A Heads-Up Before Auditions

1Meeting with potential singers and/or instrumentalists for auditions is always something I look forward to, but it’s also something that carries potential risks for awkwardness if the person I’m meeting with is under the impression that they have a musical gift (when in reality they don’t), or if they think they’ll definitely be given an up-front role (when in reality they might not).

I’ve found that once someone has indicated an interest in singing and/or playing on a team, and I’ve arranged a time to meet with them, communicating in advance the possible outcomes from the meeting is helpful.

A few weeks ago I sent the following brief explanation to an interested musician at my church:

First, thank you for your willingness to explore using your voice to serve this congregation. I’m grateful!

Secondly, please relax and be yourself, and don’t worry about anything.

Third, please think of 2 or 3 worship songs that you love, and come ready to sing those (advance notice of which songs would be great). Let me know a good key for you. Bring lyrics, either printed out or just on your phone.

Fourth, it’s my job to listen well to your voice, and then to prayerfully discern what I think God might be intending for your musical gifts. Usually one of three options will be obvious: (Option A) Your voice is well-suited for group singing, namely in our choir. (Option B) Your voice is well suited for singing on a mic, either on Sunday mornings or Sunday nights, or at things like Alpha, or occasional events. (Option C) Your voice could work in one of the previously mentioned applications, but I suggest singing lessons. (Option D) Your voice has been given to you to praise God from within the congregation, but not in a public setting, so let’s think about another place where you could serve the church.

I always tell singers (and musicians) before I hear them sing (or play), that the number one thing to remember is that their musical giftedness level has absolutely nothing to do with their worth as a person, or their place in the church. The good news of the gospel is that we’re covered, we’re loved, we’re accepted, and we’re free to be good at some things, not-good at other things, and bad at other things 🙂


It’s a lot to send someone before an audition, but I’ve learned through experience that it lays a foundation for things to go a lot more smoothly.

Worship Team Mechanics: Auditioning

I want to spend a few posts this week on issues that worship leaders face with growing, managing, and maintaining their worship teams. Whether you’re in a small church with only a handful of musicians or a large church with a bunch of them, it’s important that you have a clear and thought-through process for how to steward the gifts and people that God brings before you.

I am not the expert of any of this. I am still learning, still making mistakes, and still trying different approaches. But I hope that some of what I say will be helpful. Today we’ll look at how to audition people well.

Why audition?
God gives different people different gifts. No two people are the same. Every church is made up of different people with different gifts for different purposes. If you’re a worship leader in a church, one of your roles is to steward these gifts, and help people with musical gifts discern how and if they are called to serve the congregation.

Set dates
I used to say that if people were interested in exploring serving on the worship team, they should email me. I’d then set up a time to meet with them. The problem with this was that I might have 5 or 6 different people all wanting to meet on different days and at different times. It was unmanageable. Now I’ll pick one Saturday afternoon every 3 or 4 months and announce that auditions will be held on those dates. I’ll schedule auditions a half hour apart, assuming each one will take about 20 minutes. This way I’m only giving up 2 or 3 hours.

By the way, I would strongly encourage you to carefully word your audition invitations. I wrote a post on this a while ago and you can read it here.

Email questions
Once someone gets in touch with you and expresses an interest, the very first thing I would encourage you to do would be to (1) thank them, and (2) ask them a few important questions about themselves. This is not an exhaustive list, but generally I find these 4 questions helpful:
– (1) Tell me your story of how you came to trust in Jesus Christ.
– (2) Tell me your story as a musician.
– (3) In what ways have you served in worship leadership in the past (if at all)?
– (4) Why do you feel called to this particular ministry.

Asking these questions over email is a good idea. This way you have it in writing. People start to blend in after a while, and this way you can remember who said what. Further, it keeps your auditions brief, since you don’t need to spend a ton of time with each person asking them detailed questions about themselves. They also have time to think it through.

You’ll learn a lot from these questions, particularly if you see any red flags (I wrote a post on red flags to watch out for and you can read it here). Be on the look out for people who can’t really articulate a faith in Jesus Christ (they’ll need some discipling before joining the team), or people who just want to play music because it’s fun (they’ll need to catch a passion for worshipping God and leading others in engaging with him).

Schedule auditions
I’ve found it helpful to then schedule people about 30 minutes apart. This gives me time to (a) meet them, (b) chat with them to make them comfortable, (c) ask them a few questions to get to know them, (d) audition them, and (e) get a few minutes’ break before the next person.

Explain to the people over email that you’ll be singing or playing through a few familiar worship songs together. If they need the music in advance, get it to them. If not, pick really familiar songs.

Interview the person
You’ve already asked them a lot of questions over email. Their answers might have given you some things to ask them about. I’d encourage you to ask them what brought them to your church, and to make sure they’re a committed member of the congregation. If they’re not, you need to communicate why that’s important, if it’s not already a requirement.

If it’s a singer, ask them if they normally sing melody or harmony. Can they make up harmonies on the spot? Can they learn by ear? Do they always start singing on the first word of the song? Do they wait until the chorus? What’s going through their minds?

If it’s an instrumentalist, ask them what they’re thinking. Is the bass player listening for the kick drum? Is the drummer listening to the bass player? Is the pianist stuck playing in the middle?

Whether it’s a singer or instrumentalist, explain to them that while skill is important, what’s more important is their heart, and what’s most helpful to you and to the congregation is to have a worship team of people who are clearly engaged in worship. You’re not looking for backup singers and musicians. You’re looking for worship leaders.

Set up the audition
First, put them at ease. If it’s a singer, ask him/her if they want any water. If it’s an instrumentalist, let them set their stuff up and offer to help. Make a joke or two. Most importantly, let them know that this is just a chance for you to get a feel for their gifting, and that they can just be themselves and not worry.

Second, explain that you want to respect their time and help them by being honest with them about whether you think their gift would lend itself to being used on the worship team. Ask them if that’s OK. Hopefully they say yes.

Run the audition
I find it helpful to tell them something like “I’m going to start this song, and you just come in where you usually would if we were doing this in a service”. This way you can get a feel for whether or not they have really good instincts, or whether they just jump in without much thought. Play through a song or two, sometimes stopping and letting them play or sing on their own, and take enough time to hear them sing or play for several minutes.

What to say if they’re gifted
If they’re gifted, affirm them. Tell them you’d like to explore finding a place for them to serve.

What to say if they need work
If they need work, affirm them. Tell them what was good. Tell them what wasn’t so good. Then tell them what was good again. This is what we call an “affirmation sandwich”. Then tell them a number of things they need to work on, and that you’d like to keep in touch with them as they improve.

What to say if they’re not gifted
If they’re not gifted musically, affirm them. They have taken time of their day to come meet with you. They are seeking to be obedient to a prompting they feel to serve the church. Thank them for their heart to serve the church. But then kindly tell them that it’s your impression that this is not the right place for them to serve. Be specific, be kind, and keep smiling at them. Let them ask questions. Understand that this will probably be awkward and that’s just the way it goes. Affirm them again, offer to help them find other places to serve, and let them go.

For some more of my thoughts on how to say “no” to people, you can read a post I wrote here.

Why you shouldn’t allow everyone who auditions onto the team
For some churches, the idea of auditioning musicians, much less turning some musicians down, is unheard of. A certain level of chaos reigns, where anyone and everyone who expresses an interest is allowed to come to rehearsals, allowed to stand on the platform, and allowed to play on Sunday mornings.

I know that the heart behind this is to give people a place to serve and to avoid a culture of perfectionism, but it completely rejects the commands in scripture to play skillfully (Psalm 33:3). It ignores the fact that not everyone has the same gifting and that the body of Christ is arranged with different parts and different members (1 Corinthians 12). The standard will differ depending on the church, but there must be a standard.

Be slow to add someone to the team
It’s much harder to ask someone to step down from the team than it is to ask them to join the team. If you think someone is called to serve on the team, try to find a small venue for them for a while and see how they respond. If they’re reluctant to serve in children’s ministry because they really want to be up front on Sunday morning, I would avoid using them.

No lifetime passes
Finally, communicate to all new and existing worship team members that no one has a lifetime pass to the worship team. Everyone serves for seasons. You might find it helpful to follow a school-year type approach. Each September you kick off a new year. Each June you have an end-of-year celebration. In the summer you keep using people, but you give people a chance to reevaluate whether or not they want to commit for another year. This also gives you a chance to reevaluate whether certain members should continue or not.

Advertising for Worship Team Members

Every three or four months I’ll put a little blurb in my church’s weekly bulletin in an attempt to let church members know that if they’d like to sing or play an instrument on the worship team, I’m the person to contact. We have enough new members joining, and old members who are waiting for a nudge, that this will usually yield a couple of emails or phone calls.

I’ve learned that how I word these little advertisements is important.

If they’re too long, no one will read them.
This isn’t the place for outlining the values and goals of the worship team. A church website or some other publication might be better suited for a lengthy ministry overview. An advertisement for worship team members in a weekly bulletin doesn’t need to be very long.

Don’t sound desperate
A desperately worded blurb communicates two things to two different groups. First, to your current volunteers, you are not good enough, and second, to your prospective volunteers, I really need you. You don’t want your current volunteers to feel undervalued, and you don’t want people joining your team thinking that they are a more important member of the body than anyone else. That’s not how the body works, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:21-27.

Use a cautious tone with cautious buzzwords
If your advertisement says: “If you want to be on the worship team, please contact ___”, then if I read that ad, I’m thinking that all I need to do is email you and then, once you show me where to sign, I’m on the team! It’s just that easy!

But if you say (and this is how I say it, by the way): “If you’re interested in exploring using your musical gifts to serve the congregation, please contact ____”, then if I read that ad, I’m thinking that this is the beginning of a process of expressing my interest, and exploring an opportunity. There isn’t a dotted line yet. Make the process intentionally slow, and err on the side of caution. These are leadership positions at your church and should not be taken lightly.

Make it about serving, not about music
I use the phrase “…using your musical gifts to serve the congregation” to set the tone from the very beginning to prospective worship team applicants that my priority is building a team of people interested in serving the body of Christ, not just playing music.

Very few members of the worship team at my church just approached me out of the blue. They either thought I didn’t need any more volunteers, or wasn’t interested, and were happy to remain in the pews. But when they saw a little blurb in the bulletin one week they decided to email me.

Regularly, and carefully, making members of your church aware of opportunities to serve will result in a stream (even if it’s one person per year) of musicians eager to serve. We should be eager to integrate them.

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.

Video Clip – Paul Baloche on Choosing a Drummer

Last month I shared a video by Paul Baloche on “choosing a bass player“. Here’s another video with him explaining what he looks for when choosing a drummer. Some quotes that stood out to me:

“It’s better to have no drummer than to have a bad drummer.”

“You’re looking at the heart and you’re looking at the skill… anytime you’re looking to pick a musician.”

“It’s easier to add to a team than to undo a team.”

“I’m amazed by how many people have said ‘oh man, this dude is such a good drummer’ and then I hear them and it’s like they don’t do the number one thing a drummer is created for and that is to keep good time.”