10 things I wish I’d known when I started leading worship – post by Vicky Beeching
Andy’s playing guitar for Vicky Beeching on a mini UK tour at the moment so we thought it was a good moment to post an article by Vicky herself taken from her blog. Vicky and Andy go back to when they were both at Soul Survivor Church Watford sometime last century. Her worship leading is certainly very full-on. Andy says he’s never played Everlasting God quite so fast!
I’ve been leading worship since I was about 13. Now I’m 31. Looking back, there are SO many things I wish someone had told me or taught me back then, that it’s taken years to learn. Here are my Top 10!
1. Open your eyes and connect!
I was trained to lead worship with my eyes clamped shut, and without saying a single word to the congregation. Allegedly this was to make the worship leader ‘invisible’ so I wouldn’t ‘get in the way’ of them connecting with God. Nowadays I think this is simply baloney! God has always used PEOPLE. The Bible clearly shows this. Paul said “follow me as I follow Christ”. God has always used living people, with faces, names and personalities to lead. I think it’s important that when you lead worship you open your eyes, at least for the few couple of songs in the set, so that people sense a CONNECTION between you and them. Who wants to follow someone they don’t connect with/resonate with? No one! Having your eyes open at the start shows that you are aware of what’s happening in the room, rather than just diving into your own little world with God. Worship leaders need to be pastors, and care that all the ‘sheep’ in the room are doing ok. You can’t do that unless you are looking. I’ll often close my eyes a few songs in, once I know everyone is ‘on board’. But don’t be afraid to smile at people as you start the set. I like to introduce myself and even talk a little about my story if I’m in a new church. Help the people trust you and connect, then you’ll find them wanting to follow you more!
2. Don’t let busyness swallow up your time with God
In the early days of leading worship you wish you were busier, wish you could lead more people, wish you could travel further and impact more lives. Then when it all speeds up, suddenly you wish you were less busy and could stay home more! Build patterns on time with God into your life when your worship leading is in it’s infancy. Then keep those patterns when things hot up. Never let your time leading on a public stage eclipse what’s going on with you and God behind closed doors. Some kind of Bible reading plan is priceless if you want to stay in the Bible every day. Life gets chaotic when you are on a tour bus, or constantly flying places, always in a different hotel. Build habits early on, and make that time with Jesus your lifeline.
3. Keep getting training in your craft
I had piano lessons from age 6-11, then gave up. I regret it as I didn’t learn the music theory that would help me now. I self taught myself the guitar from the age of 13 but never had any voice lessons back then, and never consistently had guitar lessons. My advice would be to always have music lessons as much as possible, for your entire life! There is so much more to learn. Voice lessons will help your vocals stay healthy for the long haul. I try to have the ocassional guitar lesson now and then…and some singing tuition. I think building these things in regularly would be a fantastically beneficial idea.
4. Read, read, read!
I had to read SO many books at Oxford University that it made my brain frazzled! These days I read so few books in comparison to then. But whenever I do read great books I see the results in my creativity, my lyrics and ministry. Great books are like water to the soul. They will be your teachers. Ask people you respect for their top 10 book list and devour them. The day you stop getting input, is the day your output will begin to dry up. Don’t let busyness choke up your time or ability to read as a way of getting input into your life and soul!
5. “Do more with others and less alone” (a quote from Chuck Swindoll that I heard via my friend John Saddington)
I’m by nature an introvert. I thrive on alone time. I prefer to write songs and prepare worship sets alone. My friendship circle is small and deep, rather than an extrovert’s which is usually wide and (maybe) less deep! I also struggle with being a bit shy (you wouldn’t guess that from seeing me on stage, but off stage it’s actually true). So all this has made me tend toward doing ministry without much collaboration. But over the years I’ve discovered that being part of a team is THE most fun and fulfilling way to do ministry. So it’s shifted me out of my natural introvert ways! Now I LOVE it and wouldn’t have it any other way! Unless we are surrounded by others and working together, it’s all a bit lonely and stressful. So find other like-hearted people, and begin collaborating by doing ministry together…co-leading, co-writing, co-ministering. It makes it all WAY more fun, the load is shared and you have people to share the experience with.
6. Use a click track!
If you are using some kind of headphones for monitoring (hearing yourself), then you could try using a click track. For those who aren’t familiar, a click track is a metronome that keeps you and the band at a specific tempo throughout the song. You run it into your ears, so only you and the band hear it, and the crowd does not. I started using a click track when I moved to the States, and it does wonders for keeping the band together, on tempo. It also takes lots of pressure OFF the worship leader, as without one we are the ones trying to set the tempo with our lead instrument (e.g. strumming in time for the band to follow). With a click track (which my drummer runs from a laptop) I can just rest knowing that we are at the right tempo, and only strum when I need to. It will transform the overall professionality of the sound of your band.
7. Create a journey with your set list
My vision for a setlist is that it should be a journey. There should be a start, a middle and an end… a destination you are moving towards. I do this in tempo, by starting with faster songs and moving towards slow ones, sometimes then ending by moving to faster songs again. I do it thematically, by starting with songs about WHO God is and what He’s done, and moving towards songs of our response of love to Him. I do it musically, by choosing some songs that are in the same key, so that part of the set will transition seamlessly together, so that people can get ‘lost’ in the moment without the jolt of starting a new song in a new key. I also help the journey at points by sharing verses, stories or thoughts that will help people engage. I spend AGES planning set lists! I also like to run the whole set through by myself to check how the transitions between songs, keys and tempos feel.
8. Tune, tune, tune!
If someone is leading worship on guitar and their strings are out of tune, for me it’s one of the most distracting things possible! Invest in a great tuner (the Boss TU2 has become somewhat of a standard for worship leaders and I use and love mine). The Boss TU2 lets you tune with ‘lights’ so you can see in the dark whether you are sharp or flat. The pedal also works as a ‘mute’ so the crowd can’t hear you tuning. I try and tune right before I play (so I’ll get on stage before the pastor or MC has introduced me, and tune then). Then I’ll also try and tune at least once during my set if there is an appropriate moment when my keyboard player or electric guitar can fill the space with pads or atmospheric sounds. I’ll talk over the top, or pray over the top of those sounds, then at the same time hit my tuner and tune. It takes practice to be able to talk or pray at the same time as glancing down at the tuner and tuning, but it’s become invaluable!
9. Spend LOTS of time building relationship with your pastor, musicians, sound crew and volunteers.
(This may seem like a re-iteration of point no. 5… But that was a more general ‘do stuff with others’. This point is a very specific ‘build DEEP frienship with your small team’). It doesn’t matter how great your worship times might go… if you aren’t doing it in deep connection with the people you are serving with, then you might as well quit today! We are made to function as family, not as lone islands. If you are an introvert like me, then you don’t naturally lean towards being outgoing/calling people lots/hanging out all the time. But over the years I’ve grown more and more in this area, and am so glad I have! The more you get to know your team mates on a deep level, the better you’ll be together as a unit. The closer you are to the pastors leading your church, the more flow you’ll create between what happens when they preach and you sing. The better you know your musicians, the more effortlessly you’ll all ‘sync’ on stage. Always treat people with the care you would want to be treated with. Forgive quickly and generously knowing that it could be your mistake next and you’ll need that same grace back! Spend plenty of time socially, just ‘being’ with the people you serve with. If we’re not friends and comrades on the journey, then what’s the point?! We are made to be family, so invest in that! (Note: In cases with female/male staff relationships, we want to be smart and careful! So clearly this ‘deep’ friendship is to be done appropriately, with spouses involved in the friendship if you are married, and making sure everyone is properly accountable etc.)
10. Get rid of all sheet music and charts if possible
I led so differently once I got the hang of memorising my music and lyrics. It freed me up from staring at a music stand. These days I never have a music stand on stage, as I feel like it also acts as a physical barrier between me and the congregation. I like them to be able to see me and for me to be able to see them, as that brings about maximum connection. Try memorising the songs, and when you do, you’ll be freed up to look around the room and check everyone is ‘on board’, and you’ll be free to think more about God, the direction the worship set is going, and what God is saying to you. Memorisation takes practice, but it’s just like learning any skill, it comes with time. A good place to start is just deciding you won’t have a music stand anymore. Then panic sets in and you HAVE to learn the songs by heart!!
Hope these have been helpful.
Worship leaders – what would you add to the list?
Congregation members – what would you add to the list that you wish your worship leader WOULD or WOULDN’T do?!
First published on Vicky’s website and used with kind permission.