Thursday, January 1, 2015

Guest Post: To worship band members

The following came to me in an email and I asked the sender if I could use it as a guest post.

Unless we've played together, you don't know me. And no, this isn't an American Express commercial. And that's okay.

By trade, I am a software developer. By passion I am a learning addict. My main interests are, well, everything but all that is by the by for the moment. By habit borne of talent, persistence and passion, I lead worship. I do so on my own in whatever home group I've joined, if it suits what the group does. I worship at church when I'm not part of the band, but I'm part of the band pretty often and willingly: in bands large and small, high-profile and unknown. And I've been doing this for 30 years and maybe a bit more. In that time, I've gotten more opinionated -- and perhaps, just perhaps my opinions have become slightly more worth sharing.

If you're involved in worship in a church setting, the key question you need to know the answer to is this: "Why are you there?" Worship leaders great and small -- especially the worship leader you serve under -- are ready to give many and diverse answers to that question, and in the words of Huckleberry Finn, they "tell the truth mostly." Still, if you're normal there'll always be this nagging doubt that the things they say are at least partially self-serving: they want to fix you in place, to serve their interests, to prop them up. Since the heart "is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who [even a worship leader] can know it?" there's just the possibility that that's the case. So, I thought perhaps there's some sense in me, that you'll probably never see in a pulpit -- certainly never headlining a band "coming soon to a stadium near you" -- outlining what I've come to see as answers to that question, true enough to make you as effective in that role as you can be; as Papa wants you to be, for his own sake, yes, but just as surely for your own.

You, indeed the whole band and the worship leader are there for one primary reason -- and it's one that a worship leader I served under a long time ago highlighted repeatedly: It's like John the Baptist said when his disciples were disgruntled that Jesus was gaining more followers than he was in John 3:30: "He must become greater, I must become less." How much more should I say than that? But I will say a bit more on this and a few more points.

Whatever you do, your goal should be to draw attention to Jesus' beauty, to his glory. Go ahead and play the best licks, riffs and vamps that you can manage -- within what works for the arrangement, more on this anon -- but do whatever virtuosity you can manage with the heart of a kindergartener bringing home his crayon drawings of "Daddy at work", and do it in such a way as to make focusing on Jesus and to make deeply expressing love, honour, awe, praise, thanksgiving, supplication toward him easier for everyone.

Some modicum of modesty is indicated (ask yourselves, sisters, what would your granny approve of?) but probably not the narrowest definition ever (we are under grace, not Torah or Shari`a) -- walk this one out as your conscience and local scruples balance out.

Some level of physical expression is probably a good idea: break dancers would be distracting in many settings but triumphal notes and rousing words, such as the repetitions of "There is no God but Jehovah" in Robin Mark's "Days of Elijah" becomes comical when the worship band is as animated as zombies. You can find some balancing point between those two extremes in your own setting, so do so; something appropriate to the lyrical and musical content of the song being used and the congregation you're serving.

Serving, yeah... That's not just a nice religious word, it's what you're doing. And if you're not leading worship with serving in mind, then you're probably heading off the rails soon if you aren't already in the ditch. Whom are you serving? Primarily God, of course, but in your context, the band is serving the congregation (or the individual leading in a homegroup is serving the, um, homegroup) and you as a member of the band are also serving the leader and your fellow team-mates. So, sniping is out. Competing for spots is out. Ignoring the arrangement the leader said he wanted to follow is out. Even, ignoring the arrangement the leader is actually using is out. If the music says "A major" but the leader keeps playing "A minor" in that one place, and you notice it, following the music too closely is out. Do what he/she says (or does, in a case like the wrong chord) or the result will be distracting from the primary purpose: corporate worship.

This extends, especially for the older and/or more educated and/or more skillful members of the band to further issues. Sometimes the arrangements suck. For whole sets. Sometimes the songs suck. It's what the congregation loves but you're finding it cheesier by the week. Sometimes the same lame chord progression is used for the whole song. Including the chorus; AND the bridge. Sometimes secondary key signatures are introduced in the most bizarre fashion imaginable. Sometimes the theology of the lyrics is weak -- even bordering on heretical. Like "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" implicitly denies the resurrection. Like why are we singing about absolution? We're not Catholics or anything -- and I'll bet they wouldn't even use the word that way. Like how do you "walk upon salvation"? Tim Hawkins has highlighted some lovelies here. Do yourself a favour and look for him on youtube -- all I can say is "I can only eat margarine."

So what do you do? Step one is not "I quit." In fact, "I quit" doesn't show up on the list of things to do at all. You know that saying about making a silk purse out of a sow's ear? That's what you get to do. At least, sort of. The truth is, no worship leader's arrangements, songs or set -- unless the worship leader is about to be sacked by others for other reasons -- is really a sow's ear. But even if it were, we're working in the Kingdom Dimension now and it is Jesus' promise that every gathering of two or more of his loved ones will be graced by his presence, not just those that feature a "perfect" song set. So if it all sucks, suck it up, princess, and play your best for the Audience of One, in support of the ones around you, so that they, too, will be able to do their best in the same endeavour. It may leave you cold. You may long for something better to happen. But in the meantime, the Body will be blessed and that's what the job's about. Remember point one? When Jesus becomes greater and we become less, that's when the Body is most blessed.

Sure the worship leader likes every song to start in the same ways (or in too different ways that seem to jar when you play the set). Sure there are rhythm and/or tuning problems but the best response from YOU in that situation is to stay loyal to Papa's side in the fight, which for that moment means pulling together with the ones you're serving with.

Your day to dictate what should happen will come -- or maybe not. And whether it does or not (as it really hasn't for me; probably never will) God will use you to extend his kingdom in big and small ways. And please believe that whatever reason others might have for saying that, I at least am not saying this to keep you down. I'm saying it because this set of attitudes has blessed and sustained ME in my in-again out-again, up-again down-again career as a volunteer member of worship bands wherever it has been my privilege to contribute. And I'm sure they will be of benefit to you even if you never hear me say it in person.

Sometimes you'll be involved on the platform -- or even in a homegroup -- more, sometimes less. And maybe the changes will happen because of the carnality of the worship leader, like David was delayed in getting to the throne by Saul. So be more like David than like his son Absalom -- Tale of Three Kings, there's another book that helps outline what kind of a heart you should have within a worship band. Only not just in a band but in life generally: see to it that you're more like David away from the platform, too. To put it another way, live like Brother Lawrence did (skillfully re-set by David Winter in "Closer Than a Brother" if the medieval sounding translation of "Practice of the Presence" is too crusty for you): Jesus' presence is available to all of us individually. Speak into the silence when no one else is listening and wait. Answers do come.

Be skillful; be as skillful as you can be -- don't short-circuit that for anyone. It takes just as much skill to play well one way as another. It takes another set of skills to select from your toolbox things you don't typically choose to do because the setting demands it. Wait and look for opportunities to contribute your ideas when arrangements and sets are being developed, sure. But be even surer that the worship leader you serve with is correctly confident that whatever he does, even if it veers away from what he or she said would be done, that you'll do your best to follow so as to make the result sound as good as possible: again, not for anyone's aggrandizement but so that there should be a minimum of confusion in what is played so that the attention goes where it belongs: our beloved bridegroom.

There. Now I'll be like the rich man in James and "fade away, even while I go about my business..."