How to Handle the Tambourine Lady

I met her when I was 15 years old and living in Panama City, Florida. My dad was pastoring a small Episcopal church, and my family had been there for about a year and a half.

I had been leading at our youth ministry’s weekly services, a couple of songs for the Sunday morning service, and songs at other events ocassionally.

This particular event was one of a series of summertime mid-week services held in the chapel, with an extended time of singing at the beginning, followed by a teaching. I had just started Paul Baloche’s new (at that time) song “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord”, when she came in the back door with her tambourine swinging.

I was really young and had not been leading worship for very long. I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t believe this was happening – and from the looks on the faces of the people in the congregation – they couldn’t either.

The tambourine is one of those instruments that either has to be played really well, or hidden deep inside a closet where no one would ever think to look. You know what I mean.

In this instance, it was not being played well. Honestly, it was being played horrendously poorly. That’s probably too kind of a definition. It wasn’t being played at all. It was being used as a weapon of mass distraction. That’s more like it. A bit cheesy but accurate.

No one had taught me what to do in this situation. None of the conferences I had attended had offered seminars on “what to do with the tambourine lady”. The worship leading books had all conveniently left this chapter out. And YouTube didn’t even exist yet, so I couldn’t log on and watch Paul Baloche’s instructional video on the topic.

So I would like to offer some tips on what do when you’re leading worship and all of the sudden a woman walks into the back of the room with her own personal tambourine. I call them the “AAA’s”.

Do a quick damage assessment of the congregation. What percentage seems to be distracted and disturbed? Has everyone noticed? Do they not even care? Are they about to stage a tambourine revolt and kick her out of the room? The extent of the damage will affect your next move.

If the tambourine “playing” seems to have distracted every single person in the room, you might want to think about skipping your fast songs and singing some slow songs. Really slow songs. Odds are (you hope – and pray) that the slow tempo will mean no more tambourine. Or you may just need to keep going on as you had planned.

In all seriousness, when a disruption like this happens, just relax, pray a quick prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and then make the decision that you feel is best. You may very well need to adjust your leading somehow.

Approach (and ask)
Seek the tambourine lady out after the service at all costs. If you can’t find her, call her. If you can’t call her, email her. If you can’t email her, drive to her house. If she doesn’t have a house, put an ad in the local paper. Somehow you have to talk with this person – with your pastor, ideally.

What you want to do is approach her, thank her for her desire to worship God with the tambourine, and ask her if she would like to come to an audition.

If she says no, then you can ask if she would refrain from playing during a service since the other musicians who are up front all rehearse together.

If she says yes, I would be surprised, but you’d need to set up a time to meet with her and audition her, and then be honest with her. (See my post on how to be honest with unskilled musicians who audition for worship teams.)

You may never meet the tambourine lady, but I have heard that she has a habit of showing up at most churches at one point or another.

If you do have the privilege of meeting her, please tell her I said hi.

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