This past Wednesday night we had the first “musicians gathering” at my church since I arrived 15 months ago. All of the different instrumentalists and singers who serve at our morning and/or evening services were invited, to what I intend to be the first in a regular/monthly series of get-togethers aimed at community-building, vision-casting, encouragement, and worship-culture shaping.
After munching on cookies and chips and salsa (the evening snack combo of champions), a rousing game of worship song charades, and a time of singing, I shared why we were all coming together like this. It’s definitely not because we all need more meetings, or more things to do, or more obligations. We’re coming together as worship leaders (I intentionally use that term broadly to include everyone who has a musical/audio/leadership role in a service) so that we can become a body.
In my experience with worship teams (either as a member or a leader of one), and in my observations of the worship leading landscape these days, there seem to be four different types of worship teams. Four ways you can go. Four approaches to how to structure, view, and lead a team.
The first type of worship team is just filling slots.
You need a guitarist? Tom is your guitarist. You need another guitarist? Oh, now you have Frank as another guitarist. And this month you need to find another singer to fill a slot. Let’s ask Sally to fill that slot. What about a drummer for the third weekend of the month? That would be Brian’s slot. He’ll be the drummer.
In this type of worship team, its members are names in Planning Center, their contribution is to fill musical slots, and the worship leader’s job is to fill all the slots so that he can have what he needs. If Tom decides to leave the church, nobody on the team really knows or cares, because you just replace him with Andy. Or if your drummer Brian breaks his arm and can’t play drums, the team isn’t really concerned for Brian, but more concerned that they get another drummer to fill Brian’s slot.
No one is being particularly built up, or connected, or encouraged, or cared for. Everyone is a name on a schedule.
The second type of worship team is a band.
You choose a name. You have a lead singer. You have backup singers. You have band members who all look really angry. You tour. You record. You perform. You have photo shoots. You’re cool.
In this type of worship team, the members are mini-celebrities, and the worship leader is the chief-celebrity, who stands about one foot in front of the rest of the band in the photo shoot. When new or less-skilled musicians join your church, their only hope of being involved in the band is if they somehow reach that high bar and wear the right kind of clothes.
This kind of worship team is difficult for the average musician to be a part of. And it’s a challenge to maintain over the long-haul, as members leave, or the budget dries up, or a decade passes and musical fads pass you by.
The third type of worship team is a caste/echelon-system.
There are upper echelons: playing and/or singing in Sunday services. There are middle echelons: youth ministry, retreats, young adults. And there are lower echelons: children’s ministry, seniors, or home groups.
In this type of worship team, members are always trying to climb to the top. Even if it means pushing someone down to get there.
When a more strongly gifted musician joins the church, other musicians are threatened, and have to protect their place in their echelon. Members in the lower echelons don’t believe their gifts matter or are appreciated. And the worship leader is constantly managing egos, dealing with hurt feelings, avoiding giving honest assessment and placement of gifts in the team, and potentially making or breaking someone’s identity simply based on where he schedules people.
The fourth and final type of worship team is a body. And Paul paints a picture of it in 1 Corinthians 12.
To summarize: In a body, there are varieties of gifts and service, but the same Lord. There are different gifts given by the Spirit, but all empowered by that same Spirit. It’s one body, with many members. The different members (like feet and hands) need each other. The different members (like ears and eyes) belong to each other. God arranges the members as he chooses. The weaker members are indispensable. Honor is bestowed upon one another. There is no division. When one member suffers, all suffer. And when one member is honored, all rejoice together.
That’s the kind of worship team I want to build!
But in my first 15 months at Truro, I’ve been filling slots. I’ve been the new guy, getting a lay of the land, getting to know people, auditioning people, orienting myself, plugging holes, and trying to get through all of the major ups and downs that a ministry year contains. And that’s all I could do. But it’s not a long-term ministry model.
I’m not interested (and I know the musicians at my church aren’t either) in just filling slots. Or building a band with a brand. Or managing a caste/echelon system and all of the egos and politics and territories that come with it. That sounds miserable to me. Because it is!
Helping build (and build up) a body is the way to go. It’s a worship team model that will endure.
I would argue that this is the model that will last the longest, include the widest spectrum of ages/experience levels/skill levels, allow for an easier on-ramp for new and/or weaker members, be more sustainable by the congregation itself, last after a worship leader leaves and hands the baton to someone else, and have the kind of spiritual and organizational health that will model something beautiful, humble, and Christ-centered from the platform.
Random musical feet and hands and eyes in a congregation won’t just magically coalesce into the shape of a body like a weird sci-fi movie. God arranges the members, the Spirit empowers the members, and good pastors (and worship leaders) help the Spirit-empowered and God-arranged members function as a healthy body in the way that God designed for the glory of Jesus and the edification of his Church.
Worship leaders: let’s all commit to doing what we can to foster a community of worship leaders at our churches that functions like a body. It’s not always the easiest or most glamorous way to go, but it’s the most fruitful.