Working with musicians is a tricky business. Working with church musicians is a particularly tricky business. And working with volunteer church musicians is an especially tricky business.
With personalities, experience levels, spiritual maturity, and a host of other factors all over the map, it takes a careful worship leader to find the right way to give his team enough leadership and direction to draw out their best, while not giving so much leadership and direction that he stifles the gifts and creativity that the members of his team bring to the table.
Here are some ways that you can stifle your team.
Be the mean parent
They’re late to rehearsal. Again. They clearly didn’t practice. At all. Be careful to respond with grace. Yes, deal with what needs to be dealt with, but if you’re a big meanie, you’ll work against yourself, you’ll develop a reputation for being no fun, and you’ll make your team nervous. A scowl at your drummer when he messes up will make him angry, not sorry.
Tell everyone exactly what to play
Yes, give musical direction. Yes, you make the final calls. Yes, arrange the songs like you want to. But don’t direct every single measure. Don’t make all the calls. Don’t arrange every second of every song. Give your instrumentalists and singers room to breathe, improvise, experiment, and worship. Give up a certain degree of quality control for the sake of letting your team members feel like you trust them.
Give them inaccurate music
A misplaced and/or wrong chord will take you 15 seconds to fix before you photocopy it ten times. But once it’s handed out, that one wrong chord will cost you a minute or two (or more) at rehearsal. And it will do more than that. If there’s a consistent pattern of you disseminating inaccurate music, you’re basically communicating a low standard of preparation. If you communicate that, then expect your musicians to take a deep breath and not bring their best to the game.
Embarrass them during the service
Your musicians don’t want to look stupid in front of the congregation. If you go on unrehearsed tangents, or call for an impromptu modulation, or treat an 8:30am service like it’s a stadium rock concert, then no one is going to want to volunteer to back you up.
Choose music that’s too easy for them
Musicians want to be challenged. If you have some gifted musicians on your team, then don’t stifle their creativity by playing it safe all the time.
Choose music that’s too complicated for them
Lead worship with the team that you have, not the team you wish you had. Choose songs that your team can pull off well. Adapt arrangements. Do what you can to bring out the best in your team, not to highlight their weaknesses.
Demand unreasonable hours
Keep rehearsals short. Start them and end them at times that work for the most people. (For example, we’re rehearsing at 8:00pm this coming Saturday to accommodate several dads on the team who will come after they’ve helped their wives put the kids to bed.) Avoid really early mornings. If you expect volunteer musicians to give you too many nights and mornings out of their week, they (and their families) might start to resent you.
Take everything really seriously
If every email, every interaction, every rehearsal, and every service with you is all-serious, all-the-time, then your team is going to have a hard time hitting the joyfulness button all of the sudden when the service starts. It’s hard to fake joy. It’s also hard to hide joy. Encourage a joyful atmosphere on your team, marked by laughter, and that sense of joy will make a difference on the platform.
Every worship team is different, made up of different people with different gifts. Yes, it’s an especially tricky business. But one of the jobs of a worship leader is to draw out, evaluate, and deploy the musical gifts of his or her team for the glory of God. Take care not to stifle the gifts that God has arranged.