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.

Lessons Learned from This Weekend – Pt. I

mirrorFrom time to time, usually on Mondays, I think it might be helpful for me to post some reflections on the previous weekend’s services. Perhaps some ways I could have handled certain situations better, some specific ways God was at work through the music, or various other lessons learned (however major or minor). I’ll get it started this week with some situations that, looking back, I could have handled better.

Memorize the words
You would think that I would follow my own advice (“Put the Music Stand Away”) and spend some time during the week getting familiar with the songs so that I didn’t forget lyrics, fumble for the right chords, and come across as unprepared. I wish I had. This past Saturday night we used Andrew Peterson’s song “Invisible God” as a special song during the collection/offering time, and I mangled the first verse pretty bad. Oops. Lesson learned: I need to practice too.

Multi-tasking isn’t as easy as it seems
On Saturday night, in addition to leading the music, I also opened the service, led the time of prayer, and gave the announcements. The pastor who normally does this was on vacation, so he asked me to step in since I would be at the service anyway. I have to confess that I didn’t prepare for these responsibilities as thoroughly as I should have. At 4:45pm (15 minutes before the service started), I was trying to figure out what to say to welcome people, how to lead the prayers, etc. A few transitions were awkward, especially getting from the announcements to the offering. Lesson learned: Don’t ever wing it.

There are good ways to get your sound engineer’s attention and there are bad ways…
We had a crazy morning at my church with baptisms at both services, short transition times between them, and very little time for a sound check. In the midst of a noisy Sanctuary about 20 minutes before the service, I was having a difficult time getting the sound engineer’s attention, so I thought it made sense to yell “Andreeeeeeeewwwwwww!!!!!!”. There are about eighteen reasons why this is always a bad idea. Lesson learned: Never yell at your sound engineer. Sorry Andrew.

These are just a few of the lessons I (hopefully) am taking away from this past weekend. It’s good to look back and thank God for his guidance, his presence, and his grace – and pray that he’ll keep teaching me lessons each time I lead.