It’s always so encouraging to see an email in my inbox with something like “awesome service this morning” or “when are you going to record a CD?” in the subject line. Someone has actually taken the time to sit down to let me know that they appreciate me. It makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel like I’m doing a good job. I love those kinds of emails.
Conversely, I always take a deep breath when I see an email in my inbox with something like “suggestions for you” or “can we talk?” as the subject line. Someone isn’t terribly happy and they want me to know about it. It makes me nervous. It makes me feel tense. And if I’m honest, it makes me a little angry.
No worship leader enjoys criticism. We all wish that every email could be affirming and that every comment could be congratulatory. However, if we never receive criticism, or if we haven’t received any lately, then we aren’t growing.
When I look back over my worship leading “career” (it feels weird to call it a career), from high school, through college, a volunteer, a part-timer, and now a full-timer, the times I have been most forced to get out of ruts, to break out of bad habits, and to step out of comfort zones have been when I’ve received criticism. Most worship leaders I know say the same thing. Somewhere along the way, when they were happy as could be, a critic came along and mentioned some way they thought the worship leader could grow. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a “you’re awesome!” email. It was hard. But it was good in the long run.
Not all criticism is helpful, because not all people are healthy. You know this. Your church is made up of sinners (including you). Sometimes you’ll receive criticism you’ll need to ignore. Aren’t you glad we have the Holy Spirit to help us discern what is truth and what isn’t?
But don’t be so quick to ignore criticism. If you really want to grow as a worship leader – whether in leading a band, choosing songs, leading a congregation, working with volunteers, your musical skill, your “stage-presence”, praying out loud, exhorting the congregation, etc. – then you’re going to have to allow yourself to receive criticism.
Some people are bold enough to approach you, either in person or via email, to share an observation with you. If you can, thank them for coming to you. But other people aren’t so bold. They’re afraid they’ll come across wrongly. They appreciate you and don’t want to make you think they don’t. They think that all you hear is criticism. These people might be your colleagues, your worship team members, your friends at your church, or your own family. Maybe you could think about asking them from time to time if there’s anything in particular that they think you could grow in.
I had one of these difficult conversations a little under three months ago. It was hard, I was defensive, I was a bit surprised, and I didn’t really enjoy it. But I’ve grown since then, in small ways, but I’ve grown. I’m grateful for the criticism that God allowed me to hear in order to help me become a bit more mature. No worship leader can grow without hearing criticism, and the good news and bad news is that this includes you!