DJs and Worship Leaders


I remember a friend of mine who loved to dance at a techno club in town.  He would ask me to go dancing with him over and over again, and eventually I gave in.  (I love to dance, but, bar dancing has never really been my thing.)  Anyway, he was probably there 3-4 nights a week and knew the bartenders and DJs by name, so he felt that he was entitled to give them a little bit of constructive feedback.  Anytime that moment would happen where the DJ momentarily cuts out the thumping 4-on-the-floor bass drum to create a brief sense of stagnation and rest (and give people a chance to do their more interpretive hippie dances to the atmospheric music), my friend would run over the DJ booth and start yelling at them!  “Drop the $&%^ing bass!  Drop the $*#$ing bass!”  Eventually they gave in and the beat returned, and he would cheer and pump his fists and start dancing again.  Got to give the people what they want I guess…
Over the years I’ve been to enough dance parties to understand that a DJ can really make or break an evening.  Their control over the pacing, volume, and energy of the music guides dancers in and out of moments – shaping their experiences.  I think worship leaders and DJs have a lot in common since both are attempting to craft an experience with music.  Here are 5 things that I think worship leaders can learn from a good DJ:

1)    Good transitions are priceless – A good DJ will move you from one song into the next seamlessly.   If a DJ is really in control of their craft, you can dance for hours without noticing it.   There’s no break in the music and it all flows so smoothly together in way that matches the energy of the room…you find yourself in a totally new song or even genre of music, but you don’t now how you’ve gotten there. If they’re inexperienced or off their game, it can feel like a student driver with a manual transmission – every time you think you’re getting started, you stall out and have to start over.  Leading worship is the same way – we don’t want our community to be taken out of worship every time we change songs or move from a chorus into a bridge.  We want to have good, seamless transitions that move the church into new songs without stopping their momentum.
2)    Listen to your records – Good DJs spend hours listening to their records alone.  They want to know all their music inside and out, so that when the time comes to move to the next song, they have a mental catalogue to choose from.  This is how their transitions are so fluid – they’ve listened to their music enough to know what songs relate to each other and can play off of each other well.  Hopefully as worship leaders we have a vast and intimate knowledge of songs to choose from.  Nothing is more frustrating to me than finding a song on Monday that would have fit Sundays sermon perfectly had I not forgotten about that song the week before!
3)    Know when to drop the beat (sonic variety) – My friend the techno dancer may disagree with me on this one, but I believe that part of being a good DJ (and worship leader) is knowing how to create acoustic variety well, and use it effectively.  It quickly gets exhausting to dance at full intensity…maybe I can for a song or two, but that’s it.  Hopefully as worship leaders we’re intentionally creating variety to move people in to and out of the most intense and heightened spiritual  moments.
4)    Spontaneity – This is related to knowing your records well, but a great DJ recognizes where the energy level is at in a party, and can quickly adjust to cater to where people are at emotionally and physically.  In an age of planning center and pro presenter and hyper-planned liturgies, creating room for the Holy Spirit to move in your service can be really difficult and is easily the thing I struggle with most on this list…but I believe it’s important to try and develop a sensitivity to how the Spirit is moving in your community in a given moment and to respond to it.
5)    Mash Up – People love mash ups.  Two different songs that people love individually are smashed together into one new song.   It keeps the best parts of each old song, but re-invents them into something totally unique and fresh.  It seems very similar to the revitalization of old worship hymns right now, where groups are taking old melodies and words and finding new ways to refashion and refresh them.  Lyrically, these hymns are usually far more theologically rich and nuanced than a lot of our contemporary praise music, and the more we can find ways to breathe life into them and allow people to experience their richness in new ways the better.


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