I recently received an email from a church musician who was looking for help. The guitarist in their band recently moved and they don’t have anyone else that can play. Here are a few thoughts I shared with her about how to look for a new guitarist:
To start, remember that it is totally possible to do worship without guitars! Don’t let not having 1 instrument be a hang-up. God gives us what we need to worship in our context. So if you’re short a guitar, do your best to make do without. Same with drums, keys, bass guitar, or any instrument. The most important instrument in worship is the assembly’s voice.
Even though you don’t think there is a church member that could step up to play guitar, I would want to make sure that is true. Make an announcement that you need a guitarist. You never know! One could be lurking or even visiting for the first time on Sunday. I always say that the best recruitment tool for finding volunteers is the shoulder tap method. Chances are someone in the church may know a great guitarist and could do some recruiting for you.
Check with other churches. Call the bigger churches in your area. Chances are they have enough volunteers to support several rotations worth of musicians. Maybe you could borrow one of their guitarists on their off weeks.
Grow your own guitarist. Especially consider teenagers that might have an interest. Sponsor them for a couple of guitar lessons with a professional. Let them start sitting in with the band for rehearsal only until they are proficient enough to play and contribute.
Advertise it on Craigslist.com. You’ll find lots of bands that post on Craigslist looking for other musicians. If you say you’re a church and describe what you’re looking for you might find someone. Schedule an audition or probationary practice to make sure they are a good fit before committing.
I’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.
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.