I thought I’d share with you the first part of the first chapter of WorshipTeam101, looking back on how I started in the whole arena of worship teams and leading worship. I’d love your feedback, good and bad – share in the comments below.
Chapter 1: Everyone has to start somewhere
My first experience of leading worship went pretty well – not. I felt like throwing up for the hour before. I was at a family Christian camp in Cornwall, in the southwest of England, in 1991, and I’d only been asked to lead because the organisers of the camp were relatives and the worship leader they’d booked couldn’t come until Monday, and the camp started on Saturday. So I, on my acoustic that I’d only been playing a year, with my friend Julian on keys, and a girl on flute, started the camp week off with a few songs. I knew how it should work, as I’d been to the camp the year before and seen how that year’s worship leader had done it. It wasn’t what I was used to – I’d grown up in a Baptist church where either there’d be an organist or pianist, with the pastor leading the singing at the front. Experiencing worship led by a worship leader the year before was a bit different, but good – it even led to my first time lifting my hands in worship, during the chorus of Shine, Jesus, shine.
So I knew what it looked like, and what the congregation should be doing. I remember, at one point, looking up for the first time at the congregation – which was a mix of young and old, traditional and charismatic – and realising that no one was raising their hands or anything, they were just singing along. I thought to myself, maybe I should just mention that this is the bit where they should raise their hands? I almost did, but figured I’d just get on with the song. It wasn’t what I expected.
Then on Monday the pre-booked worship leader turned up, and he asked our makeshift worship team to join him for the rest of the week, which we jumped at. When he led, though, people lifted their hands, and closed their eyes, and clapped – all the stuff they were supposed to do when we were leading! I watched him over that week, and saw that what he did was more than just playing the songs. He engaged with the congregation. He led worship without looking like he was leading, just worshipping, but still leading.
My second experience of leading worship went a little better, although I did get told off afterwards by the main worship leader at our church. It was a youth takeover night (the evening services at baptist churches always were a little more edgy), and we had a team of young people that I somehow found myself heading up. I’d been playing at church for just over a year, but this was only my second time of actually standing up in front of the whole congregation. My first was the very first time I played in the worship team, and I spent the whole time head down with my then long hair hanging in front of my face so people couldn’t see how red I was.
We did well-known songs: a few upbeat ones, a few worshippy ones. One song, though, I did an extra third time through – which you don’t do. You just do those one-verse choruses twice through, and then move on, everyone knows that. But I was enjoying it and thought, why not? Some people apparently were highly offended that they had to stand back up again to sing the chorus the third time, hence the telling-off afterwards!
A year later I moved up to Essex to go to university, and found myself being asked to lead worship at the mid-week bible studies of the Christian Union. Rookie mistake, mentioning that I could play guitar. I used to play at our church’s youth meetings and the odd house group, where it was generally worship song jukebox, with people picking their favourite songs to sing. This CU was the same.
For me, leading worship was not something I pursued getting into. Generally, in the first couple years anyway, I did it because I was the only one there who could play an instrument, and someone was needed for the worship bit. So I played. I enjoyed it, as I loved playing guitar and I felt it a challenge to play the song in such a way that it felt right, and wasn’t just a strummy-strummy style that I’d seen being played too often elsewhere. In fact, that was the main reason I started learning the guitar in the first place, after watching the two guitarists at our church playing at the evening service. Their style was the same strum-strum-strummy-strummy style for every song, and one evening I thought to myself, “You know what, God deserves better than that. The church deserves better than that. I could do better than that!” Probably a little arrogant, maybe, but it motivated me to learn to play over the Summer, by borrowing my Dad’s six-string acoustic, and a music book from church, and in the Autumn I joined the church worship team. I just enjoyed playing and making it sound good.
Even my first role as the ‘worship team leader’ was by default, as there were only seven of us, starting out with a new church plant, and I was the only one who could play an instrument well enough.
I was first introduced the concept of ‘led worship’ when my Dad bought a worship album by Vineyard, at that time a very new movement. It was their second-ever album, and we had it on play constantly in the car. We had just moved from London to the West Country, and from a traditional church to a more modern one, where they sang choruses and went to Spring Harvest, and even prayed for people. (Occasionally. Out the back, after the service.) My Dad had played guitar for years at church, and was interested in these new styles of songs. These were the songs I learned to play the guitar with, as well as the new songs being written by UK writers like Dave Bilbrough, Noel Richards, Chris Bowater and Graham Kendrick.
Probably about half way through this chapter. I’ll share more as I write.