Shakespeare once wrote that, “All the world’s a stage.” Since the invention of YouTube, that has never been more true. We can broadcast anything we want at any time we want.
For worship leaders, this can be a powerful tool to equip the broader Church, or learn from the broader Church. Song stories can help us gain clarity on the theology behind particular songs. Instructional videos can help us to carry out our calling with a higher level of skill and effectiveness than we might have been able to even 5 years ago.
Yet there is a darker side to this worldwide stage that appeals to our self-centered sin nature. As with any stage performance, people can either shower with applause or throw rotten tomatoes. When we broadcast our musical flaws and faults in living color, we better prepare for the latter.
Last year, the world erupted over the video of a young worship leader singing “Oceans” with her double-kick fill-heavy drummer. It spread like wild fire. For days my social media feeds were flooded with people posting this video accompanied by snarky banter.
I confess that I too watched it and could not help but laugh, but the first thing my wife (AKA my wise, compassionate help-mate from God) cautioned me with was, “Do not post that video. This poor girl is going to be heart-broken by how people are reacting to this.”
She was right. Someone trying to encourage the church with a song was greeted with ruthless dehumanization. Within hours, the video was taken down. But not before a few could rip it and repost in order to build a platform at their expense. I do not know the people in that video, but I can only imagine how betrayed they must feel.
Yet this situation brings the much-debated topic of excellence in worship music to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Excellence is not foreign to us. It is engrained in us. We hold people to high standards in every other area of life. Why should musical worship leadership be the exception?
I would never want a doctor who had insufficient medical knowledge. Similarly, I would never want an accountant working on my taxes if he knew nothing about money or tax law. I would never want someone to build my house if they were terrible at construction. Luckily there are high standards in the medical, financial, and construction communities – a bar that one must reach before he is able to legally practice.
I would love to think that the people in our churches are mature enough to look beyond poor musicianship and easily focus their heart’s affection and mind’s attention on the beauty and majesty of God. But our hearts are easily distracted. Our sin nature would rather laugh at poor musicianship than stand in awe of a holy God.
Part of us will always struggle to get through cringe-worthy moments in corporate worship – until we are worshiping in glory, where sour notes and distasteful rhythms are no more.
It is not loving anyone well to allow unqualified people to serve the church as musicians. Not only will it NOT edify the church, but it may in fact bring ridicule upon the musician who is trying to serve.
While this may look different in various churches based on style, age range, budget, and more, it is important to set a baseline of excellence in our church ministry teams that guides all of our decisions; boundaries and guidelines to steer our teams toward being the best version of themselves possible by the grace of God.
Doubtless those guidelines will be tested and resisted by those in our churches who feel it is their calling to serve the Lord and the church in this way. But this is where everything rises and falls on leadership.
It is the leader’s job to help confirm the calling of those seeking to serve. A leader calls out the greatness in people that they never knew they had, and helps to redirect people’s passions when they are misplaced in areas they are not gifted – not in a domineering or dictatorial way, but humbly and gently.
We have all watched the tryouts phase of American Idol. Since William Hung’s debut in Season 3, each year more and more of the… shall we say, “less than great” auditions have been featured. For every great audition, there are six or so terrible ones. Some are obviously staged for the sake of getting on television. Others genuinely believe they are the epitome of greatness and the judges just don’t understand.
All the while, everyone at home is asking, “How has no one ever told her that she is THAT bad? Did no one love these people enough to tell them singing was not their forte? That they should get another hobby?”
Many worship leaders can easily identify lack of excellence on their televisions, but in an effort to be kind and encouraging, end up letting highly under-qualified musicians on their team. When these musicians do badly, they are told “great job.” No one ever calls out the greatness in them, challenges them to work hard and get better, or helps redirect their passions to serve the church in a more helpful way.
Our job is to equip the saints for the work of ministry; to set a high bar and then help them reach it. Part of that means caring enough to tell them the truth in love – being honest about the areas they need to grow and improve, forthcoming with realistic expectations they will need to meet before they are allowed to lead worship with their instruments or voices, or simply saying, “Sorry, I can’t affirm that God has gifted you in this way, but let me help you find where he has gifted you.”
You can not force people to respond to your leadership humbly or reasonably, but how they respond will reveal their character. If they leave the church, throw a fit, or start a smear campaign, then you didn’t want them on your team anyway. Excellence in character matters even more than excellence in talent.
This does not have to mean that your church has all paid musicians or that you can hold your own with the mega production churches who make their own records. It might just mean simplifying and using only an acoustic guitar because your drummer and electric guitar player are not yet qualified enough to lead. It might mean you have to sing all the songs by yourself because no one else can sing on pitch. It might mean bringing in someone to come and workshop with your team to help them all collectively improve.
I am not trying to prescribe what excellence has to look like in your context. It will look different for every church. But ask yourself as a leader and as a church are you doing the best you possibly can to glorify God and edify his church – all excuses aside.
Are you working hard to produce a return on the investment that Christ made in you? Are you stewarding the talents and hearts of those in your midst that you might lead your people effectively – free of distractions with a level of beauty that speaks well of the ultimate Artist?
It’s not okay for us to tear down fellow Christians who are trying to serve their church. If we were on the other side (as most of us have been at some point in our life), we would want someone to quietly come along side us to help us grow. If that’s what we would want, how much more so should we set an example of leadership by doing that for those who are serving in our church.
Let’s strive to be clear and consistent in communicating our expectations and standards of excellence, and help our teams grow in ways that honor God and build up his people.
No more casualties…