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Why Worship Leaders Should End Rehearsal Before the Congregation Comes In

Worship leaders are an incredibly important part of today’s church. But from time to time I take them to task, like in this post on What Katy Perry and Taylor Swift Can Teach Church Worship Leaders. Today I have a different issue. I’ve visited a number of churches this year that on Sunday mornings allow the worship team to continue rehearsals after the doors are open for the congregation.  As a television director, I understand the need to tweak rehearsals until you get it right. But here’s why – for most churches – it’s a mistake for the congregation to watch the rehearsal:

The difference in attitude.  During rehearsal, your attitude isn’t on worship, it’s on getting the music right. As a result, you’re thinking about audio levels, the mix, the band, the monitor levels, and more. You’re fine tuning the music so once the real worship service starts, you can focus on God.

But most of the congregation doesn’t understand this. So when they watch rehearsal and see you stop and start, walking around, and adjusting things they assume your attitude about worship is flippant and shallow. Plus, when they see the dramatic difference between your rehearsal attitude and your worship service attitude they think it’s hypocritical.

Obviously, many in the congregation or audience today understand the difference. But from experience I can tell you that enough don’t that it can create perception issues that grow into real problems.

And that’s not all – in one church, one of the men wore a wife-beater T-shirt during the rehearsal, and a woman did it in curlers. Not exactly the kind of look that gets church members into a attitude of worship.

Worship leaders – be the leader of your team.  If they need to start rehearsal earlier then do it. Think about the image, attitude, and spiritual demeanor you’re projecting when people are watching. In most cases, the worship team is the first step a congregation takes into the presence of God.

Don’t let your team’s desire to sleep late hurt the worship experience for the very people you’re trying to reach.

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  1. I totally agree, and although many people will probably respond saying “Oh, I don’t think those things when I see a worship team rehearse”, I think they don’t realize how it affects them. I’m sure it’s true that some people don’t care, but I think that’s where we make mistakes in church- by not caring. Or assuming that people “won’t care”. We should absolutely care because we don’t ever know who will be in the audience, who may be affected, etc. Plus we should always be professional. You don’t see the pastor rehearsing his sermon before the service begins, let alone in his wife-beater tank… Plus who wants to give away the surprise of what’s coming on Sunday morning!? I love to be surprised by the songs we sing. Don’t we like saying, “Oooo I love this song!”?

    1. Great point Kelsey – we never see pastors rehearsing the message in front of the congregation, and there’s a reason for that…

  2. I agree with much of what Phil posts on this blog, but on this subject, I’m indifferent to rehearsals when people come in, and I completely disagree with this statement:

    “…in one church, one of the men wore a wife-beater T-shirt during the rehearsal, and a woman did it in curlers. Not exactly the kind of look that gets church members into a attitude of worship.”

    Frankly I couldn’t care less what people wear. It has absolutely no bearing on my ability to get into an “attitude of worship”. What matters is whether God’s presence is their or not.

    1. While I have no doubt something like this wouldn’t distract you, that’s not what I’ve seen in a significant number of churches around the country. It does seem to keep people from settling down into a worshipful attitude.

      1. Obviously I appreciate church culture is different all over the world. I daresay you are correct in terms of congregation attitudes across the US (and possibly in some parts of the UK too, though generally I think things are more laid back here).

        In the end, I can only speak for myself. I really, really don’t care what people wear. All I care about is does God show up or not. If not, what’s the point? You could be dressed in the most “respectful” clothes imaginable (whatever they happen to be) and have no presence of God at all. On the other hand, I’ve been in presence of God with worship leaders in all manner of attire that might be considered “inappropriate”.

        Just being devil’s advocate here… Keep up the good work.

    2. By nature, people are people watchers and if someone’s wardrobe or behavior on stage is eye-catching in a not-so-good way, it can be distracting during worship to a lot of people (I’ve talked to many through the years)… including myself. Worship leaders/vocalists who draw attention to themselves because of some unusual behavior or dress, don’t help bring or lead the attitude of worship, they bring distraction to the stage.

    3. My thought about the shirt in rehearsal is this: there shouldn’t be a shirt won even in a rehearsal that doesn’t glorify God. I’m on my worship team at church and even when we start and stop and tweak mics, we should always be in a state if worship.

  3. Phil, I really think that you are correct in your post and I would like to take it one step further from my observations. It would seem to me that the power of God would hit people when they walk into a rehearsal but seemingly I do not see this. Instead, I see people trying to rush to their seats and chat with one another. Then later when the “bell rings’ on turns the praise. I’ve been around church for almost 20 years now and I get why this happens and I do not really question people as why they don’t respond as soon as they walk into the door. With that, here is my concern about this subject, as I said, I get it, but what about the new people? I could see them being confused that one moment it had no visual power before service and all of a sudden it does seem to have power thus making them think it may not be for real. I think as church leadership that we should always always always be asking ourselves how what we are doing looks to the first time guests and the newbie Christian;, there is a real danger in being trapped in our bubble.

  4. You’re dead on Phil. We as the church need to be more mindful of people’s perception and less focused on our own. In part, the church exists for corporate worship and experiencing God’s presence through it. Rehearsing worship in front of people weakens the experience. Furthermore, professionals who work on stage NEVER rehearse their talent in front of the audience. We the church should think about leading in professionalism instead of doing things substandard. Thank you for writing this post!

  5. Phil, I agree 100%. That is the teams time to get everything fixed and adjusted before service. And as the worship leader, it’s hard to correct the team or pint out a problem when a congregation member is in there. Sound checks do not always run smoothly and are not always pretty. It’s the teams final preperation before they minister.

  6. As a sound professional, this is a pet peeve of mine. If you are rehearsing when the doors open you didn’t allow enough time in planning for the rehearsal. This is a classic mistake that unprofessional musicians and performers make and one of the easiest to remedy. It sends the message to the patrons that you are inadequately prepared. If your performance depends on the extra rehearsal time, start earlier.

    I feel better now… thanks, Phil.

  7. I think worship leaders should try to end practice before the congregation comes in, but it isn’t always possible. I’ve heard the complaint that the music is too loud to carry on a conversation when people come in. That is a valid consideration. While music is important if the church isn’t able to talk with their friends and get to know the visitors, they might as well be attending a Christian conference in a big stadium.

  8. Lots of assumptions that during worship most have right attitude about worship and it’s purpose. With a trend of merchandising worship via radio play and paid concerts it has became a commodity of the sacred. Then you expect people to engage when we have a culture of spectators to perform for Rehearsal is a symptom

  9. It’s just professional. Even non-Christian professional musicians know that you don’t act like that before a gig. There needs to be a gracious leader in the Church that teaches the young musicians stage presents.

  10. I see a new line of wife beater T-s hitting the Christian bookstore market that look like a button down shirt with no arms.

  11. You make an excellent point, but your own message is being diluted by the word “wife-beater.” This term is extremely offensive, and I am especially shocked that it is being used in a Christian context.

  12. You make an excellent point, but your own message is being diluted by the word “wife-beater.” This term is extremely offensive, and I am especially shocked that it is being used in a Christian context. If your goal is to promote professionalism, you’ve just caused yourself a huge loss in credibility.

    1. Didn’t mean to “shock,” but the term has such clear recognition, and it’s so opposed to a worshipful attitude, I decided to call it by the name so many people know. Thanks for your comment!

  13. I get what you are saying Phil….I’ve seen this often times as well. I noticed reading through the responses that some thought that perhaps you were pointing out the clothing attire as your main point. I didn’t get that as being what you were addressing here, but would agree with most that it really does not matter what anybody wears as long as it is not “inappropriate”….and we are all intelligent enough to know what I mean by that. I loved the comment the “devils advocate” made about “as long as God shows up”. Its never God who has not shown up for church. I agree that every effort should be made to ensure “rehearsal” is finished before the doors open for service. But lets be mindful of the fact that in most churches the worship team are not paid professionals….most have daytime jobs and spouses and kids that make it difficult to come together during the week for rehearsals. Of course one would never see a Pastor rehearsing Sunday morning before church…he is the paid one in the church…and it is a part of his “job” to know by this time what it is he will be saying….or teaching. All I am suggesting is that we give a little grace space when we do see this occur. After all… is really just a gathering of imperfect people doing their best to serve God and each other.

  14. As a drummer that played on worship teams for the institutional church, I use to be caught up all this sunday service nonsense. Too much phony baloney Christianity. Institutional church is not the model for the assembly of The Body of Christ that Jesus and Paul left us and worship teams are man made as well, not of God.

    1. Chris…..I’m saddened that your experience on a worship team left you feeling the way you do. There are certainly abuses and pitfalls within any form of worship leadership. However, in spite of the all the pitfalls and abuses, musical leadership is modeled in the Old Testament (1 Chron. 15:22… “Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it”……and many Psalms) and can be an expression of wise pastoral care in the local church. And although there may not be any “concrete” examples of how music worship should be conducted in the New Testament..even Jesus sang hymns before breaking bread with each other. Congregations can be taught, pastored, and led as they sing God’s praise. In fact, a pastor is the ideal candidate for leading congregational singing. But in many churches, that’s just not possible. Pastors are put in the position of finding someone to “lead worship.”

      An effective worship leader and even drummers on a worship team, aided and led by the Holy Spirit, skillfully combines biblical truth with music to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, thereby motivating the gathered church to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God. What part of that is not the example that Jesus and Paul left for us as part of being the Body of Christ?

      Don’t be to hasty to pronounce what is and what is not of God. That would not be good use of the wisdom He wishes to impart into each of us.

      1. Duane, Don’t be saddened and my feelings have nothing to do with my comments and the current form and expression of institutional church and how it has turned The Ekklesia (The Assembly of The Body of Christ) into a business and spectator sport with a performer/audience, clergy/laity structured meeting. This is not feeling, this is fact. “When Jesus died, the veil was torn, and God moved out of that place never again to dwell in a temple made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Covenant and Temple Laws. We no longer follow that if we are following Jesus. Worship God with songs as you are lead by The Holy Spirit, Yes! but to orchestrate services with paid speakers and musicians is not the New Testament Ekklesia of Jesus and Paul. There is no hast in my comment that this is not of God. Today’s institutional “church” structure, “going to church”, nor “worship teams” or “church services” are found in The New Testament. All that emerged long after Jesus and Pauls death by the hands of man around 300 A.D. I would like to suggest you read a well documented and resourced church history book called Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola. It is life changing information and will improve your Christian walk and understanding of Christ Jesus beyond your wildest dreams.
        Embrace The Cross and die to self daily, and live by the indwelling life of Christ.

        1. The computer or handheld device you are typing on made, this blog was manade, the internet is man made, the clothes you wear the car you drive the roof over your head, your job your income.all that is man made. will you quit using all of that or quit your job? Stop eating? everything thing we own is man made? And has errors so if the church has issues it’s normal man we don’t go to the institutional church to please man we go to please God…. he is the only perfect being.

  15. I come from a theater background with hundreds of performances under my belt. In both professional and community you just don’t open the doors until the curtain is down and everything is ready. Some people call it the magic of theater. It creates an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement. In today’s churches with all of the technology in use there is the opportunity to create such an atmosphere. And lastly it is unprofessional to open the doors when things are not ready. Professionalism is what we should all strive for big or small.

    1. Your standards are borrowed straight from the world and you have, sadly, bought a lie. Understand what being the congregation of called out ones really means.

      1. Stephanie – I understand your feeling, however I’m not sure being a “congregation of called out ones” justifies being poorly prepared, creating the wrong atmosphere, or having the wrong attitude. There is much we can learn in the church from the outside world. It’s what “general revelation” is all about.

  16. This posting raises a number of concerns that are in as much a need of challenge as someone wearing curlers on a ‘stage’. The vast majority of Churches do not have stages nor the luxury if that is what it is of plugged in worship groups, so at best this focuses on a small number of large churches in our bigger towns and cities. The problem you have put you finger on is not necessarily one of the Worship teams making, and cracks about them getting up late seems a bit harsh, as was the comment about the T shirts. Some of the language in your blog and the comments focus on a worship event as though it is a show with stars and an audience. This is at odds with my own theological understanding of Church. The synagogue and Temple gatherings familiar to Jesus were places of chaos and different activities all within the same roof. Surely we need to turn this issue on its head, the moment we gather together we are Church and Worship should be on our lips. If the Church is one which uses electronic and electrical instruments, then the leadership of the congregation needs to be present, explaining and inspiring people to participate or to use the time in the building in a manner that is as vital a reflection of their worship, as for the musicians and singers who may well have got out of bed several hours before the congregation did. This is not necessarily a problem with showmanship or worship leaders, but one of leadership who should be welcoming and demonstrating how to respond.

  17. Jesus came to Earth to set us free from this institutional religious type gathering. Today’s institutional church system is an exact parallel to the Temple and Paraphrases that Jesus rebuked. The whole act of building churches and staffing them is counter what Jesus and Paul teaches in scripture. Going to church falls into the category of man’s tradition, not of God’s Word. This banter of musical team professionalism is pointless and distracting God’s Ekklesia from experiencing true worship. Get rid of the show, the buildings, the paid staff and clergy. None of that will be found in The Kingdom to come.

    1. I get your point Chris, but we’d also have to get rid of global missions, outreaches to the needy, seminary training, etc. Because the Church is the main supporter of these great causes…

      1. I believe God is WAY BIGGER than that excuse. Ekklesia in a non institutional expression does not need seminary trained professionals and God would move His Ekklesia to missions and giving without institutional church. In fact I believe you would see giving to the needy and missions grow 10 fold. I believe it is very arrogant to think mans church system is necessary in that regard. God obviously uses inst. church despite mans need to have a hierarchical, man built religious system, but that does not mean it is His will for us to practice pagan ritual and tradition. God’s Ekklesia could accomplish so much more without the confines of inst. church. I realize man has little intention of breaking free from the inst. church system, but perhaps some who read this might figure out the freedom Jesus’ death on the cross provided us and ditch the man made system for Him.
        Embrace the Cross, die to self, and Live by the Indwelling Life of Christ!

          1. That is a nice start, that gets you to the narrow gate, but that is where 90% of churchers stay, is at the gate, and the system is designed to keep them there. Churchers need to walk on through the gate institutional church provided and walk the narrow path daily. Sure be grateful that God allowed that system to reach you, but don’t stay there, get on that narrow path and keep walking. Don’t block the narrow path just past the gate with a church and keep people there. It is wrong to do so. If you move people along, they will reach more than the inst. church system can. Peace!

  18. I have been leading my congregation at all three of our campuses in worship for over five years. This has always been a focus of ours; to keep the sanctuary doors closed at each location until the team is finished rehearsing. People coming in for the first time, or the five hundredth time should have the opportunity to enter a quiet sanctuary where they can meet with each other, or quietly reflect/pray, and prepare for worship. It is our responsibility to rehearse on our own during the week so when we come together the rehearsal is efficient, and to begin early enough so that if “life happened” to someone on the team during the week they can get up to speed in a timely manner. Thanks for writing this.

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