When Things Don’t Go As Planned

What do you do when in the middle of leading worship you have a train wreck? We had the opportunity to find out at the WorshipGod conference last August.

Joseph Stigora, from Covenant Fellowship in Philadelphia, was doing a great job leading with his team. But as he started into a musical rendition of Psalm 96, things took a turn for the worse. The band was suddenly playing in two keys. At the same time.

You can watch it for yourself here.


While God commends the development of skill (Prov. 22:29), and laziness is no excuse for lack of preparation, there are times that even deliberate practice doesn’t keep us from messing up. But God’s strength is perfected in our weakness. When things don’t go as planned, people are able to see more clearly our humanity, and hopefully our humility.

Of course, some times we can cover up mistakes without anyone noticing or being distracted. If you can do that, great. But there are other times (like playing in two keys) when the best choice is simply to stop what you’re doing and start over. Amazingly enough, God can continue working, even through our mistakes.

What have you learned from a time when things didn’t go as planned?

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33 Responses to When Things Don’t Go As Planned

  1. Paul Martin December 16, 2008 at 2:25 PM #

    I learned that it is really good to have kind people in your church! I once introduced an old hymn that I wanted us to sing a capella. I made a big deal about a capella singing… about the theology of the hymn… about the hymnwriter… then stood there… one steamboat, two steamboats, three steamboats… “Um, could somebody please tell me how this tune goes again?”
    *sigh*

  2. Keith December 16, 2008 at 3:18 PM #

    It’s the curse of the capo.

    How many times have you started a song and then the band comes in playing in a higher key? You want to crawl in a hole, take the capo of the headstock and come back in playing beautifully with everyone else.

    Personally, I’ll stop and let everybody laugh a little and start things again in the right key.

    We want excellence – always. But God knows our human frailty. So, regroup and praise Him just the same!

  3. Shawn Stinson December 16, 2008 at 4:12 PM #

    I lived this just two days ago. We have two different media presentations in our services. There’s a powerpoint presentation going for the musicians and vocalists and a media shout presentation running for the congregation. Unfortunately Sunday there was some confusion as to which verses we’d be singing so we ended up with different verses running at the same time. Having the praise team sing one verse while the congregation sang anouther was a train wreck especially since it was such a great song like “O Come O Come Emmanuel” Both media operators realized the problem and basically went to black which left everyone going “huh?” I stopped the music, started laughing and said something to the effect of “You know we did that on purpose to give you a reason to smile. You’re supposed to smile when you sing this chorus “Rejoice, Rejoice Emmaunel has come to The Oh Israel.” Luckily we continued the song and were able to recover.

  4. Johnny Sierra December 16, 2008 at 5:48 PM #

    To be honest I can’t remember I time (musically) that we were playing the wrong note (and I am not trying to brag about that). But there has been times where one or two vocalist would be off key in there harmony. During worship I would take a look at them and they would stop and correct themselves.

    I also remember a time where it was just me in the keys and my drummer and all of the sudden when I played a chord on the key’s and it would transpose it a key higher. So I had to stop using the keys and all we did was just continue worshiping God only with the drums. Let me tell you that that was one of the most powerfullest Youth services we have had this year! So I believe that God works in all circumstances.

  5. Troy December 16, 2008 at 6:03 PM #

    Been there. Done that. Have the T-shirt but don’t wear it!

    So true, that we get stuck thinking everything should go just-as-planned so God will show up. As if!

    Thanks for a laugh and the encouragement.

  6. Simon December 17, 2008 at 4:47 AM #

    I once managed to do this without a band. I was leading and began”Isn’t He beautiful”, but no matter how hard I tried, my voice found every other key but the one I was playing on my guitar.

  7. Ryan Egan December 17, 2008 at 8:42 AM #

    That’s great! Great teaching opportunity as well.

    I also cringe about thinking about capos being in the wrong place during my early days of worship and music ministry. Definitely no fun – but as Bob said, “He’s probably enjoying this!”

    Thanks for this!

  8. Mike Smith December 17, 2008 at 10:26 AM #

    I have the privelege of serving with Joseph on the worship team at Covenant Fellowship, and I think what he did in that moment is a great example of humble, God-focused leadership. Rather than worrying about how such a mistake reflected on his musical abilites or the abilities of his band, his immediate response was to try to direct the distracted congregation back to the Lord and exalting his name. What an example of humble, God-centered leadership! And that is Joseph to a T, he has such a desire to see the name of Jesus Christ exalted in song, and for the people of God to encounter his presence in worship.

    Also, if you pause the video at 0:25 and look at Dave Brown’s (the electric guitarist) face, it’s priceless. My guess is he saw the disaster coming before it happened.

  9. Bob Kauflin December 17, 2008 at 10:48 AM #

    Mike,

    I couldn’t agree more.

  10. Nicole P. December 17, 2008 at 1:29 PM #

    I’m in ministry at a Hispanic church (a missionary in my hometown), where 99% of the congregation was born in Latin America (mostly Mexico).

    I’ve learned so much about handling the unexpected and/or mistakes from our worship leader, who is from Mexico & began leading adult worship services at age 14.

    In many areas, there isn’t the infrastructure we have in the U.S., so — at least in those areas — you have to learn how to work around the so-called “limitations” — ie, low tech, few (or zero) formally trained musicians, etc.

    I’ve found that the seed of opportunity in such an environment is how flexible and non-perfectionistic it makes people.

    I have an example of how our leader & team handled a mistake. Although this isn’t a “mid-set” or “mid-song” example, I think it captures well how much we “formally trained” people can learn from those who grew up with fewer resources.

    (For me, this was the day I confronted the reality that my “fancy-schmancy” classical music training didn’t prepare me for lots of stuff…and actually, it had likely contributed to contorting “playing skillfully” into a sinful streak of perfectionism and performance.)

    We share space with another church. A few years ago on our Good Friday Service, our worship leader wasn’t going to arrive until 10 mins. before the svc started, so our team had planned on doing set-up & sound check on our own.

    As we were gathering to set up, I found out we got “bumped” from doing our service in the sanctuary — to the basement. It was less than 45 minutes before the svc was to begin.

    I’m our leader’s assistant, so I called him & said our plans were probably ka-put.

    All we’ve got in the basement is an out-of-tune piano, and 2 hook-ups…1 speaker, 0 monitors…

    What are we going to do with 1 lead & 3 back-up singers, an acoustic-electric, a bass,… and I can’t imagine we’d bring the drum set downstairs….

    Also, the basement has no powerpoint/mediashout whatever… the congregation isn’t going to have the words to anything.

    Our leader said “hm.. okay…” and then told me to re-pick out the music: “10 songs that our congregation knows by heart & are in easy guitar keys (G, E, etc)….see you in 10 minutes.”

    I remember thinking… “That’s IT??? Isn’t anyone wondering what series of communication failures brought us to getting bumped at the last minute?”

    And the clincher: “This is going to sound horrible…if we even play at all.”

    As I went about carrying out my leader’s directions & wondering what he was going to pull out of his back pocket (I’d seen it happen before) — God turned water into wine & I don’t even recall how.

    We didn’t have a trained sound person there… yet, by the time our leader arrived, somehow we had 3 mics & a bass plugged in. Can’t remember what happened with our acoustic-electric.

    But what will FOREVER stay with me is our drummer….he scrounged around the church & found an extra electric keyboard & “played drums” on it….& it was way better than no drums at all.

    Later I found out that’s how he had taught himself to play drums — cuz they couldn’t afford drums at his home church in Mx…but they DID have an old Casio keyboard…”no big deal”.

    No one even mentioned the modified set-up. No one in leadership or on the team said anything to the rest of the congregation, so they probably thought it was planned that way.

    No one complained — not even the worship team who had to scramble. No one harbored any hard feelings about the other church bumping us (that I know of).

    And most importantly, we worshiped the Lord — I don’t remember ever witnessing my pastor enter into worship the way he did that night.

    And I walked away going: the “perfect plan” is useful and important… but so are flexibility, humility and creativity.

  11. CJ December 17, 2008 at 2:18 PM #

    We were using iWorship videos for a while at my church. Most of the time, things would go great. Every once in a while, though, the band would get off of the beat and would just have to stop the song. That was always a fun post-service review.

  12. Matt December 17, 2008 at 2:44 PM #

    My goodness, am I the only worship leader who breaks guitar strings in the middle of a Sunday service?

    I’m learning how to use lighter picks and play more gingerly, but now I don’t lead a single Sunday without a back-up acoustic guitar within arm’s reach.

    A couple months ago, a string broke while we were in the middle of the BIG worship chorus of “Saviour King”. My back-up male singer quickly caught on and started singing the melody for me. The band kept it up too, and within 10 seconds I had switched the guitar out and began leading again. We use tuners that mute the line when they’re flipped on, so nobody had even heard the “pop” of a new quarter inch being plugged in.

    The moment wasn’t interrupted and very few people even noticed.

  13. Michael Schutz December 17, 2008 at 4:25 PM #

    I’ve done the wrong-fret-of-the-capo thing a few times in my years of worship leading – never a fun thing! (Especially when I start alone and the rest of the band joins in later…) :) The last time it happened, we had guitar and piano start at the same time, so at least we discovered the mistake VERY quickly. :)

    Matt, I’ve also broken strings – I don’t have the budget for a back-up, so I just have to let the rest of the band play out the song(s), then step out and re-string during another element of the service. Thankfully our liturgical orders of service allow for that!

    The good thing is that these are all teachable moments – for ourselves and for the congregation.

    It’s still nice knowing that it’s not just me that does this, though. :)

  14. Ted Slater December 17, 2008 at 5:09 PM #

    Hm. Looks like the video is no longer available….

  15. Bob Kauflin December 17, 2008 at 5:35 PM #

    Ted,

    You might have to take off some of your adblock software to see the video. It’s still there on my computer…

  16. Jared Duba December 17, 2008 at 10:02 PM #

    Maaaannnn… Are you uploading these kinds of videos just to tease me?? haha When are you gonna upload some of the real worship from that event???

    • Bob Kauflin December 17, 2008 at 10:05 PM #

      Oh, Jared…if you only knew. Seeing a video of what takes place at the conference is never quite the same as being there. Next year, we’re going to record everything on to 24 track so we’ll be able to get a decent mix. I’ll look at some stuff again and see if there’s anything I can post. Thanks for asking!

  17. Jared Duba December 18, 2008 at 1:03 AM #

    For sure, bro! I understand. I appreciate everything you’re posting anyways. :) It’s all a blessing!

  18. Ted Slater December 18, 2008 at 10:33 AM #

    Ah, got it. Thanks, Bob.

  19. Melissa Farmer December 18, 2008 at 2:20 PM #

    I remember when we talked about where the spots were that, as a band, we were prone to make mistakes, this song was always going to be our “strongest” cause 1) Joseph wrote it and 2) it consisted of two chords. :) God was in a mood to humble us all. But I’m so glad He chose to minister through Joseph’s example because Joseph was such a wonderful demonstration of humility and contentment in the purposes of God. He is known at CFC for his care to lead the team towards depending on the sovereignty of God in each worship set, and he is such a wonderful picture of a man who let’s God have control in all areas of his life. He’s certainly heroic at worship leading!

  20. Gareth Matthews December 18, 2008 at 5:04 PM #

    Bob I think you were spot on when you said that sometimes we think that if we train-wreck, the Holy Spirit goes away! It is really odd that we would fall into that mind-set – yet I know I do! Thanks for a timely reminder that our God is perhaps just a little bigger than a perfectly led worship song (or maybe quite a lot bigger :) ).

  21. Amanda December 18, 2008 at 6:14 PM #

    My two year old son was listening/watching the video with me and said, “This sound funny!” and then “Again!”

    :D

  22. Mike December 19, 2008 at 7:35 AM #

    I joke with my church that on the day everything goes perfectly, Jesus will return. Until then I think we’re all jars of clay, aren’t we?

  23. Jim Pemberton December 19, 2008 at 10:53 AM #

    It’s how we demonstrate our trust in God in the midst of our weakness that God is most glorified.

    The Christmas concert series at my church went off without a hitch relatively speaking. Our various performing arts ministries have been rehearsing and working on sets, costumes and props since August. Throughout that time we certainly learned the meaning of each part of what we present and internalized worship while we rehearsed. It was also the time where we focused on performance as we pick at each note, dynamic, dance step, narration, light orientation, microphone and monitor placement, etc.

    However, just before the first show as we gathered together as a group to offer ourselves before God, we made note of the fact that the performance was over. We needed only to do what we rehearsed and rest in the fact that the event is in the hands of God. Therefore, when we go out to the stage all that is left is worship. If a train wreck were to happen, there should be no undue concern that we have somehow failed. Rather, all the focus should be on God and his glory.

  24. Rick December 23, 2008 at 8:45 PM #

    Bob,

    Very timely for me (and I remember it so well from the conference)! You (and Joseph) handled it perfectly! This past Sunday, I asked my Sr. Pastor to lead Good Christian Men Rejoice while I prepared for a drama with my son (a thrill to minister with my 11 year old son for the first time). As I waited in the hallway, I heard the congregation singing until … a great vacuum of sound hit the worship center! I suddenly realized that there must have been a problem with the PowerPoint words on the screen! Now, I can forward this video and tell him that you taught me to keep our worship leaders humble by purposefully making mistakes!

    Thanks for your humble and effective service!

  25. bob January 3, 2009 at 12:52 PM #

    what song is this they are doing?

    • Bob Kauflin January 3, 2009 at 1:55 PM #

      bob,

      They’re singing a version of Psalm 96 that they set to music. If you email me through the contact me button above, I can send you the MP3 and chart.

  26. Ted Nieto January 6, 2009 at 3:05 PM #

    When this happens, as it has to all of us from time to time, it is good to take it in stride and move forward. The congregation will see your humanity and your true heart for the Lord. So don’t fold, turn red, and utter a word or expression of frustration. Jump back in and worship.
    I personally would not have used the word “Stupid”, but obviously he knows his audience. I once had a string snap on my guitar( A string) while leading out and it felt awkward, but we kept going and after the song I told the congregation that a flat never stopped anyone from Worshipping. They laughed and we were all in a joyful spirit.

    • Bob Kauflin January 6, 2009 at 3:09 PM #

      Ted, I felt bad about using the word “stupid” as well. I mentioned it when I got up later. Just the first word that came to mind…

  27. dan April 13, 2009 at 11:11 PM #

    today, i made mistake handling the mistake haha

    the band was playing in two different keys, but not seeing this video until today, i had no idea what to do.

    so i just went through the song, totally butchering it. this was the first time that’s happened to me. and then the next song, i was so flustered, i forgot the lyrics. so the congregation was distracted even more. but now i know what to do and what to say, that above all keeping the focus on God is key and it doesn’t matter about your musical abilities.

    i am 16 and i am still learning, trying to soak up everything that i can, i’m glad i came upon this video

    thank you!

    do you think you could post a video of your whole service so that i can learn from your examples?

    • Bob Kauflin April 14, 2009 at 9:18 AM #

      Dan,

      Thanks for asking about a video of our service. We can’t do that due to copyright restrictions, but occasionally I’ll post a song that we’ve done. You can see one here.

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  1. Around the Web - 1/9/2009 at Ray Fowler .org - January 9, 2009

    [...] When Things Don’t Go As Planned. Has your church’s worship team ever messed up on a song? Bob Kauflin shows you what to do when the band plays in two different keys at the same time. [...]

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