I’m a worship team member at my church, and I recently started leading rehearsals. My team is patient and encouraging, but I’m not sure if I’m doing it well. What would you consider to be an effective rehearsal?
Over the years, I have participated in countless rehearsals. I remember the terror-stricken student teacher leading our high school choir who was still learning to beat a 4/4 pattern. I vividly recall my attempt to portray a villain in a play rehearsal and my terrifying theater director yelling at me, “Aren’t you ever angry?!” (Well, no—not really.) I remember my exceptionally patient speech coach telling me for the tenth time to . . . slow . . . down as I rehearsed my speech for competition.
I have attended many disorganized wedding rehearsals with too many generals and too few foot soldiers. I also remember with awe the university commencement ceremony where one lone coordinator commanded an arena of a thousand eager graduates.
All of us have experienced a rehearsal at some point in our lives, be it for orchestra, theater, or dance or for a wedding or graduation. And I suspect that many of those reading this have also led or participated in a worship team rehearsal.
Our experiences shape our ideas of what makes for an effective rehearsal and what makes for effective rehearsal leaders. We know that an inefficient or sloppy rehearsal can be painful, and a thoughtless or belligerent rehearsal leader can demoralize participants. But when led well, a rehearsal can be a refreshing, stimulating highlight of the week.
The “Three E’s” of Effective Rehearsals
In my experience, three complementary themes are woven throughout all effective rehearsals. Scripture illustrates two of them.
First, the writer of Psalm 33 calls out, “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy” (Psalm 33:3, emphasis added).
This verse is a call to excellence in our musicianship. John Calvin refers to the “proper setting of the notes” in his commentary on this psalm (Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 2009, p. 540). We rehearse in pursuit of excellence because we want to play our music to the glory of God. We master chord changes, develop song arrangements, and perfect hits, breaks, and riffs. We apply the very best of ourselves (with the Spirit’s power!) to the next level of beauty and aesthetic goodness that God has placed in our reach.
At the same time, we strive for excellence in rehearsals to enable participation in singing. We want to avoid distraction and, even more, to actively practice tempos, keys, dynamics, and cues that facilitate people’s participation in the song.
The second Scripture passage is Ephesians 4:15–16. The apostle Paul writes, “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work”(Ephesians 4:15–16, emphasis added).
This is a call to edification in our rehearsals. When we practice, we have an opportunity to work together and build one another up in love. We share and delight in our musical gifts. We learn about worship leadership. We offer words of encouragement and challenge. We treat each other with kindness, respect, and dignity. In rehearsal, week after week, we grow attached to one another, becoming a team. An effective rehearsal, therefore, is a satisfying collaborative activity. This common work helps us to live like Jesus and become more like him.
These two themes, however, are often in tension with the theme of efficiency. We are busy people, squeezing family dinner between work and rehearsal. Our evenings are filled with sports activities and concerts. And, to be honest, some of us really want to get home to watch the final episode of a Netflix series. We delight in one another and long to be together, but often we have precious little time to do so.
An effective rehearsal leader, then, will prepare and lead wisely. She will anticipate trouble spots in the music, clearly communicate song road maps (“We will be singing verse 1, chorus, verse 2, chorus, bridge, then verse 3”), and maintain a consistent tempo through the rehearsal that engages team members in making music and avoids long-winded explanations.
Moreover, an effective rehearsal leader will prepare the space. He will have instruments, amps, and monitors already set up, and he will have music ready to go on music stands. This preparation expresses hospitality and communicates that you value every minute you are together.
The theme of efficiency, however, can overpower the other themes if we’re not careful. We must guard against anxiety and stress. Anxious to get through all the songs, we may not take the time necessary to rehearse thoroughly (excellence). Or, stressed by a lack of time, we may overlook prayerfulness or fail to demonstrate empathy to a teammate (edification).
Maintaining a Balance
How, then, do we balance excellence, edification, and efficiency? I imagine three people trying to balance on a raft with three corners. If they place too much weight on one or two corners, the raft will flip. But if they carefully place weight slightly more toward one or the other, the raft will stay afloat.
For example, in one rehearsal you might sacrifice some time (efficiency) in order to master the groove of a new song (excellence). An effective rehearsal leader will ask the team, “Is it OK if we stay an extra ten minutes to nail the groove of this song?” If this happens only occasionally, most team members will agree to stay late to work on the song. But if rehearsal goes long week after week, your team will get frustrated with your inefficiency and protest.
In another rehearsal, however, you might adjust your plans for a creative song arrangement (excellence) in order to care for the needs of a hurting team member (edification). An effective rehearsal leader will consider how much time (efficiency) is ultimately needed to prepare the minimum requirements for leading the song (excellence) and give the balance of time to building up the teammate (edification).
On another occasion you may alert your team to the reality that fellowship (edification) may be cut short (efficiency) because of the musical demands of a significant upcoming service (excellence). On these special occasions, your teammates will be ready to roll up their sleeves to get to work.
I find that balancing efficiency with excellence and edification is an art that comes through experience. When getting started, you may flip the raft on occasion. But the experience of getting wet is itself a great teacher!
In short, to lead an effective rehearsal you must consider the three E’s: excellence, edification, and efficiency. Be explicit about your expectations and discuss your team’s expectations. Consider where the weight should be placed for each given rehearsal, understanding that this balance will change from week to week based on the personnel, life circumstances, and the demands of ministry.
As you strive for rehearsals that are excellent, edifying, and efficient, may the Spirit guide and equip you. May you work in the strength God gives to prepare and lead effective rehearsals that glorify God and build up the church.