As we take our places in the pews having greeted one another and our hearts settle in for a sweet time of worship, it’s quite possible that we take for granted all of the hard work, dedication and prayer that goes into our worship teams’ preparation for the music that always fits so seamlessly with the messages delivered by Pastors Byron, Shawn and Garrick every Saturday night and Sunday morning.
So how does it all come together?
Clifford Young, one of our worship leaders at Rolling Hills Covenant was kind enough to give us a bit of an insider’s perspective, and his guided tour revealed that there really is quite a bit that goes into the preparation for Cliff and his worship band, Living Sacrifice.
While the congregation may be singing five songs on Sunday, there is meaning and purpose to those five songs and it all starts almost immediately at the conclusion of each weekend’s services.
“The First Noel”
On Saturday morning, Cliff and his worship band rehearsed this song briefly as it was to lead-off the Advent candle lighting at the beginning of the service on Sunday. The song’s selection may seem like a no-brainer given the season, but it, just like every song that is first rehearsed and then played at services, is subject to a contemplative time of prayer and quiet time with The Lord. It is all part of a plan that works for Cliff as he carefully goes about choosing just the right songs for worship.
“There is a general plan for the month and the series being taught,” Cliff says. “The pastors plan their sermons based on the series and particular Scripture, and our (music) plan comes right out of that and the worship leaders plan accordingly each week based upon what the theme or Scripture is. It is all Word-based.”
The next segment of rehearsal featured this hymn of pure joy in The Lord, and it is a completely appropriate one given the next phase of planning and preparation for Cliff, who, after experiencing the joy and rush that comes from leading worship service immediately goes into a time of seeking God’s perspective when putting together the lyrical framework for Sunday worship.
“On Sunday night I seek God and ask what direction He wants to go and I hear from Him,” Cliff says. “And the Holy Spirit reveals the songs. By Monday morning I have what I need for the week. I can focus on it and live with it for a week.”
This is where logistics tend to kick in, as Cliff sends out email messages – a worship invitation – to his bandmates as well as the RHCC technical team just to make sure that everyone is aware of the song list, is available to participate and most importantly, all on the same page and have a chance to review the music prior to Saturday’s rehearsal.
It’s this sort of preparation that is likely taken for granted by so many of us who are privileged enough to worship God together as a church family, yet it is vitally important to the worship team.
And there’s so much more.
“By the time we get to Wednesday we have a worship and technical meeting and review the previous week’s service and preview the upcoming service. The pastors, worship leaders and technical team get together and discuss everything and plan accordingly. The worship leaders will discuss the closing song with the pastors, who often times select the final worship song,” Cliff says.
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
As Cliff and the worship team rehearsed this beautiful song they stopped a few times to discuss transitions, pitch, notes, bars and to the casual observer who is not musically-inclined it can almost seem like they are speaking a foreign language, and it is in that very moment that one realizes just how blessed we are to have such talented worship teams to lead us in songs of praise and adoration. Cliff admits that leading worship is in fact his spiritual act of worshipping The Lord and takes the responsibility of leading very seriously.
“You are not a worship leader if you don’t worship in private. Worship seems to be about music and singing and instruments, but for a leader it is about sitting and receiving from The Lord, sitting quietly and communicating with the Lord. It is sitting before the Lord and listening to the Holy Spirit,” Cliff says.
Again, Cliff reminds us that careful planning and consulting with The Lord is the key to making certain that the songs and the music are absolutely right for the weekend’s services and it begins almost as soon as he is concluding the previous week’s worship time, when he finds himself exhausted, yet exhilarated.
“I usually come home on Sunday afternoons and rest, get a little sleep and when I wake up I start working,” Cliff says. “And my work involves listening to God. I get to a quiet place and I talk to Him. I relate to Him about what just transpired and then ask Him what He wants for the coming week. We typically read a Psalm each week and I ask Him to reveal to me some songs to go along with the Psalm, and then I ask Him to show me songs to go along with the sermon series. It is amazingly miraculous that He always provides a bridge between the Psalm and the sermon series.”
As songs and music and message all start to click together, Cliff advises that there is a cohesiveness in all of it that actually permits he and the worship team to wing it at times should the Spirit lead them there.
“There’s a lot of structure behind it,” Cliff admits. “But behind this structure there is a lot of freedom there, so that by Sunday we are free so that it the Holy Spirit reveals a different path for us we are organized and skilled enough to follow Him.”
“Jesus at the Center of it All”
Sure, there’s some playful banter and a very loose and comfortable feeling in the room during rehearsal. There’s a reference to The Blues Brothers and Cliff even quizzes the band on some lyrics from “Guys and Dolls.” It is all very fun, but at the end it takes quite a bit of work and talent to bring it all together and maintain a focus of keeping Jesus at the center of worship.
“I’m a teacher and taught public school for a long time and making it fun in the band room was a part of what I did then and even now,” Cliff says. “The whole focus has to make it not seem like work. It is the same way in worship. But it is work. There is banter and it flies freely, but it is a family atmosphere. It is about having fun. We are a family and we love each other, so I try to not do too much. I leave them to work it out at home through their skill level and relationship with the Lord. Rehearsal is worship unto the Lord, so we open in prayer because we’re not just rehearsing to get to Sunday, it is actually worship.”
“Just a Closer Walk with Thee”
The worship experience is one of spending time praising Him, calling out His name and rejoicing the fact that we have a real and personal relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Leading people in this endeavor can be overwhelming at times, and Cliff confesses that there is a rush of excitement mixed with trepidation no matter how many times he leads worship.
“There’s no place to hide up there, but when you are standing before the people you also realize that you are standing before The Lord and that is the ultimate expression of humility and grace,” Cliff says.
It is perhaps akin to a mountaintop experience of sorts.
“I don’t ski but I have to think the experience is a lot like skiing. You are on the top of the mountain and there is the slope the trees and you are leaving it to The Lord. You are saying, ‘Okay Lord, you’ve got this one.’ And it doesn’t matter if you are standing in front of five people or five thousand people, if you don’t have that feeling, that nervous energy, that passion no matter the size of the crowd then you are not a worship leader and you need to get your heart right because we are worshiping the One True God.”
Thank you to the worship teams at RHCC. Thank you for your talents, your heart for The Lord and thank you for all of the hard work, dedication and prep work that you do before any of us walk in on Saturday night or Sunday morning.
A special thank you to Cliff Young and Living Sacrifice, who granted us access to Saturday’s rehearsal:
Lead: Cliff Young
Keyboard/Vocal Tenor: Maria Soriano
Guitar: Chris Van Duyn
Bass: Errick Robinson
Drums: Eddie Gonzales
Vocals: Laura Savitz and Jan Williamson