The goal for church musicians and assistants should be that they become ministers through music. Ministers through music have some very distinguishing characteristics. They are passionate about what they are doing. They have a sense of calling. They are disciplined. They are full of integrity, and they clearly exhibit a servant heart toward God and others. What worship pastor wouldn’t want a stage full of people who fit that description! Conveniently, every one of these qualities comes along quite naturally as a result of one all-important process called spiritual growth.
So, how do we help our worship team members become ministers through music? There are four practical steps we can take. But before we delve into what we can do, we need to understand what God will do.
I know how easy it is to become frustrated and impatient with members of our team when we don’t see them growing and developing like we think they should. When they grumble and complain, when they are late for rehearsals and don’t take their responsibilities seriously, when they seem to want the spotlight all to themselves – all these attitudes and actions are realities every seasoned worship pastor has had to deal with at some point. “What am I going to do with these people?” we say in exasperation. The answer is simple: We need to fervently and consistently pray for them. The good news is that it’s not up to us to change them. That is God’s job. The powerful message of 2 Corinthians 3:18 can be boiled down to six words: “Gaze on him and be transformed.” According to Hebrews 12:2, Jesus is both the author and the finisher of our faith. Our responsibility then, first and foremost, is to intercede for those in our worship ministries, asking our great Gardener to grow them and transform them in his time and in his way.
Beyond praying for them, there are some specific things we as leaders can do to help the growth process. First of all, we need to personally exemplify the qualities and characteristics we hope to see in those we lead. For example, if we want to see passion in others we need to show some ourselves. Are we enthusiastic as we lead from stage? Do we show up with a smile and an upbeat attitude each week for rehearsals? Can others sense our passion for God and for those he loves? Augustine of Hippo said, “The Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot!” That kind of passion will contagiously “rub off” on your ministry team if they see it first in you.
Then there is discipline. How incredible would it be if our musicians practiced their music at home before they came to the rehearsals? How much more effective would it be for the singers to memorize the lyrics to the songs so they could focus on the congregation and the Lord? If we desire such disciplines in our praise teams, we must set the example of discipline before them. My college choir director often said, “I will never ask you to do something I myself would not do.”
Exemplified discipline is also needed with spiritual growth. I was talking with a music director whose choir had recently gone through my worship study, Pure Praise. I asked him how his people responded to the study, and his reply was that they didn’t “get into it” very much. Spurred on by curiosity as well as some concern (since reports from other groups have been very positive), I asked him why. All he said was that he didn’t really know. Then, later in our conversation, he admitted something that cleared up the mystery for me. He said that when he introduced the study to his choir, he explained how he wanted them to do it and why he thought they needed it. But then, he told them he just didn’t “have time to do the study” himself, thus he wasn’t going to participate in it. No wonder his people didn’t “get into it” more. They didn’t see their leader place priority on growing spiritually, so why should they? I heard a wise elderly evangelist explain it like this: “You gotta say come on; you can’t just say go on.” No truer words have ever been spoken regarding spiritual leadership.
The second step we can take to help move our team toward maturity is to examine. That means we should purposefully observe our team members, taking note of their progress both in their ministries and in their spiritual growth. Are they being effective? Are they being challenged under our leadership? We should invest time with them and be friends with them outside of rehearsals and hectic church schedules. I don’t mean that we try to be best friends with them. And we don’t necessarily have to spend individual time with them. (In fact, do not spend individual time with anyone who is the opposite sex.) Perhaps go out to eat as casual groups, or invite your team over to your home occasionally, if possible. Be sure to make use of your quality time around them to discover their attitudes toward the rest of the group and toward their ministry involvement.
I recently spoke with a fabulous bass guitarist who was dissatisfied with the church he had been playing in for years. “We never practice before we play,” he told me. And as a result he had finally decided to move to a different church where he would be challenged and could play with more excellence. As he talked with me, I couldn’t help but wonder if his worship director had any idea he was so discontent.
Not only should we as leaders examine our group, but we should also lead our group to examine themselves from time to time. One tremendous approach is to draw a simple “spider graph” on a white board. Starting from a central hub, draw five lines of equal length and of equal space between each line. Place ten points or marks equally spaced on each line. At the end of each line write one of the following words, so that each line represents a different characteristic. The words to write are: passion, calling, discipline, integrity, and servant heart.
Now, briefly explain each word to your group and ask them to agree together on a ranking of 1 – 10 for how they as a group are doing regarding each quality. For example, say you are discussing integrity. If they feel they are doing really well in that area, you might collectively agree on a 9. If so, start from the center hub and count nine marks out on the line labeled “integrity.” Place a distinct marking there representing your decision. After you have discussed and decided on a ranking for all five qualities, “connect the dots,” so to speak. What will result is a “spider web” that clearly signifies the areas in which you are strongest and the areas where you need to improve.
To really drive home the impact, hand out blank pieces of paper and ask them to anonymously rank themselves individually on each quality. Add up their individual scores and compare those with what how they see themselves collectively. Then explain that your group is made up of individuals, and your team is only as strong as your weakest links. This should help challenge them to personal growth and change.
Thirdly, just as it is important to exemplify and to examine, it is equally vital to exhort them toward maturity. As worship pastors and leaders, we need to do as Paul who wrote to the church at Thessalonica: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12a NIV)
There are several ways we can exhort or urge our team members. Perhaps most importantly, we should encourage them often. Even the most secure musicians and technical assistants appreciate being told when they do a good job. Praise their efforts and progress in front of their other team members. I send a weekly email to my group with updates and announcements. Once or twice a month, I try to highlight a member of our group, pointing out a commendable action or attitude of his or hers the previous Sunday.
Another way we can exhort our team is through teaching them. I strongly recommend that you carve out time during your regular weekly rehearsals to do a few minutes of teaching on worship and leadership, so you can include and impact the most people within your groups. Too often we leaders get frustrated and impatient with the spiritual and biblical shallowness of our people, when, in fact, we are encouraging that shallowness because we don’t invest time to teach them.
At times you may even need to confront members of your group if their lack of commitment or their poor attitudes are affecting others in your group. I had to ask a guitarist to leave my praise team once because he refused to repent when we discovered he was living with his girlfriend. Confrontation is never easy or pleasant, but as shepherds we must protect the “flock” God has entrusted to us. The key above all is to love them. Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV)
The fourth step that will help develop your team to be ministers through music is experience. Look for ways to build in success stories for your group. Celebrate when you have a powerful and well-executed worship set, for example. Feature individuals within your group to share Bible verses or faith-stories during the service when possible. Consider turning the leadership reigns over to someone else on your team for a song or two occasionally. Be sure to set them up for success by carefully preparing them, then showing them you trust their abilities and their walk with God. Also, help your group experience ministry off-stage by taking them on a mission trip or by investing a day to sing at an assisted living home or homeless shelter. Pray for and look for ways to minister to those both in your congregation and, of course, within your group.
One final thought: Sure, developing our worship teams to become ministers through music can seem like a slow and challenging process at times. But keep this in mind: Spiritual growth – both for your team and for you – is a journey, a journey you have the opportunity to be a part of. So, don’t treat it like a dreaded responsibility, but rather as a joyful privilege you have to watch your team blossom in their understanding of true, Biblical worship. Don’t let your education staff and your Sunday School teachers have all the fun! Determine to do all you can to help your group “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”! (2 Peter 3:18 NIV)