Chi Alpha @ Stanford’s Worship Philosophy
Our Goal: Creating a Worship-Prone Environment
Worship is more than singing, but in this document we're focusing on the musical singing that precedes and follows the sermon in our weekly Chi Alpha meetings. In that musical segment of our meeting, our goal is to create a worship-prone environment - an environment in which believers find themselves compelled to glorify God and unbelievers find it hard to ignore Him.
Our Convictions About Musical Worship
Some of our convictions about musical worship:
- Worship is not a concert – it is a collaboration. Worship is not something that the worship team does to the congregation, it is something the worship team does with the congregation. The worship team, as part of the congregation, helps the entire congregation to offer true worship to God. There is no “them” - only “us”.
- Worship is not about performance – it is about participation. When we have to choose between doing something we find musically interesting and something that the gathered people of God will find easily singable, we choose to make things singable. When we face a tradeoff between creating an excellent team that involves few people and a solid team that includes more people, we choose inclusion. When we can spend 20 minutes in rehearsal getting a transition down just right or we can spend 20 minutes focusing on the overall dynamics of the set, we choose to focus on the dynamics because although the excellence of the transition makes us as musicians happy the enhanced dynamics affect everyone’s experience of worship far more profoundly.
- Worship is not about impressing God - it is about honoring God. As musicians it is very easy to let our focus drift onto technique - and technique really does matter: 1 Chronicles 15:22 mentions that Kenaniah was in charge of the singing because he was skillful at it. We always offer God our best, but we must keep in mind that we will not impress God with our skill. God looks upon the heart, and so we must keep our focus on maintaining heartfelt adoration of God. If our hearts are not yielded then our musicianship is in vain.
- Worship is not only expressive – it is also formative. In other words, worship is not just about emoting to God - worship is also about being transformed by God’s truth. Worship is meditation - thinking about the same truths over and over again. At the end of the day, the lyrics matter more than the music. The songs we choose should proclaim Biblical truth clearly, especially the truth of the gospel. Every worship set should provide an opportunity to reflect upon what Jesus has done for us. Having said that, worship is highly expressive and the music that accompanies the lyrics is vital to maximizing that experience. Our worship sets should be a mix of songs that remind us of how much God loves us (formative) as well as songs that tell God how much we love him (expressive).
Worship Jazz: Structuring Spontaneity
With those convictions in mind, let us turn our attention to the actual practice of musical worship in our meetings. We are striving for structured spontaneity - something we sometimes call “worship jazz.” We assemble our worship experience using Biblical ingredients.
Our Ingredients: Biblical Expressions of Worship
- Singing: the book of Psalms, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16
- Music: 1st Chronicles 13:8, Psalm 33:3, Psalm 150
- Artistic Creation: Exodus 31:1-11, Exodus 28, Ezekiel 4:1
- Clapping: Psalm 47:1, Isaiah 55:12
- Testimonies: Psalm 9:1, Psalm 73:28, Psalm 78:4-6
- Laughing & Rejoicing: Psalm 9:2, Psalm 126:1-3, Psalm 149:5, Zephaniah 3:14-17
- Shouting: Psalm 95:1, Psalm 98:4-6, Psalm 100:1
- Silence: Psalm 46:10, Habakkuk 2:20
- Standing: 1st Chronicles 23:30, Psalm 24:3-6
- Raising Our Hands: Nehemiah 8:6, Psalm 63:3-5, Psalm 134:1-2, 1st Timothy 2:8
- Bowing & Kneeling: 2 Chronicles 7:3, Psalm 95:6, Daniel 6:10-11
- Lying Prostrate: Deuteronomy 9:18, Revelation 19:4
- Leaping: 2nd Samuel 6:16, Luke 6:23, Acts 3:7-8
- Dancing: Exodus 15:20-21, Psalm 149:3, Psalm 150:4
- Spiritual Gifts: Acts 10:45-46, 1st Corinthians 14:26-33
- Prayer: Revelation 4:8, Acts 4:23-31, Psalm 141:2
All of these are appropriate and welcome at our weekly meeting (although some may require a few moments of explanation to the community).
Our “Reverse Mullet” Model
Simply having a list of Biblical ingredients isn’t enough to create the structured spontaneity that we’re striving for. Many people are intimidated by spontaneous worship because they don’t think of themselves as spiritual enough to participate fully.
By providing structure we make participation less intimidating and we minimize the magnitude of the mistakes that people can make, which means more people will feel free to worship without holding back.
- Have a mix of fast and slow songs.
- Incorporate at least one hymn. Defining a hymn is hard. By hymns, we mean songs such as
- Amazing Grace
- When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
- It Is Well With My Soul
- Be Thou My Vision
- Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing
- How Great Thou Art
- Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty
- All Hail The Power of Jesus' Name
- All Creatures Of Our God and King
- Christ The Lord Is Risen Today
- This is My Father's World
- Before the Throne of God Above
- For a semi-scientific list of the most popular hymns of all time, check out http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/march/hymnsthatkeepgoing.html?paging=off
- VERY IMPORTANT - when we speak of hymns we are not speaking of a musical style. For example, Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) counts. Cornerstone by Hillsong (a reboot of On Christ The Solid Rock) counts. Feel free to rearrange or reinvent the music that accompanies the lyrics. The lyrics are the gift, the music is the wrapping paper.
- As a general rule, introduce one new song at a time. Most people are not musicians, which means that most people are not as musically gifted as you are. It takes them longer to feel comfortable enough with new songs to abandon the mechanics of singing in order to push into the heart of worship.
- That leads to another big idea: one way to understand your role as a member of the worship team is as a distraction minimizer. Your goal is to avoid everything that can distract people from God. What kinds of things distract people?
- Off-tune singing.
- Overly ornamental singing - lead people on a journey they can follow
- Typos on slides.
- Too many unfamiliar songs.
- Uninterpreted tongues.
- Attention-grabbing clothing
- Overtalking between songs
- Providing no direction (for example, not letting people know that this is the last song, so they’re anxiously wondering how much longer they’ll be here)
- Being in pep-rally mode (“If you love Jesus let me hear you say Amen! Come on church, that was weak. Say Amen like you mean it! Who here loves the Lord?”)
- Awkward transitions between songs.
- Looking bored.
- Looking freakishly excited.
- Your set list is not a straightjacket. It is like a trail map at a state park. Follow the trail to see the big destination at the end, but if you see a cool flower as you’re walking along step off the path to admire it. Always feel free to ditch the plan if the Spirit is doing something in the moment.
- The goal is not to induce feelings in yourself or others - the goal is to welcome the presence of God. The key question is not, “People, how did you like it?” but “God, how did we do?”
- Here is the structure of a typical Chi Alpha service. We call it the “reverse mullet model”: create a party in the front and do business in the back.
- Two or three songs up front
- The key words for the first segment are “focusing” and “welcoming”
- This is the segment where we help regulars break out of their Stanford stress bubble and also where we are very conscious of our guests’ reactions and perceptions.
- The general rule for this segment is to pick upbeat songs that don’t presuppose intense intimacy with God. They are descriptive more than emotive.
- Upbeat songs are great for this set.
- The hoped-for response to this set is celebratory praise. People applauding is not unexpected.
- The sermon
- Three to five songs in the back
- The key words for the second segment are “reinforcing” and “responding” – we’re trying to help people do something with the message they’ve just heard.
- The general rule for this segment is that we do slower and more emotive songs.
- We want the gospel to be clearly preached in this set. By that we mean that the lyrics of the songs should highlight at least one aspect of what Jesus did for us. This means themes such as forgiveness, freedom, healing, joy, adoption, and the uniqueness of Christ. Even if the sermon is a clunker, someone in the audience should be able to understand the essence of the gospel from the songs that were sung.
- We deliberately carve out space in this segment for Scriptural prayers, spiritual gifts, spontaneous singing, and other ingredients of the “harp and bowl” style (Rev 5:8).
- This is often the right place for the hymn to be incorporated.
- The typical response to this set is contemplative reflection. People weeping and praying is not unexpected.
Expectations for Rehearsal & Soundcheck
We need you to be on time for both soundcheck and rehearsal on the weeks that you are scheduled. If you have a schedule conflict and cannot make one of the rehearsals, please notify the worship leader as soon as possible. Here are some general guidelines and expectations for practice:
- Be prepared for rehearsal. The songs are posted on Planning Center Online over the weekend, so we highly encourage everyone to listen to and practice the songs before the first rehearsal.
- Pay attention to what the worship leader is saying during practice.
- Be alert and on the lookout for hand signals used by the worship leader during songs. (i.e. verse, chorus, bridge, etc.).
- Notify the worship leader if you are running late to practice.
- If you need to borrow a Chi Alpha instrument for worship practice, please let the worship leader know a day before practice so that they have time to track down the instrument.
- Musicians should set-up their own instrument including related cords and direct boxes (as applicable) at practice and soundcheck. If you need assistance, please ask one of the leaders.
- Vocalists will need to learn how to set-up microphones and also be familiar with the channel your microphone is connected to. If you need assistance, please ask one of the leaders.
- When soundcheck has started, all members should give the worship leader their undivided attention.
Planning Center Online (PCO)
Planning Center Online (PCO) is an online system that we utilize to plan our weekly services. It also stores chord charts and YouTube links for most of the songs that we use for services.
The worship leadership team specifically uses PCO to post the worship song setlists, to plan and schedule musicians and vocalists, to send reminders, and to communicate rehearsal and soundcheck information. Scheduled team members are encouraged to promptly read all PCO emails so that they are up-to-date on the plan for the week.
Gaining Login Access
To gain access to PCO you will need to be added to the system by a member of the worship leadership team. Once a preliminary profile has been created for you, you will be sent a PCO welcome message via email. Please click on the link provided in the email to create a password. Your login ID will be the email address that you provided to the worship team.
Worship Team Scheduling
If you are scheduled to be on a worship team for a specific week, you will receive a PCO email request from the worship leader over the weekend, if not sooner. The email request will indicate which position you are scheduled to serve in (i.e. vocalist, guitarist, etc.), and will request that you confirm your availability by clicking “Accept” or “Decline” at the bottom of the email.
Confirming Availability to Serve
Worship team members should confirm their availability as soon as possible. The worship leader will need this information to determine equipment needs and to plan for rehearsal and service.
To confirm your availability, click on “Accept” or “Decline” at the bottom of the PCO email invite. Alternatively, you can logon to PCO and on the home screen you will see the invite to serve with an option to “Accept” or “Decline”.
Viewing Worship Plans on PCO
You will receive a notification to view a worship plan if you are scheduled as a worship team member on a specific week. To view the songlist for the week, click on “View This Service” at the bottom of any PCO email for that week, or go to PCO and click on the service you are scheduled for on your homepage.
Questions And Answers
Q: How do I join the worship team?
It’s a pretty simple process. Meet with one of the worship leaders, go over the material in this document, and then begin attending rehearsals until the worship leaders feel you are ready.
Q: How rigid are these guidelines?
We’ve spent time thinking about this, so we’re pretty committed to these guidelines. That having been said, nothing is written in stone. If you have a good reason for changing things up one week then talk to the worship coordinator or one of the staff members.
Q: If we value spontaneity so much, then why the rules about the songs we sing?
What we sing is important because worship is both expressive and formative. It reveals how we feel but it also shapes who we become. The fact that a song sounds cool is not sufficient reason to make it a part of our worship.
This is why we have an established song repertoire. These are songs we have carefully considered and have decided that they represent Biblical truth.
That is also why we include one hymn in our worship each week – these are lyrics which have stood the test of time. Feel free to change the music to make it sound cool, but be sure to incorporate the wisdom of the ages into our worship.
In addition, by having a limited repertoire we make it possible for the worship leader to change things up on the fly knowing that the musicians will be able to flow with them.
Q: How do we add new songs to the repertoire?
If a worship leader wants to sing a song not in the repertoire then give it a try in one of the meetings. Afterwards the worship leaders will discuss the song and decide whether or not to add it the repertoire permanently. If it’s added, we’ll make copies for everyone and add it to this notebook. If it’s rejected, then we won’t sing it again.
Q: What if I want to introduce a nontraditional element like a dance or a song I wrote myself?
We welcome such creativity. There’s a much lower threshold for doing something like this once than for adding a song to the repertoire forever. Just do it. If you get a chance, talk with the speaker about how best to integrate it into the flow of the meeting, but feel great freedom in expanding our experience of worship.
How To Be A Good Worship Administrator
Being a worship leader is not just about the weekly meeting - it is about building and equipping a team. Here are some tips to help you excel:
- At the beginning of the fall quarter, make it clear that you welcome new members to the worship team and have some sort of interest meeting/audition within the first three weeks of school.
- Be prepared for the first two meetings of the fall quarter before you set foot on campus. That doesn’t mean that you have to have every song picked, but it does mean that you have your musicians lined up. Things get chaotic, so get ahead of the game.
- Start each quarter strong - get your most experienced and gifted musicians and vocalists on deck. It is a rare chance to make a first impression. Specifically, it is a chance to make a first impression on prospective musicians. Musicians are attracted to quality music.
- Be sure to thank your team for their service regularly.
- Be sure to spend time personally connecting with people in Chi Alpha before and after the meeting. You will have a lot on your mind, but this is important. If people feel personally connected to you then they are more open to receiving what you offer them. Ministry is maximized face-to-face (see, for example, John’s comment in 2nd John 1:12)
- Remember to pick songs that are easy for non-musical people to follow and sing along to.
- Ensure that the worship setlist and the PCO emails are sent out on-time.
Tips For Running a Rehearsal
- Have songs prepared and printed out beforehand.
- Have the BPM of your songs written down before rehearsal.
- Rehearse your rehearsal - run through the set in your mind (and possibly out loud) before you meet with your team. Your confidence will fill them with confidence.
- Have someone you trust and respect to bounce your song selection off of before the rehearsal. They don’t have to be a fellow worship leader, but often another worship leader (whether in our ministry or somewhere else) will have particularly helpful feedback.
- Practice the transitions between songs! Most musical and time-eating mistakes are made going from one song to the next. Get it right in practice and you won’t have to worry about it in the moment.
- Have an efficient practice. Do not waste people’s time. A typical practice should take between an hour and ninety minutes. If you need more time than that, adjust your songs or schedule an additional practice.