John Paul Gentile has been a part of Bethel Music for 10 years as a guitar player and drummer on the Bethel Church worship team and with the Bethel Music Collective. A talented songwriter, John Paul is the cowriter of the song “Defender” and plays a vital role in the worship culture as he pastors other musicians, gives guitar and drum lessons and tours domestically and internationally. John Paul shares 7 tips for musicians on worship teams who want to grow together in skill and unity.
If you’re a musician, your instrument is an extension of who you are. When you play from your heart, you can move the room and prophesy with your sound. Musicians are not utility workers or tools to make a worship team sound good, but living breathing creations made from the image and community of the Trinity. When you’re on stage, you’re giving God glory, and you happen to have something in your hands. Here are seven tips for musicians and worship teams who want to grow stronger together and take their congregation to new places in God’s heart.
Tip #1 Keep Growing
We will never fully arrive at a destination as a musician, worshipper, or a worship leader. I’ve done this for 10 years because I’m always learning and growing as a worship leader and in my skill. When we’ve been doing this for a long time, it can be easy to go on autopilot during a worship set. At one point, I caught myself thinking, “This is just another service.” That’s when I realized I have to change and allow myself to grow. That’s how we last in ministry; we change and grow over time. When you have a “bad set,” that’s not a failure, it’s a great indicator of where you’re at skill level, and where you can grow.
We’ve made so much music with 12 notes, and probably more than 77 percent of those songs we’re only using 8 notes. It proves the point that there is no arrival. I keep doing what I do because God is worthy of it—and when I found out how worthy I was, I wanted to go back to the One who called me worthy.
Tip #2 Posture Yourself to Serve
When you’re on stage, you become a servant. Servanthood is a heart posture; it can’t be taught. But serving can’t be the main goal, because then you’re behaving to belong, and you’ve made service your identity. In the Kingdom, you already belong, and your behavior represents your identity. Serve from a place of believing you belong here and you have something to bring.
If you believe you don’t belong, your service will become performance.
Servanthood shouldn’t have singular verbiage. Worship should be about “us.” We are collectively together as a worship team, there is no “them.” The congregation isn’t “them,” camera guy isn’t “them,” it’s all “us.”
Tip #3 Bring Everything
When going on stage, we don’t have to perfect ourselves first and put all of our junk at the door. Worship with the pain, and bring it all to Him. When you give Him all of that, He’s then allowed to be in all of your life, and that kind of worship changes the world and gives other people permission to come as they are.
When your worship team is on stage, people get to see something. In Genesis, God destroyed the Tower of Babel because they were trying to see something they weren’t ready for. God knew in His Kingdom if you can see it, then you can have it. There’s a reason we’re on stage, because we’re actually supposed to be seen and put on display. People need to see family and what it looks like when someone takes a risk.
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Tip #4 Know Your Team
Know your worship team—not just musically. You know someone musically when you know them and everything is translated musically to you. Know why they are attracted to certain types of food, fashion, movies and music.
To know someone is music to my ears— it will take forever and you’ll never be done.
You don’t read the Bible so you can preach it, and you don’t know a person so you can get a gig, you do it out of love. How am I going to be on stage and part of a team and not know everyone—or not want to? We’re all one big family and we’re worshipping together.
Your heart posture should be “us,” and physical posture should be heads up – looking around looking at one another. We worship together instead of worshipping by ourselves because crazy things happen when we go together. If you’re on stage your goal is not to make the people lift their hands, the goal is to go together with your worship team. And you might be the leader, the last in line or smack dab in the middle, but you’re in. You can go fast alone, but you will go further together.
Tip #5 Level the Playing Field
Any good worship leader knows that they’re surrounded by other worship leaders, the only difference is they don’t have microphones.
We can often slip into the hierarchy of the worship leader being like a CEO, but it’s an even playing field. We are a worship team that is actually a family, and everyone has roles. At home when you walk into the kitchen you don’t put on name badges or say, “I’ve been cooking for 13 years.” We all have one goal: to sit at the table and feast. We all gather to dine and commune with one another.
To lead worship is to be moved.
To lead worship is to be put on display and to point people to the One who is moving you. To be moved by a drummer is the same thing, it lifts me somewhere. As a singer you’re putting things into words but both you and the musician are speaking the same language.
Real worship leaders know where their strengths lie, and a wise worship leader knows how to cover their worship team and be covered in return. It’s not a one man show. When churches ask one of our worship leaders to come and lead worship at their church, we bring the whole band, because when you ask for one of us you’re asking for all of us. You can’t get the desired effect with people I don’t have any history with. What you’re hearing when you hear Bethel Music is the fruit of relationship and the sound of connection.
Tip #6 Don’t Be Musical Orphans
We use this term to teach people on our worship team about sharing their gifts and talents rather than protecting them.
When a keyboardist has come up with a synth patch or made something unique, a musical orphan wouldn’t let you touch this because if you use it, they no longer have an identity. When you walk in sonship, you say, “Look what I came up with, you try.” We give everyone on our worship teams access to the same thing because our goal isn’t notoriety, our goal is to kiss the Father. We don’t progress by one group working their butts off and making the next group do it again, but instead we hand them everything we’ve worked for.
I’m an acoustic guitar player, but nobody plays acoustic, especially on tour or records. As soon as that happened and I got opportunities to play, I started giving lessons to anyone playing music. I’m always trying to teach whatever I have.
I believe that when you hoard things, your creative well gets stale and stagnant.
There is an endless source available that we can tap into when we freely give what we have freely received. Another way to think about it is that I’m loaded, filthy rich, and anything I have other people can have. I want to make room for more so I give it away and there’s no end.
Tip #7 Know Your Songs
I’ve made the mistake of thinking I know a song several times. I can play “Highest Praise” on drums and practice it to understand the structure, but to understand the song I have to play it on guitar or sing it. As a musician, I would encourage everyone to sing the song they’re going to play because it puts you in the context of where you’re supposed to play and gives you a worshipper’s perspective. If possible, sing every song you’re going to play and the words will come alive in a different way. You’ll understand how the songs translate to your instrument in a different way. When you play the song at church you’ll be in the song, not just playing the song.
You can make space for a spontaneous moment to happen by actually knowing your songs well and playing them when there’s no one around. If you’re a worship leader, sit on the piano and guitar and actually learn it and worship the Lord where there’s no expectation. Sing your songs out and you’ll know if there’s a section that you are drawn to, and a spontaneous song might pop out just like scripture pops up into conversation.
If you’re a musician on a worship team, know that you are a vital piece of someone’s encounter with God and a key to breakthrough in the room. The sound that comes from your heart shifts atmospheres and unlocks prison doors. Become an expert in your craft, spend time in the secret place playing your instrument in the Presence of God. Just like David who spent his first years as a musician in secret with a harp and his sheep, investing in the secret place will give you the ability to defeat entire armies and silence the enemy with your sound.
— John Paul Gentile