Should churches hire their worship band musicians?

bandI’ve been asked this question before: Should a church that wants to do music in a pop/rock style pay for musicians to come in and play?”

It is a question that churches usually ask when they are starting a new style of service with the intent of reaching out to a younger demographic. They realize that having a new service with poorly executed music might have the opposite effect. There might be a few instrumentalists or vocalists willing to form a band, but rarely are there enough volunteers to fill out a full band (especially in smaller churches). Something is usually missing: maybe a keyboardist, electric guitarist, or drummer. Someone will usually suggest that the musical vitality of the service is worth investing in. On the flip side, mega-churches routinely hire out full ensembles of studio musicians to make sure the musical quality of their services lives up to the hype.

I’ll share a couple of stories from personal experience:

  • A church had music in worship led by a pianist who was employed by the church part-time. A person joined the church and volunteered his keyboarding skills for the service. After a couple of months of both the staff pianist and volunteer keyboardist leading music together, the volunteer keyboardist approached the church leadership about being compensated for his part in worship. The keyboardist felt that it was unfair for two people to be serving in the same capacity but only one be compensated. The church leadership disagreed. The keyboardist became angry and moved on. Awkwardness abounded.
  • Another church had three Sunday morning worship services. The first service was accompanied by a small volunteer orchestral ensemble and two part-time employees, a pianist and an organist. The second and third services were led by a band entirely made up of volunteer musicians. One of the volunteer musicians happened to play in all three Sunday morning services. It became evident to the church leadership that perhaps it was unfair that the organist and pianist were being compensated (for a rehearsal and one service), while the volunteer was not being compensated (for two rehearsals and three services). The church leadership decided that having some church musicians compensated and others not was unfair. The pianist and organist stopped being compensated for their musical contributions, but remained active as volunteer musicians.
So what is a church to do? Pay to play or pray for players?
Here are my thoughts and suggested guidelines for how churches should navigate these waters:
  • There is something to be said for wanting the offering of music in worship to be done with excellence. God is pleased when we offer a skillfully executed sacrifice of praise (“Sing praises with a skillful psalm.” Psalm 47:7). 1 Chronicles 15:22 says, “Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful.” (NASB) It is also part of hospitality and welcoming people into worship – which is less easy when there are mistakes and flubs musically. So it may be responsible to hire musicians to help the church offer excellent music.
  • On the other hand, God gives us everything we need. Just because your church doesn’t have a drummer or a bass guitarist doesn’t mean you are incapable of corporate worship. Sometimes the musical device used for worship can become crippling to worship. “We can’t have a service without (insert name of instrument).” It is preferable to look at your context, see what God has provided you with, and go with it.
  • I have also heard it argued that if you pay one or two professional musicians to join your volunteer group, the overall excellence of the team will rise. If there is one person coming to rehearsal every week with charts organized and marked, songs learned, and tempos perfected, the professionalism will raise the standards of the volunteers as well.
  • Deciding whether to pay worship band musicians is something a church has to decide for itself. My opinion is that it is preferable for a church to use what gifts they have been given and be content with it. But I’m sure there are circumstances when paying a musician or two to augment the band also make sense.
Also read Vicky Beeching’s post on this subject for more thoughts.

Worship Team Questions

Jonathan (@worshipbassist) provided some great questions for any worship team, choir, or band. They would make good fodder for a retreat or workshop. You could also dissect them individually during rehearsals.

1. How do we remain humble in up front ministry?

2. How do you deal with conflict in your band?

3. What role does serving play in worship ministry?

4. How do you choose people to serve in your worship ministry?

5. How do you prepare and/or select songs for a worship set?

6. How can a worship leader help the band succeed? (From Band’s Perspective)

7. What does a great worship/band leader look like? (From Band’s Perspective)

Unplugging from the Matrix, part 1

The Matrix” is a film from 1999 that “depicts a future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality created by sentient machines.

If memory serves me correctly, the movie became a natural analogy used by many hip preachers back at the turn of the millennium. It was an easy connection to the “in this world but not of this world” aspect of our faith.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the journey of starting a church and leaving established, organizational, denominational religion. Its a lot like unplugging from the matrix.

A quote from Will Mancini:

The rise of church planting networks not only validate the entrepreneurial spirit but enable new groupings of ” the small” from the prior trend to exert more influence. As the new learning, new strategies and new relationships cluster in these front line networks, the knowledge, encouragement and accountability of traditional denominations bring less value. It’s no surprise to most readers that the time and resources from most denominations are woefully tied up with ineffective congregations.

When you first make the decision to leave the established/denominational church there is a lot of fear. It’s a scared-of-the-unknown, red pill/blue pill type decision. It’s inherently risky. I’ve spent several nights pondering whether delivering pizzas was in my career path. Or maybe inquiring about a managerial position at the local Half Price Books. But when you step back and look at the world today, that reality is present in every sector of the job market. So while leaving the established may seem risky, was it ever safe to begin with?

If you leave organized/denominational/established religion to find or create the perfect church, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. Because even the cool church with all the best intentions of not repeating the sins of the big brother down the block is doomed for imperfection. Because the church is made of people. And we all suck (see Romans 3:23).

A quote from Morpheus in the movie:

What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

The reality is this: God is working in some of the most unlikely places. I think that’s been the point all along, and why the Bible includes liars, adulterers, murderers, and doubters among it’s greatest heroes. When you step outside the matrix of established religion, there is another world. It is the real world and it is filled with people. And God is working in it.

Small churches breaking 100

Read an interesting post over at Tony  Morgan’s blog. It was about small churches that are trying to reach/break 100 folks in attendance. Since that fits our situation over at Theophilus, I found it relevant. Now, I’m not one to put a lot of value and weight on how many people show up on a Sunday. It’s easy to make a crowd (you just need the right attraction). It’s better to take that attendance number and put it next to the number of people involved in small groups, the number of people that give financially, the number of people that volunteer or serve in ministry, etc. Here are some interesting takeaways from the post:

  • It’s impossible to grow a church beyond 100 people if there’s one person who makes all the decisions and calls all the shots.
  • It’s difficult to build momentum with regular transitions in leadership.
  • Growth in churches is more about relationships than anything else.

Henri Nouwen – "In the Name of Jesus"

I’m gearing up for my 4th trip to Florida in the process of completing my Doctor of Worship Studies program at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. In preparation for this course I have been introduced to this great book by Henri Nouwen. I wanted to share a quote and some reflections:

p. 81 – “Jesus confronts him with the hard truth that the servant-leader is the leader who is being led to unknown, undesirable, and painful places. The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.”

p. 86 – “It is essential to be able to discern…the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection.”

Ouch. Yikes. This is good medicine for us in the worship leadership field. Most of us get in the game because we like to perform and we’re good at it. We like the spotlight. We like to feed on how people respond to God’s revelation in worship. Most of us that change employers go from smaller to bigger (upward mobility). But is it any wonder that we’re called to the opposite? Just look at the founder/leader/Savior of our religion. He borrowed everything like a bum and died between some thieves. That is the definition of downward mobility. And if I say I’m a follower/disciple of his, I shouldn’t expect any different if I’m truly learning to follow him. But there is a shiny pearl at the bottom of the muck – resurrection. The eternal illumination of Jesus’ presence and the restoration of the peace once found in the Garden.

Email is not a conflict resolution tool

From the Alban Institute:

  1. E-mail makes it impossible to read the non-verbal body language of the persons with whom you are communicating.  Likewise, they can’t read yours. I have occasionally made the mistake (perhaps you have, too) of trying to crack a joke through e-mail and having it fall flat. I can’t read the body language to tell how the joke is being received, and others can’t see the twinkle in my eyes when I am joking.  When a congregation is in conflict, folks are already very emotionally reactive.  Therefore, people in this situation are far more likely to misread or misinterpret what is being said under the best of conditions.  Eliminating visual cues and vocal inflection further cripples the communication process and opens the door to misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
  2. E-mail appears to be fast, almost immediate, communication, when in fact the length of time it takes to deliver a message depends largely on the recipient’s personal habits.  Some people check their Blackberrys or iPhones for messages every few minutes, and some go for days without turning on their computer to look at their e-mail.  The uncertainty around when a message is received often adds to the confusion of who knows what and when they heard it—often a central communication issue in conflicted situations.
  3. Because e-mail language is often less formal than traditional written language, it feels much more like talking on the telephone, except that it is a one-sided conversation.  Your e-mail message probably makes perfect sense to you.  But it may contain unspoken assumptions, or even a typo that can change the meaning of the message for your recipient, and complicate your effort to communicate.  It can actually take longer to sort out miscommunication than it would to relay information in face-to-face conversations, one at a time.  I frequently have to tell pastors to stop using e-mail when trying to deal with a parishioner’s difficult behavior, and simply go talk to them.   A face-to-face conversation, with give and take, can often serve to sort out a complicated situation when a one-sided e-mail message only makes it more complex.
  4. E-mail is not confidential. No matter what kind of disclaimer or warning about confidentiality you include in your e-mail, anyone can forward any e-mail at any time. When I am about to send out an e-mail message, I always ask myself, “Would I feel comfortable if this e-mail were forwarded to someone else—even if it was accidentally forwarded?”  If your answer to that question is “no,” then don’t send it.  And that is related to another practice you might want to develop: get in the habit of re-reading any e-mail message before sending it out.  Usually, you will just catch typos and the occasional omitted word, but sometimes, you will hear a very different message than the one you intended.  Train yourself to pause and re-read before you hit the send button.
  5. E-mail is not a constructive venue for important conversations.  One of the strengths of e-mail is its ability to communicate details quickly and efficiently.  Important conversations, and especially those that surround a conflicted situation, need and deserve richer and fuller interaction—one in which nuance and non-verbal communication is part of the communication process.

Pecking order of worship leadership

Who is really leading worship during a service or gathering? I would say the Holy Spirit, the pastor, and the worship musicians (in order of priority).

The Holy Spirit is always the first and most important leader of worship. The Spirit’s preparation and work began long before the service was a twinkling in our eye. Before the first text or song is chosen, the Spirit is aligning the elements and people that will be included in the service. We need the Holy Spirit to point all the elements in a service to Jesus. The Spirit’s presence in the midst of a service is always the default leader. When the Spirit moves, we follow.

The pastor is always the second most important lead worshiper in a service or gathering. That’s right – the Holy Spirit does come before (and sometimes through!) the pastor. The pastor is the spiritual leader for the entire congregation, and this includes the congregation in worship. Just because you’ve got the guitar or mic doesn’t mean everyone is watching/following you. The pastor will always set the tone for worship in any setting. If the pastor’s heart and mind are engaged in the songs, prayers, and texts, then the people will be as well. If the pastor is shuffling through sermon notes, making small talk with the ushers, or not singing, then the people will be equally disengaged in worship.

The worship musicians are the next most important leaders in worship. Notice that “musicians” is plural. All who play instruments or sing are on equal ground. If you are on the platform in front of the people, you are just as important as anyone else in front. The lead vocalists aren’t elevated higher than the bass player. Being a worship musician requires a good dose of humility. 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” Although the spotlights may shine on the musicians, it’s important to remember that everyone is following the pastors cues, and nothing is possible without the Spirit’s work.

What can the church learn from Apple?

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0fe800C2CU

  • Does your church take design seriously (architecture, worship, long range planning, etc.)?
  • Does your church offer guest-friendly “try before you buy” environments?
  • Is your church’s view of the world present in how you design worship?
  • Does your church welcome the question “Why is it like that?” around the subject of worship?
  • How much attention is paid to how people physically connect to your church?
  • Can your church fulfill it’s mission in 1 step instead of 6?
  • How much does your church talk about process (instead of product)?
  • Is the hierarchy of importance easily discernable in your church?