Friday, March 11, 2005
A little personal aside --
Don't let the Baptist affiliation fool you -- this church doesn't have the hang-ups of tradition when it comes to our services. I think of our services as being in God's living room, where I can comfortably get closer to the One I love and serve, without the distractions of uncomfortable "Sunday best" clothes and funeral music.
I also play bass (and occasionally guitar) for our regular worship services (or "geezer" services, as I refer to them in front of the teens). I am routinely up on the platform on Sunday mornings, in a (nice, no-hole) T-shirt, jeans and athletic shoes ... and the only guy in the place in a suit (sometimes with tie, sometimes without) is our senior pastor. We're also not afraid to push the musical envelope -- our congregation does appreciate the times when we open up the throttles and begin to rock the flock.
We're about to push those throttles up another notch or two this week -- da Band is coming over to play for both of our regular services.
This is my third teen band I have managed ... my first one here at Lakeway. In the past, I've worked with some really talented teens -- one is now a music/worship pastor in a medium-sized church in Missouri (and married to another talented lady I had the privelege to work with). da Band is different -- while the individual-peak talent level is not as high as in past bands I've managed, we have assembled a critical mass of talent, maturity, and committment in the form of its members, that is pushing da Band to a higher level of performance than I was able to get out of my previous teams. In other words, da Band "has legs" -- and is becoming a band that "can turn goat milk into gasoline", as Donald "Duck" Dunn (bassist of the Blues Brothers) might say (during family hour).
Now "let me tell you about my kids". Since I've not asked permission to use their names here, I'll refer to them by pseudonyms (a la Dick Marcinko):
- "Paulie" -- the teenage senior sound tech, and potential electrical engineer. I call him "Paulie" because he plays that role to my "Paul Senior" (ref: American Chopper) imitation. He is bright, and has an excellent ear for sound; he's still learning the details of sound engineering that go beyond running the board, like maintenance -- and now is becoming detail-oriented to the threshold of irritation. He's also the only one besides me and Mrs. Ringer (see below) who is willing to pray out loud with the group so far.
- "Vinnie" -- the #2 sound and lighting technician. One of the older ones in this team ... the only one in da Band with his own car ... and supposedly has a good singing voice that I'm trying to get him to use for us.
- "Mikey" -- the PowerPoint operator (and also operates the more-sophisticated MediaShout software in our regular services). Our resident basketball player -- with the body for it -- and the patience to put up with my headless-chicken simulations on Sunday mornings.
- "Sniper" -- the drummer. The name comes from his professed career goal -- to be a USMC Scout Sniper. He's a disciplined JROTC student who is a great listener, with a knack for catching the starts and stops at all the right places automatically. (This discipline results in part because he is a young drummer, and not yet full of himself over his abilities ... hopefully, he'll never get to the point of arrogance).
- "Thunder" -- the bass player. Another JROTC student who competes as a marksman. Can't read sheet music, but can pick up even walking bass lines with just a little coaching from me ... an amazingly fast learner. He also plays in a "secular" band, too -- even though he's not driving yet (he makes me nervous when he comes to practice on his bicycle, bass slung over his shoulder ... without a case to protect it).
- "Sneakers" -- the keyboardist. Her name comes from her quiet nature, and the rather bold shoes I see her wear frequently. The newest member of da Band, she is quickly picking up the ability to draw the color from chord sheets and put it on the musical canvas.
- "Bluesman" -- our "guitar hero". The most talented member of da Band -- and the most respected by the teens. At 16, he's already the best guitarist in the entire church (which includes 30+ year players like myself). He doesn't let it go to his head, though -- he has a feel for what works in terms of teen worship, that often serves to correct and focus my own ideas. He's also unusual in that he doesn't like to play music with the same ol' alternative/grunge chord progressions all the time -- he has an appreciation for the blues and rock musicians of earlier years, like Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top, and loves to play those styles. He also can sing (when coaxed) and write (when inspired). I know when we're doing things right, when he smiles enough to see teeth.
- "Goldie" -- as in "gold medal" -- a lady athlete who is one of our four vocalists. She is an alto who truly "plays with pain" -- I've seen her come in to our practice with serious floor burns from basketball practice, and even when other, more serious medical problems cropped up. She is a rock-steady performer who's not afraid to sing solo, even during the earliest/roughest days of da Band.
- "Sunshine" -- a round-faced, strawberry-blonde lady whose soulful soprano voice can bring tears (of joy) to your eyes. She is also an aspiring guitarist .... and one of my hardest workers; when I need something done (like copies made), she's my go-to person. She's usually the first to show up on Sunday mornings. Her level of committment to this effort is inspiring, especially from someone so young.
- "Ms. Style" -- Bluesman's little sister, and Sunshine's shadow. The name comes from the way she's usually dressed for church ... usually, a little more "formally" than most teens. She has a strong mezzo-soprano voice, and she knows how to use it for God's honor. She also is the first to "loosen up" and present a fun stage presence.
- "Mrs. Ringer" -- a 25-year old newlywed with a beautiful alto voice, who looks almost like one of the kids, so she sings with them -- hence the "ringer" label. Her age gives her the maturity you need to step up and speak to the congregation with authority -- and the ability to work with the other three vocalists, to realize their full potential as both musicians and leaders, on and off stage. Her husband, Mr. Ringer, is another I look to for guidance -- he has a real heart for the worship of God, and his more charismatic roots bring a fresh viewpoint to da Band's efforts.
Can you tell that I am proud of them all?
UPDATE: They came, they rocked, they led the congregation to God's side ... a total success!
I started a youth worship team about 4 years ago. I was a youth leader, and our youth services didn't have ANY worship. I had JUST started learning to play guitar when I started leading worship. My voice was terrible. I had no music training. It was just me and my guitar... those poor youth:)
Eventually, one youth joined me, and then another and another until finally I stepped out. Now, there are 2 youth worship teams, 1 jr high and the other high school, ALL youth! And there are so many more kids who are striving to learn to play music instruments and who want to be on the team. I'm so blessed! It's sooo awesome to see what God can do with some faith, obedience, and availability.
I have 1 question for you though, do the youth who are not on the team actually sing along? In the 3 or 4 years that we've had youth worship, they still won't sing for the most part. Oh, there are a few who sing but most don't. What are you thoughts on this?
God bless you and your faithful servant's heart.
da Band has been working together since August, yet it has just been in the last month or so that we have seen many of our teens start to sing along and interact with us during our worship.
Here are the keys, at least as I see them right now, for seeing this happen. Your mileage may vary, depending on the spiritual maturity of your congregation.
> The right music.
When I started this, both my youth pastor and I wanted to put a hard edge on the music (example: we tried to do Switchfoot's "Meant to Live".) It was the teens -- particularly Paulie and Bluesman -- who straightened me out; letting me know that our teens (1) are fickle and (2) would respond best to amped-up versions of the music we do in our adult services. We made the changes, and that helped a lot.
(Caution -- a lot of these teens are our "home-grown" church kids -- I am always sensitive to the fact that what works for them may not be optimized for outreach, and am continually looking for ways to improve our musical reach to the outside world.)
Also, don't force the kids to play the music you and/or they choose strictly "by the book" -- let them rearrange and augment what they are playing to fit their style and inclinations, while still guiding them to produce music that will lead to INTERACTIVE worship.
> Street credibility.
You get a lot more interaction when the congregation has respect for those in your worship team.
Initally for us, that respect was spelled B-l-u-e-s-m-a-n. This guy was already well known in the community for for his virtuosity ... and that was worth a listen from many.
We reinforced our street cred as a group a few weeks ago, when we played at a multi-church Friday-night teen event ... and rocked the house. It was about that time that (1) I noticed other members of da Band getting some of the same kind of attention as Bluesman from the teens, and (2) we started seeing widespread interaction from our teen congregation during the services.
> Seeding the field.
Consider working with the non-music-oriented teens who have become the de facto peer leaders in your youth group ... the more spiritually mature teens ... and get them to support your efforts by convincing them about the value of interactive worship.
> Turn singers into worship leaders.
This is my next challenge with da Band, made harder by the fact that a lot of my singers are very young. They sing beautifully -- but they are still somewhat shy about using their vocal talent, body language, and conversations from the stage to draw the congregation into interactive worship. I plan to be work diligently with them on this in the next few weeks.
> Check for roadblocks.
Are you being held back by your church culture from doing things that will reach the teens? From what you have told me in the past, this is probably not a problem ... but it's good to check.
Always keep in mind the ultimate objective -- to bring kids to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, not to just keep things comfortable for the present membership (or cut a hit CD, for that matter).
"a lot of these teens are our "home-grown" church kids" - ditto on this too. Most of our youth are home-grown churched kids, and sometimes are the most unlikely to worship. Many of them are homeschooled too and church is the place they get their socializing done.
Our worship team is run by youth and they choose their own music currently.
You're right. Our church is very modern and very much into doing whatever it takes to reach the community as it is. We do not hold onto man-made traditions.
One point you made struck me though. I'm not sure how much the youth respect the peeps on the team, but I know that the team is spiritually sound as much as can be at that age. They take turn doing devotions together every Sunday before church. They pray together regularly. I dunno. I think our biggest hindrance is the whole home-grown churched kids thing. They are too comfortable with the gospel message, so comfortable that they've become numb... guess Pink Floyd could relate to that. HA!
Our youth band has also played for the adult congregation. It's so awesome because God is so glorified on those nights.
Thanks for your thoughts. It's awesome to be a part of God's family.
Check us out at www.calvaryh.org or www.totalshred.org (shred fest is our outreach to loacl youth).