As a worship leader, I’m always trying to find a balance between musical excellence and worship-team involvement. Most would agree that we need some standard of musical ability. When your back-up vocalist can’t hold a pitch, it becomes very difficult to focus on worshiping God. But surely this can be, and often is, taken too far.
God deserves our best.
There’s been a lot of talk about being excellent for God. And this argument certainly has many valid points. Whatever one’s gifting—drumming, singing, songwriting, producing—one should use it to the best of their ability to bring glory to God. And not everyone can, or should, have a spot on the worship team.
But what about the benefits of getting people involved in music ministry, even if they’re not top-notch guitarists, vocalists, or sound engineers? I suppose this side of things gets less attention because its results are less immediate (developing a musician takes more time than producing a song) and it’s riskier (people are bound to make mistakes).
Worship is about people.
However, based on my experience leading worship teams and observing other worship ministries, I think this issue deserves more discussion. Among other things, worship ministry is a great way to get people involved in the church and set up mentorships. For those involved in leading worship, it’s very easy to get tunnel vision, where nailing the Sunday service becomes the dominating goal—if not the only goal. But leading a worship ministry presents much more potential than just leading the congregation in worship each Sunday.
First, worship ministry engages with people: musicians, vocalists, A/V technicians, church staff, the pastor, etc. These relationships are all ministry opportunities. Worship leaders, who often oversee teams of people at very different places in their faith, have abundant opportunities to mentor, teach, encourage, correct, etc. Depending on how your church is set up, worship team rehearsal might be the only real interaction with other Christians that some people get. We ought not let our commitment to Sunday morning excellence cause us to neglect the people we work with on a weekly basis, with all their hurts, questions, pains, and confusions.
Second, worship ministry provides a great environment for mentorships. Connecting a younger, less experienced drummer, for example, with an older, more experienced drummer can be a great opportunity for both musical and spiritual mentoring to happen. Younger members can feel valued and connected, while also having a means to develop their abilities, and more experienced members can realize that they have more than musical abilities to offer. Viewing your veteran worship team members as mentors is one reason to keep a system that allows for those still developing to get involved.
Mentors make balance possible.
In addition to relationship building outside of Sunday morning, are there benefits to approaching the Sunday service as a chance to get people involved? Can you pursue artistic excellence, while cultivating an environment that gives people opportunities to shine, knowing that they will sometimes fail?
Say you have a Lincoln Brewster-esque guitar player, and you have another guy who’s just starting to learn lead. You could have Lincoln play every week until the other guy can pull off more lead stuff. Or you can simplify some songs—have another instrument play the lead part or arrange the song without it—and give the other player a chance to play in a live setting and feel valued. Time and again, I have seen the second option be the catalyst for both spiritual and musical growth in a team member.
Now this will certainly look different depending on the size of your church—the standards for participating in a service will most likely be higher at a church of 5,000 than a church of 200. But I know the pressure that worship leaders feel—from themselves and others—to put together a service each week that is musically and technically excellent. And I know that this focus can often push other important ministry opportunities to the side.
This is not to discount the value of creating music that is excellent. Much has been said about that, and it’s worth meditating on. But like any good thing, I believe it’s possible to be so single minded in our pursuit of excellence that we neglect other valuable and God-honoring concerns.
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