January is the hottest sales month for health clubs, gyms, and spas across America. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people make fresh commitments to get in shape, to take a few pounds off, and to realize the goal of better physical health after recklessly feasting through the month of December at parties and family get-togethers. Statistically, however, very few people stick with their new workout routines beyond the first week of February and eventually find themselves back in the same shape they were in prior to their passionate New Year’s resolutions to shed those unwanted pounds. As worshipers and worship leaders, we sometimes resemble these “workout wannabes” and launch into a New Year with great enthusiasm only to find ourselves flagging and out of steam by the middle of March. What can we do? How can we organize ourselves to be of the best use in the kingdom of God? How can we have our best year ever in worship in every month of 2006? In personal and in corporate worship, the key is always strategy – have a plan and work it well. The following twelve strategic steps will help you to make this coming year your best yet in your personal worship life and in your corporate worship-leading ministry – let’s get started!
1) Begin with prayer
. In Christian life and ministry, there is no substitute for prayer. A prayer-less Christian is a powerless Christian, no matter what kind of tricks they have up their sleeve! No suggestions for ministry can replace the face-to-face connection with our Father God that prayer is intended to be for us. Far too many worship leaders miss this most important element in their devotional lives and therefore everyone suffers when it comes to benefiting from powerful, Holy Spirit-directed worship leadership. Why not take a brief prayer retreat to start this New Year by setting aside one day in January to just seek the Lord? Follow the example of the greatest spiritual leaders and be deliberate about prayer in your life this year and see what a difference it makes!
2) Take an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness is a distinct quality from self-consciousness. The worship leader who has the right amount of self-awareness understands his or her strengths and weaknesses, but is not distraught over the weaknesses or prideful of the strengths. I have met some people in my life, however, who seem to have no self-awareness – they simply do not seem to have the ability to recognize their weaknesses, for instance, or how they actually come across to people in person or on the platform during ministry. This can be a dangerous thing when someone doesn’t realize how flat they sing, or how arrogant they seem to be during services or otherwise (when this is not their intent at all). A helpful tool for all of us from time to time is to take an inventory of our strengths/weaknesses and to take an honest look at how well we’re leading, singing, organizing, etc. One helpful way to do this is to ask a few close friends, people whom you trust implicitly, to tell you the truth. It is helpful for them for you to write down on paper the specific areas you are looking for feedback in. Actually list the areas of vocal performance, musicianship, planning, and relationships. Give them the freedom to be honest with you and then make up your mind to receive it in the spirit of love in which it is given back to you. When you receive their honest feedback, make it a matter of prayer – actually take the results to God and ask Him to empower you to become the kind of leader that you desire to be. As a leader, you can also lovingly assist your team members in such an inventory.
3) Specialize – move toward your strengths. Once you have received adequate and honest feedback and taken the results to God in prayer, make some plans to work on your weaknesses, but only to a limited degree. Instead of losing all focus by concentrating only on improving your weak spots, try focusing instead (at least at first) on your strengths. Spend even more time improving yourself in some specialized areas that have garnered praise for you from your circle of feedback and see what happens. In time, just being aware of your weaknesses will be an improvement in itself and assist you in eliminating them from being a problem for you and for others. It is also true that God has uniquely equipped each of us and given us unique gifts to share – instead of trying to be all things, why not concentrate on the things we’re best at to make them even more effective? If you are still confused about where your strengths are, try taking a personality inventory, or meeting with a pastor or counselor in your church to ascertain the direction of your gifts. Once you’ve discovered your best gifts, be specific about how you work with them. Read books or attend seminars in your areas of strength and deliberately spend more time developing them for the benefit of others around you. In my experience, I’ve found that I can spend a lot of time, too much time, worrying about improving areas that I will never be very good in – so why waste the time? I’ve gotten greater results by specializing in the areas of songwriting, worship leading, and writing than I have in being an administrator, for instance – so I concentrate on the things I do best and reap great rewards. I still have to do some administrating, but God has sent people who love that service and do it much better than I can – so I let them!
4) Research – study others to understand their keys to success. As a young songwriter, I loved to study the lyrics and music of Twila Paris. Even though I was working at her record company at the time, she never knew that I patterned much of my early writing after hers – she was a mentor from afar to me, as have been many other people I’ve admired in different areas. I’ve spent many hours studying, reading and re-reading Twila’s excellently-crafted lyrics (look at them sometime) and soaking in her unique melodies. While I may never have a song as impacting as He Is Exalted, or many others that she has written, I’ve learned a great deal from trying to understand why she writes like she does and how she writes like she does – it has truly helped me to study her as a songwriter. Whom do you admire and why? Is it Billy Graham? Bill Gaither? Paul Baloche or David Crowder? I suggest you spend some time studying their methodology that so abundantly available by watching their videos or studying their songs – you’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn. A very successful businessman once said to me, “There’s a seminar going on all around every day – just open your eyes and learn!”
5) Find a mentor – someone who will help you become the best that you can be. The next step in the process is to pray for and to seek out an actual mentor – someone who is already successful in the area to which you aspire. It can be someone locally or nationally who is willing to share with you tips and secrets of their success. This can be tricky because you need a relationship with this person before you ask them to mentor you. The odds are not in your favor that you will be able to call a well-known “star” and convince them to mentor you just because you need them to – it just won’t work. The best course is for you to look around and find someone in your area who is at least better than you are and ask them if they would consider working with you from time to time to improve your ability to minister. Even if you don’t think this person is stellar, if they are at least a little further along than you are, then you’ll benefit from the exercise. One thing that is absolutely essential for the process to work, however, is that you respect this person and do what they suggest that you do to improve. If you refuse to do the homework assignments the mentoring relationship will break down quickly.
6) Exercise complimentary skills – look for skills that compliment your ministry and begin to exercise them. As you get some of these super-charging elements in place, you’ll begin to see some excellent results. As you become stronger in the things we’ve already discussed, the next thing I suggest is for you to look for complimentary abilities in your life that will enhance your worship leading. For instance, if you’re already a strong singer and getting stronger, what about picking up an instrument and learning to lead with guitar or keyboard? If you already play an instrument and sing, how are you at exhorting the congregation – could you be more effective if you learned how to encourage worshipers with Scriptures and readings in-between songs? What about adding some writing about praise and worship in your church bulletins to encourage the congregation? Could you develop yourself further as a teacher on praise and worship that enhances your leading skills? All of these elements bring more intrinsic value to you as a leader, in general. Any church benefits from worship leaders who have complimentary skills that go far beyond musical skills.
7) Get additional training. If you’re in leadership in a church, you already have a certain skill level (hopefully), but can you be even better? If you were a voice major in college, could you benefit from getting a few more voice lessons? If you are a musician, could you learn a few more licks from taking some lessons? Every professional Christian artist I’ve known (and you would know their names if I told you) have taken refresher courses from time to time. I’ve taken voice lessons in Nashville from two different coaches who were coaching some of the biggest names in Christian music at the time, as well – everyone needs it! All too often, though, people in the local church tend to ignore their voices or their instruments and only use them on Sundays and Wednesdays. There’s nothing like additional training to light a fresh fire in you to perform with greater excellence. It is also a great idea to encourage your team members to get additional training. Have you thought about bringing someone in to lead a vocal seminar or praise band workshop? There are quite a few people out there doing just that who will be a great blessing to you!
8) Overcome burnout by setting new goals for your life and ministry. Sometimes when we’ve been on the same treadmill for years we burn out. My good friend and psychologist, Dr. Al Clark at The University of South Alabama told me recently that the best way to overcome burnout is to “set new goals and to begin to achieve them.” I know that I’m the kind of person who gets excited about new challenges and perhaps you are, too, but what do you do when you’re already burned out? If you’re like many worship leaders, you probably work a full-time job and lead in your church on the weekends. I remember a time when I was working a 60 + hour a week job in the Christian music business and putting in another 15 – 20 hours a week at my church as a volunteer! That lifestyle was okay for a while, but I eventually got to the place where I was empty spiritually and exhausted physically. The goals that I had to set at that time were to reorganize my life and achieve more balance in my commitments. As I worked toward my goals, I was able to refresh myself and be more effective in my life in all areas. Speaking of being refreshed…
9) Take time to be refreshed. Another super-charger for your ministry is for you to be re-charged! When was the last time that you took a break? Church leaders tend to be over-worked and under-paid, you know – are you taking good care of yourself? When was the last time you actually felt refreshed? Have you taken any time to just spend in the Word or worship in private? Those disciplines are always the first things to go when we become church leaders, it seems, so what are you going to do about it? The next question is: What refreshes you? Is it time away or just time at home? Is it cleaning out the garage or chilling at the mall or at a movie? I find that what refreshes one person isn’t the same as what renews and revitalizes another person. I like to spend time in the kitchen imitating some of these TV chefs like Emeril Lagasse. He cooks some of the most outrageous things and mine never taste like his look like they taste on television, but I always relax when I’m cooking. I can feel my blood pressure drop when I’m baking or creating something unique for my family to enjoy. So – what do you love to do? How can you build some extra time into your monthly schedule to refresh yourself? The benefits will be felt by many people, not just yourself, if you take the time to relax and refresh!
10) Take some risks – try new things. I’m sure that you’ve heard the old saying that “a grave is just a rut with the ends knocked out”. As humans, we are creatures of habit and tend to do the same things in the same way over and over again. Our days are filled with similar, if not identical duties, and we “cruise on autopilot” so much that we actually become numb to new things. I once knew a 72-year old woman who decided to go skydiving. My mother-in-law, now in her seventies, gets on a rubber tube with my daughter behind the ski boat and rides on the lake at 25 mph! I’m one of many thousands of adults going back to school these days and I know many others who’ve accomplished amazing things because they weren’t willing to live in ruts! Churches tend to do the same things the same way all the time. Every church has its “liturgy” and we’ve conditioned people to expect us to perform the same kind of worship service each week. If we don’t do it the same way we did it last week, people feel like they didn’t “worship”. This is true in every church I’ve encountered – it’s just part of the fabric, the woof and warp, of churches. But for you – if you are going to survive and even thrive in this environment – what will you do to get out of your rut? What about listening to some artists you wouldn’t normally listen to? What about listening to some good teaching or preaching to inspire yourself? What about attending a seminar or a retreat somewhere on some topics you aren’t as familiar with and could enjoy learning more about? What about taking up basket weaving before you have to? Sometimes trying something new is the best way to break out of the doldrums we live in – give it a try!
11) Give of yourself – take time to mentor someone else. Another strategic step to super-charge your ministry is to take the time to mentor someone else. God has gone to great lengths to impart many things to you. He has invested in you many experiences and lessons from life itself that could benefit younger worshipers and worship leaders. What are you doing to pass those on? Do you have a vision for mentoring the next generation? What kind of legacy will you leave? Obviously, you don’t just go out one day and find a mentoree – they find you. The point is to develop the mindset of a mentor, or of just being the kind of person who is available to encourage the next generation behind you. Sometimes by just being an encouraging human being other people are attracted to you and you naturally mentor others without much effort on your part.
12) Get the big picture – lose the myopia and look beyond yourself. One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the gift of vision, or, to “look up and beyond ourselves”. This is sometimes no easy task when life seems to be pressing in from all sides. One very important key to the Christian life itself is maintaining the hope that is in us because of Jesus Christ. John 3 tells us that the secret to purity is having the hope of the coming of Christ in our hearts. To look only at your temporary circumstances can often mean losing hope. When we lose hope, we lose all effectiveness in life and ministry to others. Keeping the “big picture” before us is paramount when it comes to super-charging ministry in the local church – each Sunday just comes too quickly to live week to week.
If these steps to kick-starting 2006 seem like a lot of effort, well, they are. But just remember that the results of not taking steps toward a more rewarding and meaningful year will make you like the well-intentioned exercisers who lose momentum after a few short weeks. The Book of James exhorts us to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only” – being a great worshiper and a great worship leader requires some effort and these twelve steps are a great place for you to begin today to make this your best worship year yet!
John Chisum is a core instructor for Integrity’s Worship Institute and a clinician for Integrity’s Seminars4Worship. He is President of Firm Foundation Worship Ministries which offers Worship4Life weekends as an encouraging workshop for local churches. He can be reached for booking information at Worship4Life.org, or by calling 251-414-5832.