Advice Requested…

OK Fun Seekers, this is a request I have of you.

For those of you involved in Church Music, we have a faithful reader (who also happens to be an old friend of mine) who has encountered an issue at his church, and is seeking some input.

So I’d love for you to leave a comment with your advice or input – let’s see if we can share some of our own experiences and collective wisdom…

And for reasons of anonymity, we’ll call him “Bob”.

Bob writes:


“Statement first, then question…. I recently stepped down from worship at our church… I couldn’t get along with the worship pastor at all – he had no vision for us to go or grow – he was stuck in the 80’s and 90’s – and he had nothing to teach the other worship leaders… after numerous meetings and suggestions on things to do LIKE PRACTICING FOR ONE, I gave up and decided for the best of everyone that I remove myself from the situation. Well – 3 days letter he decided that he isn’t the one to continue (after 6 years) leading the church into this new direction we’re headed… the pastor has been trying to get the guy to step down for 2 years too – so it’s good for everyone.

Now the Senior pastor has decided that in this transition time, he will oversee the worship ministry… which is fine although scary. BUT he wants to turn the worship into specific teams operating together instead of the random rotation we’ve been doing. So what he wants to do is stick all the worship leaders in one room (we had 4 including me and the worship pastor, but the Senior pastor has added 2 more, and the worship pastor has decided he’d like to continue at least leading) so that makes 5 worship leaders – not including me because I stepped down.

So the senior pastor wants to stick the 5 worship leaders in a room with himself, and hash out 5 seperate teams… so that way the Senior pastor only has to schedule worship leaders and not musicians….

Hopefully that’s clear as mud… so now the question – what are your thoughts on specific teams for worship – where you always play with the same people?

More info – the old worship pastor let anybody on the stage – so we have brutal drummers who shouldn’t even be allowed to hold chopsticks, and singers who constantly break even the plastic communion cups when singing… (that’s a little dramatic of course…) I told the Senior pastor what he needs to do is disband the entire worship ministry, bring in a new worship pastor, and then let that guy start from scratch where people have to do auditions and all that….”

Weeeellllllllllllllll – I’ve certainly got some thoughts.

BUT – I’d first love to hear what YOU have to say – so leave a comment!!!

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12 thoughts on “Advice Requested…

  1. Well, I personally like the whole idea of playing as “bands” with the same people all the time. I decided to make the switch about a year ago and it has done nothing but great things for me. The musicianship has gone way up as people learn to play with each other and get their styles. Also, the biggest benefit has been the growth in friendships. Everyone was friends before, but these new teams have become tight families now. Sure it makes scheduling easier on me, but more than that, it has allowed the music to become consistently better for us playing, and for the congregation as well. However, I can also see the flip side of the coin… whenever one person transfers to another team to fill an opening – well, it kinda feels like they’re the outcast, which isn’t always the best. Plus, adapting to the new team and how they play can be a bit of a struggle. That’s why I’ve found it’s important to have other playing opportunities for our musicians to experiment and learn from different people – but I tend to not make that our weekend services. Sometimes we only get one shot with people checking out God/church, and I don’t want the music to be a hindrance at all to what could be happening in their life…so my vote is, agree with your Pastor (even if he’s wrong, just because he has authority over you) but also because I think it’s a good idea…hope this helps!

  2. Let me start by saying: I am the new worship pastor of a church and was given the opportunity to re-audition everyone and start from scratch. Let me say that I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Obviously it was a process so for the last 2 months I have been using the same musicians that had been playing when I came in. Before I continue, I think it’s important that you understand the situation. The musician pool was: 1 bass player, 1 Electric Player, 0 Acoustic players, 2 Drummers (but one wanted out), and 2 active vocalist. Basically I had a Band. The idea of bands was the overall philosophy that I encountered when talking about growing the musician pool. They did not understand the need for a pool when you could just as easily create bands that get to know each other’s playing style and what not.

    I have been here for 2 months now and the pool has begun to grow. I’m deeper on Acoustic, electric, Bass and Vocals. I’m still holding out for a couple of great drummers (it’s so important to have GREAT drummers). Anyway, my reasoning for not liking multiple bands and being in favor of a pool of musicians working on rotation is this. The argument for specific bands is ease. It’s easy to schedule, it’s easy to organize, and it’s easy for musicians to get to know playing styles. This in no way challenges anyone to get better. In fact, in a musicians world it makes them lazy. If I play with the same people all the time, I can predict what they are going to do. I can read my band mates like a book. This in no way keeps the music NEW or urges players to better themselves musically. This in turn makes the environment suffer because everything musically becomes predictable.

    Let me say this, I understand the upside to less time spend organizing, scheduling, and communicating with musicians. But as a leader, I must keep a few things in front of me: 1) the effectiveness of the environment.(Not becoming predicable is a big part of this). 2) the health of the process. (Help discouraging silos in ministry. we don’t want individual ministries to be silos and we don’t want our musicians to be placed in to silos (bands)). 3)the health of my volunteers. (by separating musicians into bands we (not purposely) discourage the community of the entire ministry by over encouraging community with the people you play with often.)

    In my opinion, bands aren’t bad. However, they have the overall potential to become very unhealthy for a ministry.

    Thanks,
    Clint

  3. Having separate bands tends to create division instead of unity. The congregation will develop their favorite, and there will be disappointment when any other band is on.

    Most churches have a goal of getting their people in volunteer service roles. That is as it should be. But one of those roles should not be the band. There is no reason a church should feel an obligation to let anyone serve on a stage. The pastor would probably not let just anyone get up and try to give a sermon, so why should just anyone be allowed to strap on their Yamaha acoustic and try to play a song?

  4. Clarification: Of course there will be different bands…can’t have the same guys every week. But it is better to make it somewhat random instead of having Band A, Band B, and Band C.

  5. We have four teams that rotate on a weekly basis. These teams consist of instrumentalists, vocalists, as well as audio, video, and light tech. I (the worship minister) set it up this way for lots of reasons. Here are a few:
    1. It allows for more people to serve, if they are gifted.
    2. It calls for people to be committed to a schedule, rather than just filling in whenever.
    3. It creates unity among that whole team – technicians & musicians.
    4. The musicians work together and learn how each other plays, along with vocalists. This not only helps the musicians, but it helps the sound engineers get familiar with mixing them.
    5. It’s easier to communicate and coordinate volunteers.

    There are a few drawbacks. We have over 40 people in our Worship & Arts Ministry and they don’t see each other all of the time. But you’ll always have that. Your drummers will hardly ever see each other, for example. Another issue may be if you have one team set and there’s an issue where someone steps down, you’ll have to fill that spot with a long-term sub. But really, I think it is more beneficial than starting out each month with the question “who is going to play which Sundays?”

    We have Teams, not Bands. I think as the Worship Pastor it is my job to continually encourage unity across the board. 2 different teams rehearse back to back each week, with a 15 minute overlay when both teams get together for prayer and fellowship. That’s a great thing. We also have get-togethers a few times a year.

    Also, we have a few people that are on more than one team. My piano player, for example, plays each week. We have 2 drummers right now, so they each play on 2 teams. Vocalists are the only ones that are all on individual teams (no doubling up) but they also fill in and switch with each other as conflicts arise.

    No matter how you do it, it’s going to be a lot of work as the leader. If you’re scared of different “bands” getting different identities and the congregation choosing favorites, do your best to stop it before it starts. If your musicians all have servants’ hearts, then they’ll know it’s not about them. You may need to take a moment or two during the service and share with the congregation that it’s not about who’s on stage. We all know that.

    Another challenge either way is striving for excellence. If you have random teams, it will be harder for them to develop musical unity and it will be more difficult for them to grow as a team. On the flip-side, if you have Team A, B, and C, etc, then you’ll have to make sure each team is progressing and reaching the desired expectations. So obviously you don’t put your strongest players on one team and all of the weakest on the other. Use their own strengths to help build them up. Leaders will emerge and groups will grow.

    So, unless you have studio musicians that can come in and read the charts with ease, I’d say let your volunteers work together with some sort of consistency as teams. It will bring more benefit to your ministry than making sure everyone gets to play with everyone.

  6. So at our church we are pushing our teams to a new level. Before our worship Pastor Terry Kelly came along, we used to have 8 or 9 separate bands, who would always play with the same people. And I have to admit these teams have formed such great dynamics with each other as individuals. They really know how to take music and make it their own style. WHich is cool cuz we always have a different team each week and we get varations in the style of music each week.

    However:

    Before our new worship pastor came, we used to have each band doing rotations as directed by the old worship pastor, but they had complete freedom on what songs they sang. So what started to happen was we would have one band sing a new song, and it wouldn’t be heard again in the church for another month or so. Worship is about engaging people. So when our new worship pastor came, he started to bend these teams to get them to conform to one mindset, in leading people. And that involved them getting into spots they hadn’t been before, and singing songs more consistently. Over the past year, we have seen a dramatic improvement in people response to worship. They actually sing songs cuz they know it now.

    We’re now at the point where we are trying to push musicians and singers even farther. We want them to be comfortable playing with other bands as well, being able to mix things up. It isn’t comfortable at first, but it helps one expand their capabilities as musicians.

    So I’d say having specific teams/bands is actually a very good thing. As far as the individual musicians, if they shouldn’t be even holding chopsticks, I wouldn’t put them on a team either. I definitely agree that auditioning is the best way to go. It pays off to find those in the church who have talents and who are willing to use them. If they are willing but could use improvement, then we should encourage them on getting improvement. Even in my church we have musicians at different levels, but we give them opportunities and these opportunities help them grow. For example, we are trying to get all our drummers (eventually) to play using a metronome to keep a steady tempo. Some drummers have no problem with this, while others are struggling real hard with this, but we believe we can get them there. Just keep providing that nurturing environment. But at the same token, the church is not the place for practice or for music lessons. Those who really desire to improve will work at it no matter what.

  7. I’ll try to keep this short since you’ve got plenty of qualified opinions already.

    Sounds like to me you’ve got a leadership problem. There is no clear vision because there is no clear leader. The lack of clarity invites frustration, compromise, and a general sense that people are trying too hard and accomplishing nothing.

    The answer is not to just DECLARE a leader, it is to IDENTIFY him. A worship service should appear effortless, and that is only accomplished through the skilled crafting of a gifted leader. Everything else is just show, and everyone in the congregation feels it when it’s manufactured. People are ATTRACTED to those who do something exceedingly well and make it look easy. They are DISTRACTED, though, by people who look like they’re trying too hard.

    Unless those in power are willing to concede their authority to the right person, your struggles will not go away. It’s just an observation from years of dealing with situations like this. I’m obviously not the expert on the subject and I’d love to hear what others think.

  8. I’m the worship arts pastor at our church, and I too am working towards having teams that play more consistently together. I don’t see this being a problem (as long as I stay on top of it) when it comes to unity. As much as I want the bands to always play together, as others have mentioned there will be times when people are gone and someone else needs to fill their slot. I think as long as I’m doing my job leading the team, it will be much more difficult for them to become an autonomous group. That would be a problem.

    For me, one of the big motivations is the desire for a higher level of musicality from the musicians. I don’t see people learning how to play with other musicians and read their every move as a problem – in fact I see it as a HUGE PLUS. It’s something I desire, where the band knows each other and the worship leader so well that even spontaneous changes don’t come across as spontaneous.

    I’ve also played in bands that achieved a certain level of musicality that I’ve never been able to achieve within a worship ministry. As I’ve thought about this, one reason is because in these bands we only played a certain number of songs – 15-20. So we were able to learn the songs very well and really sharpen them. Of course, in our worship team, we will have to have more flexibility because a groups set of songs they know won’t always work perfectly with the theme, but for the most part, we will pick from that group.

    Unless you’re in a church that can afford to pay musicians which means they have a skill level where they can play with all musicians, we need to come up with a philosophy that will help us attain a level of musicality that will help those who already know Christ – to worship Him and those who don’t to want to know more. For me, randomly rotating musicians will not accomplish that.

  9. First of all, it’s scary to me that the senior pastor is dictating worship when there aren’t many of them who have experience leading worship. I definitely agree with Bob’s advice that they disband the team until the new worship pastor gets there. They could simplify and go one guy with an acoustic…sounds like that would be a step up from the 80s and 90s worship they’ve been experiencing!

    I’m the worship pastor at a church where we have experimented with the rotation of random musicians and now are moving toward a specific group of musicians that stick together. A few reasons that intrigues me are that it builds a tremendous chemistry among the musicians which jacks up the level musicianship you get. And the other big one is the relationships that are built because of the consistency…you add a leader that leads strongly spiritually and you better watch out!

    That’s my two cents…

  10. My vote would be against several bands. The potential for rivalry and disunity has always steered me away from doing that.

    It sounds like you are at a pretty big church (mega-church?). I think there’s no excuse for poor musicianship when the talent pool is that large. The leadership should raise the bar, and anyone not willing to put in the practice time it takes to be good should not be in the band(s). Use them other places… special choirs, bands for kids programmings, etc.

    Just my thoughts… I always prioritize quality first, even if it may hurt people’s feelings. If people have humble hearts, they’ll find other ways to be involved if they no longer fit in the Sunday morning slots. The “big stage” of Sunday morning worship isn’t the only place for them to use their gifts. And if that’s the only place they’re willing to use their gifts, that may just be the proof you need that their hearts are really not in it for the right reason.

  11. Unless you are paying your players I don’t think having bands is a great idea. If you haver the mentality of developing players i.e. talented kids through adults and it is a volunteer driven organization, I don’t think anyone should have their “spot.” It can be extremely limiting for future development. People start becoming very territorial about their spot. When you need to start plugging in new people, new attenders or kids that are coming up, it is usually viewed as being threatening. Also, when folks see the same folks up there from week to week with no change up, it can be perceived as their being no need for their talent especially amongst your higher level players who are more likely to sit in the pews as they are playing a lot anyway.

    No doubt there are great musical upsides to having the same players playing together all the time. But in my experience, that is usually short lived. People have lives outside of playing for the church. And when they need to take a break for whatever reason, you are left with no one to step in who has learned the basic rep and developed to the level you are needing.

    There are a ton of variations in this of course. But my basic philosophy has always been that people need to be more a part of the larger team than concerned about their spot. Having some kind of rotation that perdically shifts has been very healthy for our volunteers

  12. When in ministry, there is of course give and take. I was having this discussion in staff meeting today actually. There is can be somewhat of a sacrifice of quality of music in exchange for opportunity for service of believers. This is hard for a musician who is a worship leader in a church, but understandable in the context of ministry. The goal of worship is a focus on God and making a joyful noise, and the goal of the church is to edify the body by using (your) gifts. Put the two together and you get a worship ministry.

    If someone is a distraction from worship–whether they are not proficient in their instrument or whether their lifestyle is contrary to that laid out in scripture–they should not be leading in worship. If someone can join the team and add to the focus of the body using it’s gifts to focus on God, they should play. Save the perfectionism for a band on the side (easier said than done, I know). Rotation will be the most functional–as inevitably, someone will be gone one week. You also avoid the “I’m in the band” ego. Instead, you plug people in as they are needed to serve the body–hopefully promoting humility.

    As far as scheduling, why not have each worship leader in charge of making sure there is a band instead of the pastor. The same point is achieved. At our church, we send out an availability email and then schedule the band 2 months in advance. Anyone can commit within a 2 month time frame. It has worked pretty well.

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