Before I say a word, I need to confess that there are many weeks, I don’t do everything I’m about to prescribe to you. We are humans and we will not always get this right (nor do we have to). So, when you read my recommendations, know that they are a picture of your best possible investment, not necessarily a picture of your (or my) constant reality. The hope is that you would take each element and apply as much as you can, as often as you’re able.
As I see it, there are three key areas of focus as we head into a weekend of leading the Church in worship: the voice, the music, and, most importantly, the heart. I’d love to walk you through a few principles in each area that I’ve found helpful in preparation for Sunday mornings.
Hydrate like a boss. I learned for the first time at 20 years old that it takes 48 consecutive hours of heavy intake for hydration to be truly effective on the day you need it. So, start chugging water on Friday instead of waiting until Sunday morning!
Get good rest. Your voice, like every other part of your body, is greatly impacted by exhaustion. If you can, discipline yourself to get 7-9 hours of sleep the night before you sing.
Wake up early. Your body is tired early in the morning, so if you’re waking up only 15-30 minutes before rehearsal, your voice is going to reflect it! Try to give yourself at least an hour of awake time prior to singing.
Do vocal exercises. This will have the greatest long-term effect on your voice, positively or negatively. You are going to struggle more and even risk harming your voice if you consistently skip this step. If time is limited, do a quick warm-up in the car on the way to rehearsal or between rehearsal and service. IT’S OKAY TO BE THAT PERSON. You have to get over the embarrassment of being the weirdo doing lip trills in the bathroom. Own it and be willing to laugh at yourself.
Additionally, vocal exercises can be a great daily discipline if you’re trying to grow in areas like range, vocal control, placement, tone, etc. Here are few resources I love to use:
Voice lessons with Jeff Mathena at The Unhindered Voice (available remotely via Zoom)
Vocal training videos by Jeff Mathena on the Worship Initiative site
Worship Initiative Vocal Warm-up Albums on Spotify
Worship Initiative song pages (where you can learn vocal parts)
Pay attention to your set-planning platform (for most of you, that’s likely Planning Center Online). Whenever a set is posted, check it and make sure you’re familiar with each song. If you’re the one creating the set, be sure to give your vocalists and yourself enough time to prepare by having the setlist ready before Friday.
Know what you’re going to sing. If harmonies come naturally to you, it may be tempting to wing it on Sunday morning, but this may make it hard for others singing with you – so be aware of the parts in advance. I fail in this area often. If harmonies do not come naturally to you, get in some good practice before Sunday so you’re not fishing for notes during rehearsal.
Get familiar with the lyrics. Most of us have confidence monitors available to us with lyrics on the screen, but we all know that those can fail in a million different ways. If you are so reliant on lyrics that you cannot lead a song without them, then you, my friend, are in dangerous territory.
To put it simply: be prepared.
I cannot stress enough how important this is. Talents are not sufficient; your gifts and your strength will always come up short on their own. They were not created by you, and they cannot be sustained by you alone. When I say that, what I don’t mean is that you cannot be used by God if you haven’t had an awesome track record of quiet times this week. I don’t mean that if you’re feeling weak or even doubting, God cannot multiply your loaves and fish enough to feed the Body. He is ABLE when you are not. What I do mean, however, is that leading from a place of spiritual apathy and flesh-borne strength is dangerous and not God’s best (for you or for your church).
So, the instruction here is straight from the Bible: seek Him (Mathew 6:33). Lean on Christ daily, to the best of your ability (John 15:5). I’m a new mom to a 10-month-old baby, so I can promise you that I do not have lengthy, in-depth, super-study quiet times every day. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t make Jesus my lifeline, or that I’m unable to pray or receive the Word, or be strengthened by Him. God gives us what we need – we just have to GO to Him to get it.
Additionally, I find it exponentially easier to lead with humility and self-forgetfulness when I take the time to pray before I lead. It’s nothing profound – just a simple, “Lord, remind me who this is about and who it’s NOT about. Free me up to enjoy you as I lead today and use me however you want to.” I might pray this anywhere from one to ten times on a Sunday morning, just to keep coming back to what is true. It’s the best practice I can offer.
Ultimately, all these things come back to Jesus. We work hard unto the end of glorifying God. When we don’t get it right, He is sufficient. When we do, He is responsible. So, at the end of the day, be free in the knowledge that God is sovereign over your gifts and their use. You are a vessel!