Worship 101: The Worship Team
Happy New Year!
I truly believe that 2017 is going to be a great year. The Seminary of Hard Knocks podcast is still going strong and I have plans to expand my coaching services this year too!
Now that Christmas is over, churches are getting ready for the longest stretch of familiar routine in the calendar year. By the way, are you thinking about Easter yet?
Listening to the chatter on social media platforms and talking to friends in ministry, I believe that worship is always going to be a point of contention in the modern church. It’s so personal yet so abstract. Finding any two people who agree on what it should look like is like finding a person who thinks 2016 wasn’t a year that aging celebrities should have feared.
On the first Monday of the month for a while, I’m going to tackle some of the common questions surrounding worship in the modern setting. I know that there will be people who disagree with me on this. That’s ok with me. I’m still learning too.
This week, let’s talk about those who you put on your stage to lead your people in worship each week. How do you audition them? What qualifications should they have? How good should they be? Should you hire them or find volunteers?
I think you can find an awesome worship team if you look at their testimony, talent, time, and Teachability.
Let’s say I hire someone to train me to be a karate master just like Chuck Norris. That person comes over once a week and leads me through exercises in Karate and I become very good at what he has trained me. One day, in casual conversation, I discover that this trainer has never heard of Chuck Norris, nor studied his style of combat.
How can a person teach me to roundhouse kick like Chuck when he’s never witnessed a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick of doom?
The same goes for your worship team.
It has become a practice of some to hire non-Christian musicians to play in the band and lead worship on Sunday mornings. I think this practice is unbiblical and wrong and completely misses the point of what is (should be) taking place on Sunday morning during the music.
That’s why every worship team member should be able to articulate a testimony of how they met Jesus. Just like any teacher you place in a class to teach students or children, the qualification should be the same for the band member and especially the worship leader.
This time in your service is powerful for teaching theology and faith practice and cannot be done well by those who do not know Christ. They might be able to shred an 80’s hair band solo like Eddie Van Halen, but what takes people to the throne room of God is authenticity and trust.
That being said, you can’t just put anyone on stage. There’s a reason for the height requirements at theme parks. If you get on the ride and are below the line, there’s a chance you could fly off or be seriously injured.
I think churches can either raise up volunteers or hire musicians that you are lacking, depending on what you need. But if you’re going to use volunteers, there has to be some sort of “must be this good to play” standard. I would suggest, though, that it isn’t as high as some churches make it. Making the bar too high weeds out the worship leader’s ability to disciple and teach others, his primary calling.
So, auditioning is a good thing. I never really liked the big “everybody meet after church for pizza and criticism” type of auditions. I prefer to audition one at a time when they are ready to audition. I would tell prospective student band members to stay after church one Wednesday night and to come prepared to sing or play any song of their choosing. I wanted to see their initiative, work ethic, and talent all at once by putting the burden of auditioning on them.
I’ve also told students before that they just aren’t ready for the stage. They were either tone deaf or could barely strum out 2 chords (and we used all 4 of the chords). It’s hard to say to them, but there is a point that it can be a huge distraction on the stage. Plus, no one likes to have their time wasted.
I could have put them on stage, turned them off in the house, and let them make sounds dying cat sounds, but eventually they would have found out it could have crused their spirit. I’d rather just be honest with them up front, whether their ego can take it or not.
I’m not suggesting that we just send them packing. Send them off to practice, though. Get them a teacher or work with them yourself. Find out if there is another capacity in which they can serve on the team until they reach the minimum skill standard. Sending them off to practice can be a good indicator of how serious they are about playing.
If they won’t practice to make the team, there’s a good chance they won’t practice while on the team, either.
Sometimes, leaders have to make decisions for those who can’t or won’t make the right decision for themselves. Those who are involved in way too much may come to you and request an audition for the band. It is your duty to be very up front with them about the time requirements, and even saying “no” when you are confident that the time requirements will consistently be a problem.
How much will they need to practice? When is rehearsal? What time do they have to get there on Sunday? Making the time requirements clear at the beginning helps them to get the vision quicker and join the rhythm of the team with greater ease.
Perhaps they are struggling with their marriage at home or a health issue and are using the worship team as an excuse for not dealing with it. That’s why relationships are paramount to a quality ministry to your worship team.
I once had a student on my worship team that constantly tried to undermine my decisions. There were times that she would openly defy me during practice and try to lead others to do the same. Eventually, I had to ask her to step off of the worship team. Dismissing a volunteer is tough, but sometimes it’s best for the team and must be done.
I call it “Teachability” because it’s an attitude that says “I’m here to learn what I can about God, myself, and others while serving in this situation.” It goes beyond simply “being likable,” and is an attitude that can do things a little different than what they’re used to or comfortable with for the sake of the whole.
It is the job of the worship leader and pastors to direct and make final decisions. Watch out for the ones who complain about how you do things to the rest of the band and roll their eyes when you’re not looking in practice. They are toxic and will spread dissent throughout your team.
The kind of person you want is someone who might know more than you, but genuinely sees their role as a service to God. They play guitar because God deserves our talents. They sing to give praise to God because he blessed them with a voice. Those who think the “whole thing would fall apart without me” are the ones who need to see proof right away how that is not the case.
To find out how teachable someone is, I will usually ask them to tell me about a time that they were wrong or wronged someone and how they reconciled the situation. If they can’t think of one, that’s a red flag.
Look for the story that goes like this: I thought I was right, I made a mistake, then I apologized to them and owned my faults.
That’s a person whom you can work with and they are much more valuable on your worship team than the guy who can just play the heck out of the drums.
What else do you look for in a worship team member? Sound off in the comments!