Reader beware, I try to get real and a bit brutal with this one. As much as I hope these points are valuable, they are reminders for myself as well. I’m far from perfect with my worship team involvement. I won’t deny that I could certainly use a dose of my own thoughts at times.
Do You Prefer to listen? Check out the “8 Things to Remember on a Worship Team” Podcast!
8. Pay attention to the lyrics
One of the difficulties for me as a professional musician playing in a worship team is the shallow compositions that are contemporary worship songs. The hits tend to lack a genuine hook. They often tend to be another rendition of simple melody over 101 level chord progressions. More often than not, I see worship songs have terrible harmonic choices if they attempt to step outside the 1-4-5-6 bounds. Many even suffer from groove-violating placement of the changes.
It’s moments like this I think about my young students. They will have a blast writing their very own “songs” with my full support and confidence. Are their songs good? Not by a critical standard, they’ve just started their musical journey, that’s not the point at all. The point is that they learned how to explore note choice and how to fill a measure with their own rhythmic ideas. That alone means I think their “songs” are fantastic.
How does that pertain to worship music? It’s all about the mindset of finding deeper meaning in the music beyond the musical quality. I won’t spend precious music listening time on worship songs, just as I wouldn’t on my student’s experiments. Yet on Sunday mornings I’m happy to play guitar at church to songs that are written to glorify God. Unfortunately, not every song has well written lyrics, (“sloppy, wet kiss”… seriously?). We can’t be so grumpy about everything. There are stills countless hymns written by talented poets to make up for those out there that clearly did not take much thought.
The simplicity of the worship song is by design. Simple melodies are easy to sing to, while harmonic complexity can be confusing. The lyrics are where the power of the songs come from. Don’t lose sight of that for the flashy solos or your desire for something more musically interesting.
7. Get to know your team
Take time to personally connect with every single member of the worship team. All of them, no exceptions. If your ministry team is too big for you to spend time in fellowship with everyone working with you than things have gotten out of hand.
“Oh, but I’m in a mega church and the choir is 367 people and there’s 48 more in the orchestra! I think that bass player looks like he’d eat me if I got too close!!!” Well, have fun with that time distribution nightmare and also welcome to questionably overgrown organized religion.
As an introvert, I do not envy you. I don’t always have the social energy to get through normal adult life in the first place… Anyway, for those of you with a reasonably sized worship band, do you try making an excuse for ignoring them? My “extreme” example is quite realistic for hundreds of churches out there. Feel shame, much shame, shame on your cow. Honestly though, even if you aren’t the leader of the group or an introvert like me, you should make an effort to know your ministry peers.
For one, these are the people in the church you obviously have common ground with. Talk about an easy conversation starter! Find out why they’re on the team, their background learning music, what kind of music they listen enjoy, or maybe drop the shop talk and just ask about their week. As I said, I’m at a vampiric level of introversion, so I’m terrible at this one. But, it’s important. Very, very, important.c
6. Speak their Language
Not everyone made it through several music theory classes. So before you go on a rant about the music that makes sense to you and your experienced jam buddies, remember that the amateur volunteers are hearing “dominant 7 sharp 9 carry the 4 tax write off and what’s for lunch…”
Remember back in your studies how some of the most talented musicians around you couldn’t make sense of theory? As much as the language of musical analysis is common sense to you, it can be a legitimate struggle for some people. I am certainly an advocate for educating younger musicians in theory (I am a teacher after all) but Sunday morning rehearsals are not the appropriate time or place. If your ministry wishes to grow a large ensemble or take on a higher level of repertoire then you can consider organizing music theory workshops with your team so they are comfortable with moving forward.
5. Never point fingers
Nothing destroys a team quite like playing the blame-game. I do not care if the singers are dragging and struggling with harmony, the drummer keeps turning the beat around because he’s trying to twirl his sticks, and good ol’ Betsy Bo Johnson doesn’t know what in tarnation is happening unless she gets to play her hymns on her organ. There is no excuse for grumbling over the worship team. There isn’t an excuse for accusing people left and right without any attempt for patient instruction, either.
A rehearsal is intended for working out the kinks from a tune and you have to work with what you’ve got. Consider there’s a chance you’re overplaying the group and they simply do not have the experience to keep up. Playing simply all together will sound much better than you showing off while everyone else panics. There are moments skillful players carry the group in a tune, but this is typically a very small nuance of course-correcting the train away from a wreck. Especially if your group isn’t paid, you can’t expect studio musician quality from willing volunteers (who will become far less willing if you act like a jerk). Focus on the strengths of your team and don’t treat the weaknesses like faults so that you can enjoy growing together.
4. Keep it simple
No one cares that you memorized all of Lincoln Brewster’s solo from his albums buddy. Chances are your fellow musicians at the rehearsal are not even close to knowing what to do while you want to jam out. Let’s not even bother mentioning a worship set is far from the appropriate time for flashy solos (oops). Some churches do support the high-production concert level where flashy displays of musicianship don’t come off as awkward, but I tend to think it takes a whole lot more maturity for a musician to play with skillful reservation.
If you are playing with amateur instrumentalists then you’re going to have to play around their level or you’ll be leaving them in the dust (which just breeds resentment). Besides just helping to keep your group together, your responsibility is to worship leadership and not worship performance. How do you expect to share the experience of worship with the congregation if you’re too focused on pulling off a bossa-gospel arrangement for an overplayed Tomlin song? The answer is to stop trying so hard, check your heart, and relax. I promise the church is impressed with that playing you find so boring since it’s far under your actual level.
3. Some of us worship in different ways
My easiest example of this is that my time spent glorifying God is in offering my music to Him. I do participate in congregational worship, but my time of worship with the Lord is in playing Jazz. It’s unconventional for sure, but that is how my relationship with God works and I feel closest to Him when I’m offering my absolute musical best. “but that song is about the lovey dovey smoochy woochies! How can that be a Jesus song?” Hush and find your own way.
To be honest, I think I’d prefer to be content with worship from a service. I believe that the thoughts I’m putting into this list are helping with that, but I still end up distracted by the mediocrity of the music. My point is that you need to find a way to spend personal time glorifying God for the sake of your relationship with Him no matter what method you figure out for yourself. (1 Corinthians 10:31, in case this one was upsetting)
2. Don’t take it Personal
Obviously, everyone on your worship team deserves respect, and that includes you. Unfortunately, sometimes you may have a fellow musician or congregation member underestimate your level as a musician and talk down to you. Even though it’s rude of them to make assumptions about you, don’t be discouraged or let it offend you. Older musicians have a tendency to believe their age automatically makes them the best around and young musicians are ripe for the teachings. In some cases, said older musician has the chops for me to listen up. I’m always excited to learn from an experienced point of view. Other times, said older musician would benefit from the reverse. Don’t be afraid that someone younger might be more musically inclined.
Don’t take that as me bragging. Mentors have blessed me by cultivating my musical abilities, knowledge, and creativity to a professional performance level. I’ve had people come up to me, confused about my playing, asking how it seems so effortless getting through the worship set and how long I’ve been playing. Those are reasonable questions, but you’re probably familiar with the tone of question I’m talking about.
There’s an ounce of “you’re in a worship team, so naturally you must be an amateur/hobbyist” lying underneath. I’m not certain why there are people like this, but it’s almost like when Simon Cowell got a foot in the mouth for the way he acted in Susan Boyle’s audition. I could get triggered that they didn’t know I have a degree in jazz, play several instruments, regularly compose my own stuff, teach full-time, etc, etc, etc. Instead, it’s probably best to take it as a compliment. Remember where your heart should be in ministry, and try to get to know that person better.
1. It’s not about the music, it’s about glorifying God. That is all.
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