originally written 4/15/14
Indeed it is nothing new that complaints about worship come up every week, as do compliments. This is to be expected, given the nature of the ministry. Music is extremely personal, and everyone has an opinion. Every week some will say the music was too loud, and some will say it was not loud enough. Every week some will say they couldn't hear some instrument they wanted to hear, and some will say they heard too much of that one instrument in particular. Some will say the lights are too bright, some will say they'd like the lights to be brighter. It's a fact that we cannot please everyone, and the complainers' voices can tend to be heard louder than those giving compliments and positive regard.
The key in dealing with complaint is to sift the wheat from the chaff. Those of us serving in worship leadership have to be able to receive complaint without taking it personally, discern what is valid critique versus what is not, and then determine what are appropriate steps that can be taken to serve the body most effectively in response.
In the worship ministry I serve, it's the entire reason we have a dedicated Production meeting every week: to discuss as a group the feedback and observations given, as well as the pragmatics of what we ourselves observed that worked and what didn't work well at the weekend services, and how to continually improve what we do. Every week we respond positively to serve the body.
My lead pastor receives feedback routinely and follows the same practice of separating the wheat from the chaff. When we meet each week, he shares with me any feedback that he feels is beneficial and actionable. Many times complaint is just being expressed because that person is a complainer - that's not the sort of feedback that benefits anyone, so my lead pastor does not pass it along. When there is a valid complaint - for instance, when someone was distracted by a sound person walking the room with a sound meter, or if the volume of the drums was too loud - he does let me know, and I take action on it.
Sometimes complaint needs to be contemplated and considered carefully, and sometimes it must be addressed in an expedient manner, especially if it has the possibility of causing hurt, dissension or division in the body.
One weekend I received a complaint about the manner of dress of a young woman on the worship team. I would argue that she did not in fact have a problem with her attire this weekend, that the complainer was just plain wrong on this. His complaint was in the wrong, and the manner in which he brought it up was also in the wrong. This young lady was wearing a nice dress, with leggings and boots. (Very modest.) The complainer thought the dress was cut too low in front, and he made a complaint about it to me right as the worship team was walking onto the stage, after we'd already prayed together and were focused on the task at hand. It was completely inappropriate timing for such feedback, even if it were valid. It only served to distract me from my focus on leading worship, and did not serve the body in any beneficial manner. I believe he also accosted our lead pastor on the same topic a scant number of seconds later, as he was preparing for the sermon. Also inappropriate timing, even if the complaint were valid.
After the service, I went to two older women who are both respected bible study leaders, as to what their opinion of this young lady’s manner of dress was. Both independently said that she was dressed very nicely, and one wished more young women would dress as nicely as her. Given that women are more often more critical of each other than men are, I trusted their judgment on this matter. I did not find her dress to be inappropriate myself, either.
Still, I talked with the young lady in question to let her know a person in our church was distracted by the low cut of her dress, and she responded positively by expressing that she didn’t want to hinder anyone’s worship, or take the focus off of Jesus, so she showed up wearing a more conservative dress the next morning. Kudos to her for her good spirit in responding!
Like I said, we're never going to make some people happy. Some people just like to complain and find a reason to do so every week. That is what I consider "chaff": feedback that is self-serving in nature, not beneficial for building up excellence or improvement for the body of the church. I receive the feedback – acknowledging it without agreeing with it, and asking probing/clarifying questions, thanking the person for bringing it to my attention; if it really is just chaff, I can then discard it as not beneficial or useful.
"Wheat" is the feedback I receive, whether positive or negative, from a person who does not make it a habit to tear down others with their words. Wheat can be used to build up and encourage, to make things better. It is beneficial. It is profitable to pay heed to such critique.
Every church is different.
We are a casually attired Southern California church. We wear t-shirts, aloha shirts, shorts, jeans, khakis, and the like. Men in our church are not going to start wearing suits and ties, and our women are not going to start wearing long dresses covered to their neck in Victorian fashion, and we'd be foolish to try to make our people be something they are not, for the sake of those who wish they were in a community they are not. We're not that other church, nor should we try to be. We're our church, and the mode of our dress and music need to be directly representative of the culture of the majority of our church body. Our musical style is modern rock. We're not going to start including hip-hop or rap, nor are we going to do opera or baroque choir. It is not a musical language that the majority of our community speaks fluently, and the point of the musical worship is to usher this community of people into God's presence for God's glory.
Some sheep like to bite and kick, but we can't punish the well-behaved sheep for the sake of the ill-tempered ones. Indeed, a good shepherd breaks the leg of a sheep of one that bites and kicks, requiring that sheep to become docile and dependent on the shepherd for its care, and it becomes a well-behaved sheep after that. A good shepherd protects the sheep from goats and wolves that dress in sheep's clothing, and we must be on watch for them to guard against the harm they bring to the flock.
Awhile ago, another worship pastor shared this with me this incident that happened at his church:
After the worship service, the worship pastor and lead pastor were standing in the foyer, greeting the saints. A man walked over to the worship pastor and loudly berated him, saying, "The worship tonight was horrible! The music was too loud, the songs weren't good, and I didn't get anything out of it!!!"
Before the worship pastor could respond, the lead pastor spoke to the man, "Oh! I'm sorry, there has been a huge misunderstanding. We weren't worshiping YOU."
At this the man walked away silently. The lead pastor then spoke encouragement into the worship pastor to keep focused on ministering to the Lord in song, and not trying to please men.
I look forward to those weekends when our lead pastor teaches the church on worship, and ensure an ongoing proper understanding of what worship is and what it is not, because too often, the nature of the complaints are along the lines of this man, but our responses are not often enough to correct them, but coddle them and encourage more bad behavior. That's got to change, before our worship response will be corporately improved. Vision for a proper understanding and expression of worship has to flow from the top downward, and the receiving of complaints cannot stop with the simple hearing of them - when they are wrong, they need to be corrected with Biblical truth, or people will languish in the depravity of doing what is right in their own minds.
There is empirical objective fact in musical technicality and musical substance, but there is no right or wrong in musical style. There is only subjectivity, opinion and preference there. Folks have to be taught the difference between fact and opinion... because everyone has an opinion, but only the Lord's matters, and He is concerned about the heart of the worshiper rather than the style of the music or their manner of dress.
The fact is, if our musicians are trained and skilled in delivering hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs comprised of God's truth, to offer the Lord's praises in thanksgiving and joy, with hearts humble and consecrated before Him, they are doing worship exactly as it should be done, regardless of style. That is true, noble, lovely, praiseworthy, and we should direct our people to think on such things.
Blessings to you as you serve our Lord and His people~!
Brendan Prout is a pastor in San Diego, CA, active in developing worship leaders locally and nationally. He has served in ministry leadership for over 25 years, and has a passion for training and inspiring others to grow in their gifts for the work of ministry they are called to.