’s grace, He has granted me with a gift for recruitment and involvement that has blossomed into a Community of Musicians that includes a 140 voice Worship Choir that sings every 4-6 weeks, 70 different praise team members, and over 35 instrumentalists (drummers, percussionists, bassists, electric and acoustic guitarists, and synth players) The result has been a exciting, vibrant ministry where people can easily get plugged in and utilized on a consistent basis to lead in worship.

A Community of Musicians Requires Work!
Artists are unique.  We feel and experience differently.  Not only does it take intentional effort to recruit and train, but shepherding has to be just as intentional.  As much work as it may take to get someone involved, it takes just as much, if not more work to keep them involved and engaged.  Musicians, vocalists, artists, need to feel safe, and cared for.  They need to know that their gifts won’t be wasted, exploited, or minimized.

It’s all about the Cross
I think that one of the ways in which God has raised up so many volunteers is the emphasis that we place on Worship and not Performance. In keeping our Sunday morning, Wednesday evening, and rest-of-the-week focus on WORSHIP, it redirects any energy and focus from musical perfection and performance to a face-to-face meeting with Jesus. This emphasis has broken down barriers and allowed our teams to keep their focus on the Cross, not on themselves and not on the faces in the crowd.

Keeping it Simple
In recruiting and involving so many different people on so many different instruments, one of the keys is to keep things customized and simple. I lead from the piano, but our worship style is mostly guitar driven and our programming comes from Passion, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Hillsong and Hillsong United, Tommy Walker, Vicky Beeching, Paul Baloche and various other mainstream artists.  You can see a more complete list here.  Most of the tunes from these artists are guitar-driven, and given the consistency on a week-to-week basis of the same individual driving from the piano, I’m able to create arrangements that are still based around the guitar. The piano becomes the key to providing a solid musical background for a drummer, bassist, and guitarist to lock into, and provides the rhythmic and musical framework for the other musicians to thrive in. I’m often asked by other churches about the “secret” to our musical quality, and I honestly believe, aside from the Grace of God, that the consistency from the piano is key.  Another important part of keeping it simple is having arrangements specifically geared towards your instrumentalists, vocalists, and congregation. An important part of my ministry is the time spent arranging songs to fit our church’s worship style, matching the skill level of our volunteers, and a comfortable vocal range not only for the praise team, but more importantly for the congregation. A great example of this is Chris Tomlin. His songs and recordings are used widely in the church, but he records his albums with songs that fit comfortably in his range. Most of the keys for his songs are NOT appropriate for congregational singing, as it leaves ladies either scraping the stratosphere, or wandering, looking for the appropriate pitch. The same with guys – either straining to hit high notes, or scraping the bottom. Re-pitching Chris’s recordings into lower keys builds musical energy in a congregation, increases confidence, and encourages the worshipper to sing out. By keeping the arrangements of our songs specifically geared towards the participants, it keeps the congregation engaged, and allows for a high level of success in the volunteer, despite their skill level.

Obedient Worship
God has ignited a conviction in me for our worship to be Relevant, Intentional, and Obedient. The first two define the latter. He’s called me to strive to always evaluate our congregation, community, and demographic to ensure that we’re Intentional with our worship (1 Cor 10:31), Relevant with our style (1 Cor 9:22), and Obedient to God’s purpose in our creation (Rom 12:1). In doing so, I’m called to be in the Word to see what God says about worship, and to remain exposed to how He’s reaching our community – not just the Saints, but the Lost as well. In worship leadership, I must be obedient and respond to the Spirit working through me, and everything we do as a church needs to be intentionally communicating the message of the Gospel.  In regards to intentionally communicating, God has inspired me regarding everything we do as a church intentionally directing people to the Gospel in the style in which God has called us to minister.  From the platform to the parking lot, we should be communicating in a consistent manner that ties our decor, symbolism and graphic design into the same style in which the church communicates from the platform.

One of our latest examples of relevant worship is found in our change with our Children’s Choir. For years we have used a traditional model for children’s choir, meeting on Sunday afternoons and working on a program, presented seasonally. While using times during rehearsal to teach about worship, and effective for some, we realized that we were not reaching all of our children in an intentional and relevant way. Our choir program, though successful on some fronts, only provided a worship opportunity for those children that: a. felt musically gifted enough to sing in a choir, and b. had parents who were able to drop them off on Sunday afternoon for a rehearsal. We have added a Children’s Worship program – partnering with our Children’s Ministry, and in conjunction with their Sunday School programming. Splitting the children up into age and grade specific groups, we are able to offer relevant worship programming, providing leadership with adult volunteers and high-school aged kids. The programming is specifically geared towards each age group, and includes Scripture, high-energy music, and catechism instruction.


Ministering to Volunteers
Regardless of the number of volunteers under the care of a Worship Minister, he or she has to take deliberate steps to minister to them in very specific ways. The make-up of a musical volunteer ministry involves personalities that are different from other serving areas of the church. Musicians, by nature, are emotional and touchy-feely. Creative communication is required to maneuver around barriers and speak directly to the heart of an artist. God has gifted me not only musically, but given me the gift of shepherding, particularly in the area of communication to volunteers. It can only be described as a “sensitive boldness” that allows me to be direct to achieve musical excellence (excellence defined as doing the best we can with what God has provided), and to love someone for wherethey are – regardless of their skill level or spiritual maturity.

Discipleship through the relationship
Over the past 20 years of worship leadership, God has convicted me about getting as many people involved as possible. The relationships built within the Worship Ministry have not only provided a safe and easy way to get plugged in, but have also transformed into several different mentoring and discipling relationships. Through a little bit of intentionality, I have been blessed to lead many men in personal discipleship, as well as see other relationships within the Worship Community blossom into accountability, encouragement, and support. Friendships have been formed, and unique camaraderie exists, all stemming from having the same goal – worship.

Practical Programming – the Practical Structure of a Worship Ministry
It’s impossible to keep 75 vocalists, spread over 7 different praise teams connected relationally without a common thread that brings them together. Our Worship Choir was formed when I first came on staff as a way to foster those relationships and the sense of community. Our Choir meets from 6-7 on Wednesday nights, and is welcome to ANYONE. I feel like I can’t overstate the “welcome to ANYONE” part of the choir. Just as worship is illustrated in the psalms, I want the Worship Ministry to include anyone and everyone that wants to “make a joyful noise.” God has blessed this effort by bringing those that had zero confidence into an environment where they were welcomed with open arms, sat next to a strong singer, and now sing on praise team, because their focus changed from performance to worship! In recruitment, I try to take away every excuse for someone to NOT be involved.  They’re not required to read music. In fact, I make rehearsal CD’s of their part pounded out on the piano, so they’re able to take their music and rehearse at home in addition to the choir hour. We provide snacks and drinks for those who may be coming from work, and we offer free childcare for those that would like to participate, but have young children. These small details really minister to those God brings and makes them feel welcomed and included.

Our Worship Choir sings the same programming found in our normal services, again – specifically arranged for our choir. Twice a year, we have an extended worship service that is crafted around a theme that God places on my heart, and tells a story with music, drama, narrative, video, and other multimedia elements. I tongue-in-cheek call them “Spectacular Spectaculars” to highlight the fact that it is opposite of a performance, and instead, a very creative and focused worship service. These services have been seasonal, to highlight the Christmas and Easter Celebrations.
Other than our two seasonal programs our Worship Choir sings about every 6-8 weeks. Out of the Choir comes the makeup of our praise teams. The only requirement to be on praise team is participation in the choir. Again – contrary to the way MOST worship ministers would choose, I want everyone to feel welcome in worship leadership. I am very specific about how I pair vocalists, putting weaker with stronger, and my teams, because of their exposure in choir, are already taught how to blend, breathe, enunciate, and sing on pitch – which cuts down on practice time for praise team. Our
typical weekly schedule consists of Worship Choir from 6-7, Sunday’s Praise Team then meets around the piano for a focused vocal rehearsal, and they then sing with the band from 7:30 till 9.  My goal for our weekly rehearsal schedule is to create an atmosphere of worship. As my team and I openly discuss where we’re going with the service, we’re able to let go even during a weekly rehearsal and experience a true time of worship.


The Leader
The leader has to have a heart to serve. I love being able to serve those that I labor with. I enjoy times at meals with my volunteers. Worship rehearsal is an incredible time of fellowship and fun, and I enjoy being able to invest musically and spiritually in those God has called me to work with.  Again, for me a ministry is all about the volunteer. I care more about the hearts, desires, fears, and needs of the people God has brought than I do about the music. I’ve found that making people my first priority, with a desire to see them worship enables the music aspect to naturally fall into place. A healthy worship team is one that can cry together, laugh together, and experience God together. After that is in place, the music part becomes easy.

Know What You Want To Do
The leader has to have musical chops. In my rehearsals, some would think I have a hyperactivity disorder. Once I get to the point of running the rehearsal on a musical front, I become the producer of what it is that I want to hear. One of my goals is to communicate the entire worship “production” that has been floating around in my head for weeks through a well-organized and thought out worship service. The instant my rehearsal begins, I become that producer, making sure what my team is communicating matches where I feel the Spirit leading. So, much like a record producer, I have a clear picture of how I want things to look, feel, and sound like, and am able to reproduce that through my volunteers.

Take the Time To Make It Right
During the worship rehearsal, I will stop on a dime if there’s something that doesn’t sound right. I believe that one of the keys to establishing that relationship with my volunteers is creating an environment where they know that things have been thought through, with their best interests in mind.  Therefore, everything needs to be designed to make them successful. Vocalists need to have clear and easy to read charts, with vocal parts clearly assigned. Instrumentalists need the same. In the rehearsal environment, time has to be taken to ensure that vowels are properly formed, breath control is enforced, and the vocal team is given the necessary direction to turn them from a group of soloists, into a vocal ensemble, with tight-knit harmonies and punchy enunciation.

Time also needs to be taken with the instrumentalists. I believe that the leader needs to be well skilled in how to communicate with a drummer, a guitarist, a bass guitarist, in order to have the music executed to match what he needs to hear. I am very specific with almost every aspect of my rehearsal, from how I want the drummer to groove, to specific amp sounds for the electric guitarist.  Again, this all fits into how I am able to “produce” what it is I hear in my head.


The Talent Parable
As leaders, we also need to heed the parable of the talents. Use what God gives us. Commit it to prayer – daily. Consider the talented people that He has brought to the church and challenge them to use their gifts to serve Him through the worship ministry. Be an active recruiter. Keep a focus on growing the ministry to include those that are able to serve Him musically or technically.

Pay Attention To Every Last Detail
I can truly spend hours in my office on my Mac, working with Finale. Every piece of music that I hand my volunteers comes from that machine. I spend countless hours making sure that the minutest details are covered from vocal parts, to transitions, to what amp patch I want the electric guitarist to use. The more details that I can cover, the more valued the volunteer will feel, and the more synergized my team becomes.

Don’t Leave Out the Tech Guys!
Tech people are one of my biggest assets in a worship ministry, and need to be cared for just as much as the musicians. The tech volunteer is directly responsible for reproducing the sound that I’m creating, or putting the correct words on the screen, or lighting the service adequately, enhancing the emotion in worship. The PowerPoint engineer has as much influence on worship leadership as anyone from the stage – they have to be on the ball. I take time to make sure my tech people are valued. We include them in our time of prayer prior to the service. Spending time with my sound people, I’m able to make sure they understand what it is that I want to hear for a specific song. Emphasizing the importance of what these faithful servants do, and how necessary their contribution is to the service is a crucial part in a flourishing ministry.  One of my most important relationships in the ministry is that with my Technical Director. He is as crucial to shepherding and training technical volunteers as I am to the musicians. He understands the importance of volunteer value along with technical excellence, and he is my partner in communicating the worship picture for the weekend.

Commit It To Prayer
Take time as a leader to get alone. I like to run. Well, actually, I dislike it strongly, but it’s something God has called me to do to take care of my body. While I run, I listen to the radio, but often times I’ll turn the radio off and listen to God. I think it’s crucial as a worship leader to find what it is that you need to do to be able to get away, spend time in prayer, and do twice as much listening as you do talking. I enjoy sitting at my piano at night, and listening to what God has to say. It’s important to me to find a time and place to be alone with God, asking Him to focus my heart.

Defending the Integrity of the Ministry
One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. Every once in a while, someone will be involved in the ministry that becomes divisive, or self-centered. When I first came on staff, and began recruiting a choir, I also asked for the current praise team members to serve in the choir. Almost everyone strongly welcomed it, but I had a few that insisted that they were too good to sing in the choir. Really. After praying for God’s discernment, I spoke with them and challenged them to a time of respite to reevaluate how God has called them to minister. I believe that being in leadership requires a commitment to boldness where God is leading, in order to protect that which He has called us to shepherd.

Take Time To Learn
Theology and tradition cannot be ignored. As leaders we must spend time learning about our God. This will only enhance what we do in the worship service, by bringing a theological integrity to the service. Learn about the importance of a time of confession, and why it’s just as important to follow up with an assurance of God’s pardoning grace. By truly grasping our theology, and beginning to understand what it is that God has done for us, we can then start to lead God’s people in His worship and become dynamic in reaching the lost.

Elements of the ancient are just as important. God has gifted me with the ability to lead contemporary style worship. I love getting into a groove with a drum kit, electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, and vocalists. But that just supports the style of what we do in the service. It does not dictate the programming of the service. In other words, a good contemporary service is marked more by style than it is song-selection. One of my favorite things to do is take timeless hymns, make some of the archaic language palatable to modern culture, and arrange it for a contemporary rhythm section. Rarely will I alter the melodic tune. This is able to satisfy those longing to sing those hymns they grew up with, as well as those that want to worship with a good groove.

 

Conclusion
It is a unique privilege to lead God’s people in worship. God has placed a tremendous calling and responsibility on those in worship leadership. With one of the most visible ministries of the church, it’s crucial that Christ be the center of my entire focus. Through the skills He’s granted, I’m able to foster a true community of worshippers that are focused on our ultimate goal from Creation – worshipping the Creator.

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