Is There Room for Developing Worship Artists?

1-developing-musicians

 By Dave Ray

Worship leaders, there’s a question that’s been gnawing at me for the last few years.  And it’s actually a part of my story.  Maybe your story is something like mine.

After taking piano lessons when I was a kid, I picked up a guitar when I was thirteen and taught myself to play my favorite songs by Audio Adrenaline, DC Talk, Newsboys and Jars of Clay.  When I was a freshman in high school my youth pastor asked me to lead worship for the youth group, and so every Sunday morning and Wednesday night I would lead a few songs while strumming on an old hollow body electric guitar – without an amp – while occasionally joined by a friend on an old drum set with heads that hadn’t been changed in years.  Let’s just say we had plenty of room for improvement.

Then my worship pastor began adding a few more “contemporary” songs to our Sunday morning services and asked me to play drums.  Now, let’s be clear.  I barely have enough coordination to keep a steady tempo using a handful of kick-snare patterns.  But drum fills?  All but the most basic are well beyond my skill level.  Put those things together, and I might have been the least imaginative drummer in worship music history.  I think I hold the record for most consecutive “ka-ka-boom” fills.  (That’s two snares and a tom, for those unfamiliar with the wildly unstandardized world of phonetic drum pronunciation.)

I also wore a headset mike (a la Phil Collins) and would contribute harmonies whenever the moment was right – which in my view was pretty much always.  I never met a third harmony part I didn’t love.  The problem was that I barely had enough mental capacity to keep the beat alive to begin with.  I could keep the beat OR I could sing in tune, but I couldn’t do both at once!

I know it wasn’t pretty.  I’m certain that I would cringe to watch video of myself at those stages of my musical development.  Thank goodness the iPhone hadn’t been invented yet.  But those years were also crucial to my musical and spiritual development.  I learned the responsibility of leadership from my youth pastor.  I learned how to serve the church from my worship pastor who, for all the years I was there, was never paid.  I learned to love a great harmony from our bass player, Karen.  And I learned faithfulness from my mom who played piano and keys and never missed a Sunday.

Now I serve as the worship pastor of a church that is much bigger and has far more resources than the church where I grew up.  Our worship team is a mixture of paid musicians and volunteers, all of whom are much better than I was in those early years.  And I wonder, would there have been a place for “high school me” in my worship ministry?

And that’s the question I have for you as a worship leader.  Where is the place for the developing musician in your ministry?  Is there a place in your ministry where someone can be bad?

Our job is not just to facilitate worship – which is important! – it’s to develop worshippers, and specifically, to develop the next generation of worship leaders, guitar players, singers and organists that will serve their churches in the decades to come.

I know of a number of churches doing that task well – they are mentoring their singers, discipling young worship leaders, and training musicians and media team members.  It’s hard, time-intensive work.

But others of us have lost sight of that priority.  I see churches cancelling children’s music programs and student ensembles, bringing in paid musicians to every worship service, and ditching their choirs, thereby eliminating the places where an ordinary musician can grow and learn and serve the church.  I see churches putting all their efforts into the production and quality of their worship events and foregoing the harder work of developing and discipling musicians and worship leaders.

And I get it.  All the hip, cool, sexy churches are slick with a capital S.  They make worship look like a rock concert.  And in all those incredible worship videos, with the auto-tuned vocals and overdubbed guitars and Beat-Detective-perfect drums, the camera on the giant boom never once sweeps across the surging crowd and zooms in on a teenaged drummer wearing a Phil Collins mike and trying to decide between singing that third harmony part or keeping the right tempo.

I don’t have it all figured out yet. But this question is a crucial part of my journey.  And it’s a foundational principle that I want our worship ministry to be built upon.  My only encouragement to you is to make this question a part of your journey, too.  Start doing the hard work of discipling and developing worshippers.  Figure out what works for your church and your ministry.

Buy headset mikes for all your drummers.

But don’t get so caught up in what is hip, cool and sexy that you miss the decidedly unhip, uncool, and unsexy teenager who needs to learn from you what it means to serve the church.

He just needs a place where he can be bad for a little while.


David Ray is a father of three, husband to Jess, who is the talented one in the marriage, and the Worship Pastor at Bear Creek Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.  The latest EP from Dave & Jess Ray, Goodness and Mercy, is available on iTunes and at daveandjessray.com.

 

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    5 comments on “Is There Room for Developing Worship Artists?

    1. Well said! Having been a team director at a church at the time of a new lead pastor’s arrival, I was told by this new pastor that as the church grew “we” were going to have to raise the bar and the team had to be the “best of the best” and we weren’t going to create opportunities to participate. Not much fun to think of a pastor following the offering plate and upon seeing someone put a $5 bill in, the pastor taking it out and handing it back while saying “We have a $100 minimum. Maybe the church down the street would take this.” Sadly, as you’ve described, that’s what many churches are doing to their artists. They preach that God qualifies the called but deny Him their facility as an equipping station.

    2. Absolutely, there should be room for developing musicians on our church worship teams!

      However, I don’t believe ALL the development should happen in the worship team setting.
      I’m a firm believer in people taking responsibility for their own musical growth as well — taking lessons, practicing at home regularly, etc. If they’re serious about developing their gift, they’ll be serious about doing it on their own as well as on the team.

      A lot of it really depends on what the person will be doing on the team: leading? singing? drums? lead instrument or “extra” instrument? At our church we have a higher musical standard for worship leaders, drummers, and any musicians on lead instruments than we do for backup singers, a 2nd acoustic guitar, etc.

      It’s worked well for us to put newer members (including the less experienced and newer musicians) with seasoned members on the same teams. For example, when we’re working on developing an inexperienced worship leader, I’ll always put him or her with more experienced back-up singers, a solid drummer and a solid piano player (normally our lead instrument). When we have a newer drummer, I’ll put him or her with an experienced worship leader. But I won’t take on a drummer who can’t keep a beat or a singer who just can’t sing on pitch (neither would we take on a talented, experienced musician who doesn’t have the right heart).

      While we don’t want a performance and aren’t after perfection, we also don’t want the other team members and people in the congregation distracted by obviously bad music (i.e., off pitch, off rhythm).

      We’re definitely more likely to take on an inexperienced and untrained team member if it’s clear he/she has a calling from God in music & worship. If it’s just someone who wants to be part of the team because it looks fun, but they can’t sing in tune—sorry, but there’s a better place for that person to serve somewhere else in the church.

      One of the best things I’ve ever read on this subject is from Bob Sorge’s book “The Green-Eyed Monster.” The book is about envy, but he devotes an entire chapter to worship teams (because of his background worship leading) and talks at length about making room for both “1-talent” and “5-talent” musicians on our worship teams. It doesn’t mean they’ll have equal time or equal jobs, but there can be room for both to participate.

      Thanks for your article, David! This is an important subject for worship teams if we’re serious about discipleship and community.

      • Thanks for your honesty. In the past, we had a middle school student who wanted to be like a Christian comedian/ song parody writer he had seen in concert. Now he wants to play the guitar and sing, but music is not his thing (and of course, he wants me to teach him). Evidently, someone in his life had convinced him that he can do it. I’m also convinced that he wants to do it for the attention, not worship (he wanted to do one of the comedy songs during worship…I told him we couldn’t do it during worship. Maybe during a “program” of some type, but not during worship.) Any suggestions on how to have a conversation with this person and lovingly tell them ‘music is not your thing’?

    3. Thank you for this article. I was the kid that played the piano when I was a teenager. I was stuck trying to figure it out. What a joy it would have been if I had been mentored. I did learn many things from those around me like the never missing a Sunday and being steadfast and faithful. However a little ‘training’ would have been greatly appreciated!

      Keep doing your best for God’s Kingdom! Bless you!

    4. We have a phrase in our worship department, “failing forward”. There has to be a place where someone can fall and then get back up, brush the dust off and than go for it again. Great learning comes from those experiences.

      Our church (a pretty large fellowship) has very high standards when it comes to our main services. With that said we have been very intentional for many, many years at seeking out those in our body who feel called to music ministry, to equipping and training them for service and then finding opportunity for them to grow to a place where they can meet the standards of our main services.

      We have a monthly meeting we call “The Musicians’ Network”. At that meeting we have a time of worship where seasoned team members serve alongside those who are just getting started, then we have a devotion from the Word geared towards Muso’s and then follow that with break out sessions for instruments, vocals and songwriting taught by the experienced team members. It’s a lot of work to organize each month but It’s been a really important part of our ministry and has helped us grow to be able to field the multiple teams that are required for our fellowship each Sunday.

      It’s one of my greatest joys in ministry to stand on the platform alongside people that our ministry has had a part in mentoring, seeing them blossom into leaders in our church. I’m thinking that from your article you feel the same way.

      Many blessings to you!

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