steve ball

personal thoughts on family, faith and work

Archive for the category “worship”

hello god

I read a Twitter status a couple of weeks ago which just said ‘good morning God’ with a link to a picture.  The picture was of a beautiful sunrise over a beach in America somewhere.  It made me smile.

I’ve recently got back into taking photos since getting a new camera at the end of last year, and going through them I’m staggered at the beauty of God’s creation. From the tiny detail of wild flowers and the intricacies of insects to the wide landscapes that have been created by a hugely imaginative God.  The pictures here were taken while on holiday in Cornwall at the beginning of the month. 

Sometimes we take all of this for granted.  Much goes by unnoticed, partly due to the busyness of life, but also because flowers and insects are so common – we don’t usually give them a second look.

How much more amazing then, is the God that created us – each person being unique.  And what’s incredible is, the same God that made these ‘insignificant’ things, that are only around for a short period of time, is interested in us.

How much more then, do you think God cares about us?  The more I think about that question, the harder I find it to answer.


Matthew 6 v 26-30
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.   Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

Points to ponder:

  • When was the last time you took time to appreciate Gods creation?
  • What things help you to get a glimpse of the hugeness of God?
  • How much do you think God loves you?

reflections on… may

During the last week in May I was in Harrogate at a New Wine Leaders conference for three days, back at work for a day and then off on holiday to Cornwall – so (while on holiday), I’ve finally got a chance to write up my thoughts on the month of May.

There has been much to be thankful for this month, much to think through and also some changes at work. All of which are pretty exciting

Family:  We have had some lovely times together as a family this month.  We went to see ‘The Wizard of Oz’ show at the start of the month, which was excellent. We have had some lovely walks with my sisters family – one was a nine mile walk around ‘Darling Buds of May’ country in Pluckley.  This was the longest walk the boys had been on – and they did brilliantly.

James went on his school trip to the Isle of Wight for a week which was great for him – he really enjoyed it – but was a little strange for us as it left the house rather quiet

Faith:   Church has been good this month.  Our Overflow service had the largest worship band we have ever had and I thoroughly enjoyed writing some parts for the brass section that we had.  This meant that James was able to join in on his saxophone for the first time which was fantastic for me to see.  Hopefully the first of many times he will be playing

For three day in the last week of May I was at the New Wine Leaders conference in Harrogate.  This was a time to really get to know people that went better over food and drink and also to re-asses my thinking on where the church is and how we could be serving the community more effectively.  Some of the sessions were rather intellectual, but the content was excellent – lots to digest and work through when I get back home

Work:  I continue to be busy at work with various projects which I’m enjoying.   Have increased my hours from this month which will help give me the time to get through the work load more effectively. I will reduce my teaching a little to offset the extra hours I’m doing at the office.

Highlights of the month:

  • Seeing the Wizard of  Oz
  • Our long walks
  • The leadership conference

worship bands and exclusivity

From the age of about eleven I’ve always been involved in playing in a band. In the early days I was the drummer (which may surprise some as I now rarely get to play them!). Other members included bass, piano, sax and singers. After a few years together we even recorded a couple of albums which are thankfully now collecting dust on bookshelves somewhere!

As time went on and we got more involved in worship at church, I was needed to play the piano/keyboards more as we had other good drummer. I also dabbled with the guitar and flute (not at the same time) which was really good fun. I loved exploring new musical ideas and with the tight musical set up that we had, this was easy and very effective.

This was also a problem…

We had become very exclusive at the cost of other people trying to ‘get in’ to the band. It wasn’t always easy to see as we were going through our teens and early twenties, but looking back, in my opinion, it wasn’t a healthy place to be as far as the church was concerned. There was little, if any, provision for new band members to be part of the team. The church had a strong focus on musical excellence – and this is what it got.

I honestly can’t remember the tipping point that made me stop and realise what was going on. But I’m glad I did – or was made to. I remember starting a group on Sunday afternoons to encourage new people to start playing and getting people to join the main worship band. This was an interesting time, and it was quite difficult to break the attidudes of some people at times. As new members joined the band, the dynamics completely changed. No longer could I just give the drummer or bass player a ‘look’ and they would know exactly what I wanted them to do – things were more basic and had to be explained in a clearer way.

At my current church I have responsibility for worship and I hope I am cultivating an ethos of inclusivity and accountability. This, in my view, is a more healthy approach to leading any team. Those that know me will know that I now kick against any sort of exclusivity!  I believe anyone with a heart for worship should be given opportunity – no matter how hard it is for the worship leader to ‘fit them in’.  Everyone can play a part, no matter how small, and feel valued.

But as much as anything musical, being part of a worship group should be about being encouraging, supporting, and training other members of the team. If we can’t support, encourage and include – our corporate worship, to me, just doesn’t feel right.

Being part of a band is so much more than just the music – being part of a worship team is so much more than just the band.

Points to ponder:

  • Is your worship team exclusive – either in reality or perceived?
  • What are we doing about developing new people into our worship teams?
  • How do we support and encourage members of our worship teams?

preparing for worship

How we, as a worship team prepare for worship can impact what happens on a Sunday morning – and importantly, it’s not just the worship leader, but all of the worship team who need to be prepared. Yes, the worship leader may have the responsibility of choosing songs etc, but the whole team should be ready to go from the time they plug in or grab their mic.  If I turn up, late, not ready, no music and my thoughts on anything but worship, how am I going to be able to lead the church to worship?

I understand that every now and then we all have ‘one of those mornings’ when everything that can go wrong does and just getting to church can seem like a bit of a marathon – but if this is happening every week, we should question why!

Preparation style will vary from person to person.  I will generally be contemplating the service coming up; readings, musicians available etc, throughout the week which forms into a pool of songs.  I then put these into a musical order, email out to those playing and go from there. By the time I arrive on Sunday morning I aim to be ready to worship, my focus on what is happening during the practice (we practice before the service) and what could – being open to the Holy Spirit – happen in the service.  Some people find it better to have a set time to intensively organise the service/worship plan.

Whatever our preference, we should be coming to church ready for worship – not coming to church ready for a few songs to get us in the mood for worship.

I am nearly always early or exactly on time for everything (which I’m sure can be annoying for my family when I’m rattling my keys by the front door – sorry!), but I do think it is important that the worship and AV team get to the practice on time.  We have a finite amount of time before the service starts which should be used to maximise our preparation – including running through songs and prayer etc.  I can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t aim to have all of our music ready (and practiced beforehand if we don’t know them) so we can launch straight into practice as a band.

The intention of this post is not to have a moan, but to get us to think about the important job that we do week by week.  I know there have been times when I have not been as prepared as I should be, or have modified an old song set to make life easier.  We have the privilege and responsibility of leading the church in worship, and we should be doing that in the best way possible – which means preparing.

Points to ponder:

  • How do I prepare for worship?
  • Do I take leading worship for granted sometimes and not put the time in to prepare?
  • What does my example look like to others in the worship team?
 

what is worship?

This was a question I was asked several years ago, just before being asked to head up the worship at my previous church.  After much thought, I came up with a definition which, at the time, surprised the church leader.  I am a musician, and music plays a vital role in our worship (especially corporate worship) but my definition has no mention of music at all.  Worship is so much wider than music alone.

I would define worship as ‘The unselfish, conscious act of giving adoration to God’.

‘unselfish’ – it is not about us, or how we feel.  It is not about somehow getting recognition for what we are doing.  It is all about Jesus, and ensuring that whatever our act of worship is, it detracts from us and focussing on Him.  If our personal worship becomes a distraction to others, we have to watch that we are not acting selfishly and therefore preventing someone else from worshipping.

‘conscious’ – worship (certainly corporately) is a conscious, or deliberate, act.  It is difficult to worship ‘by mistake’ during our Sunday services.

‘act’ – worship is something that requires us to do something.  Whether that’s singing, giving thanks to God, dancing, drawing or any other number of activities that could be defined as worship – all are actions.  I don’t know how we could worship by doing nothing.

‘giving’ – worship is not about asking or getting, it’s about giving.  Too often we can leave a service and say something like ‘the worship didn’t do much for me today’.  We have missed the point of what worship is.

‘adoration’ –  worship is about expressing our love, gratitude, devotion, respect to God.

‘to God’ – our worship must always be God centred.  It is not about us.  We can strive to excel in what we do to in the worship team, but this should be in order to give God the glory – not to gain attention or accolade from others.

It strikes me as interesting that the last mention of worship in the Bible is also about keeping the focus on God and not on anything/anyone else – Revelation 22:8-9 – where John gets ‘told off’ for worshipping the angel and told to worship God.

Below is a link to a great video called ‘The Gift Of Worship’, which I think summerises it up pretty well – it’s quite a challenging watch…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrmcKTzUdw8

As ever – I’m interested in your thoughts and comments on this!

benchmarks for being in the worship team

As discussed in an earlier post, I believe we should all be aiming to excel in what we do – both individually and as part of the worship team.  But having a musical benchmark that doesn’t enable new members to join easily really bothers me.  Maybe it’s my ‘music teacher’ background wanting to see students develop, but I’ve seen too many people get discouraged (or worse, hurt) over the years by being told they are not good enough.

I believe in being as inclusive as possible – but sometimes this can create more work for the person responsible for worship, which maybe why some worship leaders shy away from the challenge?  We also need to create an inclusive environment within the worship team, as it will usually not be as easy to play with musicians that are ‘less competent’. Below are my personal views about the musical benchmark, and I would be interested in other peoples approaches.

If someone comes to me and says they want to join the worship team, but can only play four chords, I think that’s great!  There is no rule that says every musician must play every song, so why not encourage the newcomer to join in the songs with the chords that he knows (or better still, show them how to use a capo and transpose the chords for them!).  You will be surprised how quickly they will want to learn more.  With this approach, you are setting the benchmark very low, but still encouraging someone to develop.  When I think about when I first started to play at church on my tiny Casio keyboard, I’m sure it wasn’t great – and I still make plenty of mistakes now!

I’ve also heard it said that someone can’t be in the band unless they have grade three or four on their instrument.  This is complete nonsense!  I once had a student come to me because he wanted to pass his Grade 8 piano. He was a brilliant music reader, but when I asked him to play ‘Happy Birthday’ by ear, he had absolutely no idea what to do (quite shocking!). On the other hand, I’ve had students who are not interested in exams who are extremely good musicians – they just haven’t got a certificate to prove it.  I would much rather have someone who is musical in how they play, and so can fit in with a band set up, rather than a ‘trained’ person who can only play what they see.

On a practical note (no pun intended!), I have used the process of ‘shadowing’ several times and it is really effective.  Get an experienced person – preferably with the same type of instrument – and let the newcomer join in with what they can, and if they go wrong, the more experienced person is there to take over straight away.  This method can be used with any instrument – even the drums.  I started two (now very good) drummers off with someone with a tambourine right next to them to keep them in time if they lost concentration.

In this post, I have only been talking about a musical benchmark.  There are other benchmarks for joining a worship team that are equally, if not more important which I may well go into another time.

Points to ponder:

  • What musical benchmarks do you set for your worship team – and why?
  • What other benchmarks should there be for the worship team?
  • If you have a higher benchmark, how can we ensure inclusivity?

is worship a performance?

This is a subject that has been discussed for years, and I’ve heard many opposing views on the subject.  In my view, worship should be open, free and lead by the Holy Spirit with the whole church actively being involved.  It should not be a well rehearsed song set which can’t be deviated from.  That said, the question is not nearly as simple as it may seem.
‘Performance’ has become a dirty word in many churches – and not so long ago, I would have taken a pretty strong view against worship being a performance – however, I’ve observed that all worship leaders will have an element of performance when they lead.  The better question is, what does performance mean.

Whenever someone presents or leads something there will nearly always be an element of performance.  When a speaker preaches, they will present in the most engaging way to get the message across.  Just reading, in a monosyllabic, expressionless voice would not change the message, but would impact on how the listener receives it – in this sense, the presenter ‘performs’ their message.  With leading worship, this can be more exaggerated (especially as we work as a group of musicians) as in order to make it easy for corporate worship to flow, there has to be an element of practice, competence and a clear focus on where you’re heading as a worship team in any particular service.  Performance, in this sense, I don’t think I have any problem with.

If we are leading worship, by definition we should know where we want to be going.  Therefore, when leading corporate worship, we should be showing an example of where we want to be – and that includes all of the worship team, not just the leader.  This may not always match up to our own individual preference.  For example – I am comfortable being quiet and reflective, but if we want a more free and exuberant expression of worship at church, I should be setting that example – even if I do find it hard sometimes!  I have plenty of time for private worship during the week when I can be more comfortable in my own ‘style’.

So, for me, if performance means a very slick, well rehearsed song set which is difficult to deviate from; your moving into the area of a concert – performance in the most commonly used sense.  This I struggle with.  If performance means being open to where the Holy Spirit is leading you and being flexible to adapt, but still striving to do that in the best way possible in order to lead a congregation closer to Gods presence – this is a more diluted definition of performance, and one that I can subscribe to.

In the end, I guess it comes down to our focus.  If our main focus is on what our worship sounds and looks like, I want to avoid that like the plague.  If our main focus is on worshipping God, and being good at how we deliver that is important, but secondary – this I where I am (I hope!).

Points to ponder...

  • What does worship look like in our church?
  • If there was a power cut and the PA, staging and lighting went, would our church be able to carry on worshipping – or can we not worship without this?
  • How much is our worship weighted to performance?

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