Before I get started in this blog, I thought I’d briefly go over my experiences which may, in turn, help to explain where I’m coming from in terms of this discussion. I’ve been an active musician for almost 20 years now. I’ve probably been in a dozen or so bands or groups, and I’ve played a wide variety of music, but I’d have to say 99% of it has been Christian-based music (I’m leaving a 1% margin of error here). I’ve probably recorded a dozen or so CDs and countless demos. I’ve played clubs, driveways, garages, stages, colleges, back decks, and even to a packed house at Carowind’s Paladium (in front of 10k people). I’ve had the experience of being a touring musician, and at one time, I was in a group that did about 65 shows in 11 weeks all over the state of NC, and I’ve traveled to most, if not all, of the states that border NC…and many of the states that border those as well. I’ve worked with a couple of independent record labels, and I’ve gotten to open for artists that were, at one time or another, fairly popular in the Christian music industry (in the mid/late 1990s) in addition to working with a Grammy-nominated producer (if you really want to know all of the “who” and “where,” just shoot me an email or come over and hang out for a while. Just call first. :-) ). In addition, I was once a co-host for a radio show at WBFJ in Winston-Salem. I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything terribly great in terms of playing music; however, I do felt like I’ve had some experience. In short, I have more experience than most, but not as much as some, and I definitely learn more as time moves on.
All while I was doing these things, I’ve also been a part of a small handful of praise and worship teams. I’ve also been a part of two worship teams at one time (I guess I’m a glutton for punishment), and at my previous church, I played worship music for about 10 years. All of these things bring me to where I am today, playing at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. I’ve been playing at MPBC for about 2.5 years now, and I really do love it. In the past few years, I’ve given up pretty much any music outside of church because, well, having three kids, a mortgage, and a commute tends to slow a man down – no matter how much he loves playing.
So, why did I take the time to write all of this? I feel in order to give my synopsis, it’s oftentimes helpful for readers to know where I’ve been; therefore, you may better understand why I say what I say.
I’m not a fan of semantics, especially in terms of spiritual matters, so I’ll try to be as matter-of-fact as possible when explaining some pretty abstract ideas, which brings us to the question at hand: When it comes to worship music and being in a worship band, is it a “Show” or is it “Worship,” and how does one balance it in the right direction?
Boy, this is a question that I’ve struggled with for many years of my spiritual journey. I think what makes this such a difficult topic is that what some people may experience as worship, others may consider it more of a “show.” In order to explore this topic, I think that it is only fair to look at show/worship debate from both parties: the worship team itself and the congregation. I will begin with the latter.
If you’ve ever been to our church, just look around: On and around the stage, we have a very decent lighting rig, drums, a few guitars, and a couple of keyboards. What you may or may not notice are the speakers that are in front of the stage in addition to others mounted on the ceiling. The Reach Center is relatively dark without artificial lighting. During our worship time, the folks that are in charge of lighting darken the room, light the stage throughout the music set, then bring the lights back up as Kevin begins to speak while the sound crew works diligently to meet the needs of the congregation in addition to singers and musicians. I don’t really feel like I’m doing these volunteers justice by briefly writing about what they do because they are integral parts of the worship team that no one ever sees or notices, and yet, they are so vital. What’s the purpose of doing this? Is it to make it like a “show”? The answer is no. These people work hard to enhance the congregation’s worship experience. The lights are not brought down in the congregation so that the stage full of singers and instrumentalists will be illuminated better. One reason in behind the lights being brought down is for the congregation to limit distraction, so that they can focus on their own worship. Is it 100% necessary to do this to worship? No. Just like it’s not 100% necessary to pray in a quiet, distraction-free place…but it sure helps. Worship through lighting and sound is not about making it a show. We do these things to enhance your worship experience.
In terms of the musicians’ point of view, it’s a tricky balance that both singers and musicians alike need to take into consideration every time we get in front of the congregation. Playing music on a worship team is much different than playing music elsewhere, especially in terms of playing with a band or a group; therefore, the approach to even joining or being a part of a worship team is totally different than anything that I have ever experienced in that it goes against the grain of the very nature of a musician.
Let me explain. Active musicians love to perform. Ones that love to perform REALLY love performing for an audience in order to showcase their talents and gifts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this aspect of performing. Also, part of performing for an audience is not only showcasing one’s talent; it is also receiving accolades from others, be it from the fellow musicians who share the stage with them or from members of the audience. Musicians are there to entertain, to put on a show of sorts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and performing can work wonders for a person’s confidence and self-esteem.
With that said, being a part of a worship team is much different in that the purpose is almost the polar opposite of just playing music for a group of people. In the above scenario, the primary purpose is to entertain, or to put on a “show” per se. While there may be a somewhat “entertainment” element to it, that’s not the purpose of being a part of a worship team. Being part of this team is all about leading others to Him. It’s not about the musicians or their skills and abilities. It’s about Jesus, and Him alone. This is the exact opposite of the previously-written scenario. In essence, if a person is wishing to join a worship team in order to showcase his or her talent, he/she is in the wrong place. A worship team’s purpose is to lead people in worship, not to promote a “shining star” or two. Or three. Consider this: Psalm 33:3 talks about playing skillfully. I’ve been involved in worship music long enough to learn what skillfully means and what it does not mean. In terms of playing worship music, consider the following:
Playing skillfully is NOT being able to blast through scales and solos at the drop of a hat.
Playing skillfully is NOT about playing louder, faster, and more complex than anyone else.
However considering worship music, think of these things:
Playing skillfully IS being able to blast through scales and solos at the drop of a hat and yet choosing not to because it’s not what’s called for in the music and chances are, it would be a distraction for those who are worshiping.
Playing skillfully IS about able playing louder, faster, and more complex but consciously choosing not to because it may actually hinder others from worshipping.
Confession: When I was younger, playing worship music used to drive me absolutely insane because I felt like I was being “held back” in many ways. Here I was, playing in whatever band, traveling to God-knows-where on weekends to open for XYZ artist trying to “make it” playing music. I was going through drum heads and sticks each week from playing so heavy, fast, and loud. I was having a great time playing with some of my best friends. While I was travelling all over the place playing as much as humanly possible all under the label of being a “Christian band” and “ministry,” I often wonder how much I actually did it for my own glory.
Ecclesiastes 2:11 – “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
Matthew 6:1-7 - “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
These verses are terribly humbling as I think back.
While I realize that this may be a very limited audience that that can relate, I thought I’d throw this out there anyway: If you are the kind of musician that struggles with these aspects of worship music, don’t be discouraged. Start a band or a group of your own. Go out and play as loud and as fast or as busy as you want. Play an offertory at church every now and then. If you want to be in the spotlight, go do it! Learn crazy solos. Travel and have adventures in the name of music. Go see and be seen. Open for bands, and get to know folks by their first names. Record your work. Network with others. Practice your jazz scales. Learn incredibly difficult music. Listen to good music that makes you want to play and be better. Go out and play, and for gosh sakes, have fun! I’m all about learning more and more about this craft.
With that said, if you are a current worship team member or a potential worship team member, here are just a few words of advice that I’ve learned from experience:
- If you can’t smile, don’t be on a worship team.
- If you feel in your heart of hearts that you are way underused in your talents and your abilities, I hate to sound harsh, but get over yourself. Some songs will only require you to play just a handful of notes per song, and this is ok. As a drummer, we have several songs where I simply keep time for 3 minutes of a 4 minute song, and I’m perfectly ok with this. I use it as an opportunity to watch our congregation worship with all of their hearts, and it’s pretty amazing.
- Just because you can play an instrument does not mean that you should play an instrument on the worship team. For example, I’ve been playing hammered dulcimer for about 6 years now, and I have 4 hammered dulcimer CDs that I’ve self-published. Just because I can play this instrument, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to be playing this instrument every Sunday with the worship team. As a matter of fact, we’ve only tried it once for a couple of practices, and it just never worked. If it doesn’t work out, don’t worry about it. Just know that not every Sunday will require your amazing skills on the glockenspiel.
- If you can smile, play an instrument that we use pretty often, take direction, handle criticism, practice until anywhere between 9:30pm and 11:00pm on Wednesday nights, get to church at 7:45am on Sundays, and rarely be complimented on your musical ability without an incredible amount of sarcasm, you might just be fit to play on a worship team.
To sum up, playing on a worship band is much different and requires a much different attitude and approach. It’s not about “the show” or what’s been dubbed as “worship-tainment.” A worship musician’s work is to guide a congregation closer to the Creator, not to elevate oneself which can go against the very nature that drives musicians to play in the first place. It’s a balance that we worship musicians must learn, and hopefully, we’ll get better at it as time moves on.
Thanks and God bless,