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Building and Leading an Effective Worship Team by Monty Kelso

One of the distinctive features of the contemporary worship movement around the world is worship teams. The trend toward teams is found in small and large churches, in both traditional and contemporary settings. Ken Blanchard defines a team this way:

"A team is a group of interdependent people committed to a common purpose who chose to cooperate to achieve exceptional results." Why teams? Teams are a biblical model. In Exodus 18:13-24 we read the advice that Jethro gave to Moses about finding others who could help him fulfill his mission. We cannot do it alone either. Jesus and the 12 disciples gives us another example. Even though he had all strength and power at his command, he still needed the 12 to be a part of His ministry. Unless we can begin to build teams around us, we will burn ourselves out and fall into temptations out of weariness. Too many worship leaders sabotage their own ministries because they hold things too closely to themselves and are not willing to release responsibility into a team environment.

In the early years of my ministry, when we started Coast Hills Community Church from the ground floor, I didn't understand the value of teams. I thought that being a leader meant working hard and being responsible for everything. I didn't understand then that my ultimate goal as a leader is to equip others for ministry, not to be a doer of ministry. But as I studied the scriptures and watched effective leaders, I learned that my role is not at the forefront of ministry, but to identify those who can minister and equip them to be effective leaders. Hebrews 10:24-25 is a favorite passage of mine: "Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near."

Characteristics of Healthy Teams
What do effective teams look like and how do they function? Let's consider some traits of healthy teams.

  1. A healthy team is looking for mutual results. There are no prima donnas. Everyone is critical to the team's effectiveness. Each team member is a contributor to the end result, and that is to bring honor and glory to God. In doing so,a team experiences synergy, a situation in which the output is greater than the sum of the individual parts. A formation of geese is a good example of synergy. Did you know that geese flying in formation adds 71 percent more flying range than when they fly individually? Geese understand the value of teamwork!


  2. Healthy teams are committed to a common purpose. They have common views, values and goals. These are the things that hold a team together. A shared focus on a common goal keeps a team in sync and on track. Because it is easy to forget these things in the trenches, leaders must keep the common purpose out in front of the people and help them understand their mission. A vision is what we have eyes to see ourselves becoming.


  3. Healthy teams feature mutual accountability in which all team members share the responsibility for the end result. That's called interdependency; we all depend on one another and we're all responsible for accomplishing our collective goals. Cooperation is critical; a lack of cooperation will hold a team back. Accountability gets personal and makes us responsible to each other for our lifestyles and spiritual discipline.


  4. Love and grace prevail in healthy teams. We must remember that we are people in process and far from perfect. The Bible teaches us to prefer one another in love, looking out for the best interests of the other person. It means that we forgive one another when we fail, make mistakes and let each other down. Love and grace prevail in an environment in which we pray for one another.

Getting Started
As we started our worship ministry at Coast Hills Church, we learned there are several important steps in developing healthy teams.

  1. Communicate a clear picture. "We had to ask ourselves, "What do we want to accomplish?" Many times achieving that vision meant breaking the mold long enough so that people begin to see our worship team is a new thing, rather than an adaptation of an existing group or just another program. Defining a team in this way helped other people see it as something special. In those early days at Coast Hills, it was about spurring one another toward authenticity, purpose and excellence resulting in music that moved the hearts and minds of people.


  2. Orient new members to the mission and values of the team. We've found that when newcomers came to us they needed help to work through their preconceived ideas. Our biggest challenge was singers and players with previous experience in other churches. We found many lacked dynamic range, stylistic originality and an ability to conform to the team. So our reorientation included helping them develop a more "pop" approach to making music. Our foundation was laid with singers and players who owned the vision and could demonstrate the approach we were looking for. They also had to be willing to coach others and eventually step aside as they developed their capacity.


  3. Start with interviews before auditions. I give prospective team members a leadership questionnaire that helps me get to know them. In the interview I explain who we are as a worship team, and what requirements they will need to meet to be contributors, such as faith commitment, lifestyle issues and family situation. Prospective team members can then decide for themselves if serving on the team is right for them.


  4. Hold auditions. In an audition we want to find out if the prospective team member has the capacity to contribute to the team. I want to create the right environment for the audition. Set the person up to succeed, and give them whatever they need to do their best. I plan to include others into the audition for the benefit of their perspective. We start easy and help them feel comfortable, then move toward a more maximized situation. Finally, I make sure I know the person's strengths and limitations. I want to be both encouraging and truthful during the process, so I do not build up false hopes.


  5. Make decisions without compromise. We try not to lower our standards, particularly in regard to personal issues and lifestyle, but also in regard to musical capacity. But I do try to be affirming in the way I communicate our standards. It is more important to be specific about why someone isn't qualified and what if anything they can do to work on their craft. So whenever we can, we offer suggestions about other areas in the church where they can serve using their gifts.

Leading a Team in Ministry
Once you find a capable team who shares the vision and commitment of leadership, everyone should understand the team's function, the leadership of your church and those on the team. As the team leader, my responsibility is to protect our team members' time and to identify who best serves where. Our team's primary purpose is to provide music for weekend services. Other opportunities may arise for the team to minister, but not all fulfill the team's purpose. Five other essentials to leading and maintaining a strong team are:

  1. Establish the form that best fulfills the function of your team. When establishing time commitments, this is especially important. Early in my ministry at Coast Hills, we were all young marrieds and singles. We looked forward to hanging out together at rehearsals. Time wasn't an issue. But we're in a different season of life now, and we've made adjustments. So for example, there was once a season when we had three separate vocal teams. Now, with so much time pressure on all of us, we find it better to have a vocal pool and put singers on a rotating schedule in which they rehearse on the weeks they sing. To build community, I schedule events once a month or so to go over new music, discuss major events coming up or just have fun.


  2. Identify leaders. Part of my responsibility in leading a team is continually developing other leaders who will step up and share the responsibility of leadership. So I need to get to know people well, to understand their character, their spiritual development, their passion, and their talent by spending time with them in small groups. I then begin to groom them and invest in them as leaders. In our ministry I work through "point people" who lead groups like vocalists, instrumentalists, drama teams, and visual arts.


  3. Keep the big picture clear. To keep our team moving forward, I need to get up in the helicopter and tell the troops on the ground what's ahead. I have to constantly reinforce why our team does what it does and how it serves the church at large. One way I do this is to make sure they see the fruit of their ministry. We share letters and comments we get from people. We also keep them posted on future opportunities and challenges so they begin to see beyond the week-to-week.


  4. Create venues for community building. Use monthly or bi-monthly gatherings where people can come together, put the task aside and see that they are indeed a team. Our annual weekend retreat is one of the highlights of the year. We also visit other churches and attend training events as a team to collect new ideas and see other teams in action.


  5. Care for your team. An effective leader focuses on people as well as tasks. I make sure I have time with each team member one-on-one. I want to get to know them beyond what they do, to know who they are as individuals. I send a lot of thank you notes to my team members to let them know I recognize their contributions, and often take them to lunch to get to know them better.

In The End
As time went by in my ministry, I discovered I had to go outside of my comfort zone and begin to take on the role of a team leader. It didn't come naturally to me, but the rewards have been significant. I have had more time to develop my own gifts of producing and teaching, as well as focusing on other important things like spending time with my family. It's still a struggle sometimes, but for the most part I have avoided being trapped by busyness and urgency, and I'm able to stay focused on the vision and mission of our various worship ministry teams. By equipping others to lead, I can accomplish more with less energy and enjoy my work time.

Monty Kelso is Director of Creative Communications at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, California, and has appeared with the Maranatha! Singers and the Maranatha! Praise Band. This article is adapted from a Worship Leaders Workshop presentation.