January 23, 2018
Everything is to be done decently and in order, according to 1 Corinthians 14:40.
How do we do that as those responsible for helping others worship? Simply speaking, we need to weigh and measure every choice we make when we’re on the platform, and ask ourselves if each one of those choices is serving ourselves, or serving others.
Everything we do on the platform as a worship ministry team member can be filtered though this set of questions:
-Does it serve the moment?
-Does it serve the song?
-Does it serve the set?
-Does it serve the worship service as a whole?
-Does it serve the team?
-Does it serve the worship leader?
-Does it serve the pastor?
-Does it serve the church?
-Does it serve the Lord in this specific context?
That applies to just about every choice we make when on the platform, from the clothes we wear, to the instrument we’re playing and the way we’re playing it. These questions should inform whether or not or how we approach bringing in that new effect pedal into the mix, that new drum fill, taking an extended vocal or instrumental solo, whether or not any particular element belongs in the context of what we’re doing on the stage.
It doesn’t take much for us to be distracted as people. SQUIRREL!!!
For those like me with ADHD, it takes even less.
And we on the stage or behind the scenes in the tech ministry have tremendous responsibility to do our best to minimize distractions so that people can focus on the Lord.
Some creative elements and choices help us grow out of our self-created boxes of familiarity and comfort and serve to move us along in the path of spiritual growth. Some things aren’t effective for those purposes. Some just aren’t worth the risk. Some are just not the best choices, and some are just plain unhelpful and counterproductive.
So here are some choices we need to act on in our roles within worship ministry:
Know your gear.
This sounds basic, but seriously. Know your gear and how it works.
A guitarist that has purchased a fancy new piece of gear, but has not yet mastered how it actually works, should not introduce it to the worship rig. Figure out all its intricacies first, and know the basics – like how to work the ground lift, or turn off and on the amp simulator, if it has one. Get familiar with how powerful its output is, or if it makes a loud 60 cycle hum when you’re not playing, or if it has a tendency to make sudden volume swells without much input change. That way you’re not going to sidetrack your team, when your fancy new pedal goes crazy and does weird things. And you’re not going to hold your whole team hostage while your tech team tries to help you figure out where that hum or that buzz is coming from.
This applies to all instrumentalists. Keep using the same instrument between rehearsal and weekend service, so the tech team’s hard work to build a mix isn’t thrown out the window when you show up with that other keyboard or guitar that sounds totally different.
If you do have a new piece of gear, let your tech team know about it ahead of time, and make arrangements to test it out ahead of time of the rehearsal, so you’re not taking away from team time.
Maybe it works just as you hoped it would! Great! But I see far more often, someone shows up with a new piece of gear: an iPad to run tracks or pads, a new pedalboard, a new laptop with synth outputs, etc... and it just doesn’t work right. Too quiet, too loud, it has a buzz or a hum... lots of issues that can be circumvented by a) learning your gear inside and out before you bring it and b) frontloading to your tech team that you’re bringing it, so they can be prepared for it.
If you’re a vocalist, know your mic. Learn its dynamics. Know where the near field is that gives you strong proximity effect. Know how far you can lean away off axis and still be heard clearly. Know how to go off axis on purpose to lesson plosive syllables. Know how and when to go off-mic to belt, and how far away you need to be.
There are behavioral things we do that can cause distraction as well.
Certain elements of vocal static: clearing one’s throat into the mic, sighing into the mic, coughing into the mic, smacking one’s lips as one speaks, etc. Be aware of those and make effort to knock it off!
(I’ve got my own team holding me accountable to not breathing heavily and saying, “mmm” at random moments between songs.)
Other behaviors can be distracting too... shoving one’s hands in one’s pockets while singing, having a grimace or pained expression on one’s face while on stage, checking one’s cell phone on stage... there’s a long list.
One thing I was asked about recently at a conference was the matter of parents of newborns carrying/holding them while trying to lead worship, either playing an instrument or singing with the baby along for the ride. Aside from what should be most obvious – unless you’re providing hearing protection for a baby, a baby should NOT be in close proximity to drums and loud sounds often found on stage – let’s talk through the distraction factor.
On the side of the argument I hear most newborn parents using to defend this practice, “oh but it’s so beautiful to showcase parenthood and the bond between parent and child, and to see them faithfully continuing to lead worship while also bringing their baby along.” That may be true for select moments, but if we’re being honest, it’s not true for the entirety of the stage and worship ministry experience.
A parent holding a baby is indeed a beautiful picture of family – but a baby being held doesn’t belong on the platform as part of a worship ministry team, because of the tremendously unpredictable nature of a baby’s potential to distract. No one can accurately predict when a baby will suddenly cry out, or decide he or she doesn’t want to be held anymore and have a fit, require changing, or do any of a myriad of things that at best will take the parent’s focus way from the main task at hand – which is helping other people to worship (if it’s in the service) or helping the rest of the team prepare to help others worship (if it’s at rehearsal). At minimum, a child being a child creates attention-demanding behavior that takes away from the team’s ability to do what the team needs to do, whether in devotional time, prayer, rehearsal or service. At worst, the child can train-wreck or sideline the worship experience for the entire church.
Yes, there are exceptions to every rule. Yes, your particular child may slumber away peacefully in your sling as you sing joyfully to the Lord. No, that’s not the rule of thumb or the standard we want to aim for. Because yes, you must admit, you could perform even better if you didn’t have someone hanging off you, taking away some of your focus to serve others.
I realize I just triggered every parent of a newborn that is trying to juggle being a parent and leading worship or being part of the worship team. Let me help you, from having been there multiple times:
Choose your family as your first ministry, over the ministry of leading worship. You’ll never regret spending more undistracted time with your babies while they’re babies. Because they grow quickly, and you’ll regret missing out on that time if you don’t make the most of it.
And the reality is, while you’re splitting your attention between your baby and your worship team, you’re taking away quality time from both. You’re not giving your best to either. That’s a fact.
So choose to be a parent, take some time away from the team, and your team will thank you for it... because while most people will not admit this out loud, I guarantee that most of the people around you are thinking things like, “oh great, they brought the baby AGAIN. Don’t they have a sitter? I wonder how much of the prayer time we’ll get through before it cries or needs to be fed. I wonder how much of the songs we’ll get through this time before we’re treated to poopy diaper smells and have to take a break while they go do that?”
It is definitely affecting the team in a negative way, no matter how much you want to argue that your particular brand of parenting is the way to go. Maybe you’re one of those crunchy baby sling people. Maybe you’re in the baby backpack cult. Maybe the backpack is out, and you have the front facing Baby Bjorn. Maybe you’re an essential oil, wrapped in swaddling cloths, reusable diaper, sleeps with the baby in the bed with you kind of parent. Maybe you really just haven’t found a sitter yet and you’re trying. However the case may be, go be a parent, and enjoy this season off the stage. No one will fault you, everyone will thank you, and we’ll all be better off for it. Or... enlist help from your church family so that you can serve undistracted while you’re with the team, with the baby not on the stage.
There are plenty of other examples of things that I can think of that just bring distraction into the mix.
Bringing an unplanned instrument into the mix. Surprising everyone with a tambourine solo in the middle of a song that previously had no tambourine. Inviting people onto the stage to sing with you without running it by the team leader first. Taking selfies from the stage. I’m sure you can think of things that you or your team members have done that cause distractions. Choose better.
Here’s where you need to exercise discernment:
If you’re choosing something because “it serves my own interests” then it’s not the right choice. Especially if it’s at the cost of others interests.
If you’re choosing something because “it’s the best thing for those I’m serving” then it’s probably the right choice, but make sure others are on the same page with this idea, whatever it is.
That’s plain biblical advice. Philippians 2:3, check it out.
And yes, I know... there are always exceptions. But exceptions should be made by others on our behalf, not insisted upon by ourselves.
Choose to be exceptional rather than to be the exception.
Whatever you can do to rise above the standard, to be better at serving at the best possible capacity, even if that means simplifying – or especially if that means simplifying – do that.
“Just because you can’t be great at everything doesn’t mean you can’t be great at anything.”
– Carey Nieuwhoff
The person who does one thing, does it well. Be great at that one thing.
Be that person.
Brendan Prout is a husband, dad, pastor and worship leader. He loves training and equipping others to do the work of ministry they are called to, all things geeky, good food, cars, coffee, and not driving off cliffs anymore.