How Expectations Can Help

Someone recently asked me about auditioning potential musicians. While the subjects of excellence and of auditions are conversations for another time, one beneficial byproduct of auditions I wanted to address now is that they prolong you with opportunity to invite your congregation to worship.

This side benefit of auditions is that by requiring them, you communicate to musicians that you value proficiency. Better musicians tend to not want to be in bands with poor musicians. Most musicians tend to gravitate toward groups that are one or two steps above their own level of ability. They like being challenged to improve to make the grade, as long as the goal is achievable with effort. Musicians wanting to work with people far beyond their own capacity typically have either an inaccurate self-awareness about their own abilities, an expectation to be carried along or a lack of concern for excellence. I seldom find musicians who are excited to join groups in which most of the musicians are far below their level—it hinders their being effective at the level they are used to.

There is a level of proficiency necessary below which a team becomes ineffective at connecting with the  congregation. Who sets that level? Not God. He’s more interested in a concert of joyful noise by people whose hearts are sold out to Him. It’s partially set by your musicians. They have to be able to work together effectively and efficiently, or things crumble and the team becomes ineffective. Because you work pretty closely with these folks, you know what works with them and whether or not a new musician will probably make the grade with them. Everyone wants to be effective and to work with others who help one another have impact. So this thought probably isn’t new territory.

But the level is also set by the congregation. This is the “Good Enough” factor. And we worship leaders tend to piously ignore it.

Every audience expects a certain level of proficiency. Maturity and relational factors in audience members can certainly provide grace if this level is not met. But if the audience does not have a strong connection with the performer, the level of performance is one of the few doorways through which the audience can connect with your message.

Like ‘em or not, expectations matter. Your invitation to the congregation can be the doorway through which they are able to engage in worshiping the Lord together.

Missing the mark of the audience’s expectation regarding the level of excellence is one of the greatest door slammers of them all. Even if the message of the music is incredible, if the package containing that message is different than the message’s receiver was expecting, the message may be misunderstood or ignored entirely. They won’t get it.

Please don’t berate your congregation for this. God made us that way. He designed our brains to sift through so many messages at every moment that we automatically sift out things that seem irrelevant. But if you understand this principle, it can work for you.

Consider your reaction if you went to see your favorite worship leader, and you discovered that for some reason another singer was performing instead—someone who was simply terrible, didn’t know the words or the melody, had trouble with pitch, couldn’t keep time and stared at the ceiling during the entire evening. You probably would leave pretty disappointed.

Or worse yet, how would your reaction be shaped if you knew the replacement singer was just the niece of the concert hall’s owner, and the only reason she was there was to keep the arena from losing money from canceling the performance?

But if you found out the singer was the worship leader’s prayer partner from Dejurak Syria—the sole survivor of an ethnic cleansing raid on her village, who had witnessed all kinds of terrible acts upon her family and friends and had only gotten through the experience through crying out for the Lord’s help—those songs would have taken on an incredible new meaning and depth. And you would have walked away with a very different experience entirely. (I’m making this story up for the sake of example, by the way.) Without that contextual connection to open the door, it’s much more difficult for the audience to receive.

So if you know your package is weak, help the congregation know how to adjust their measuring stick and receive the message. (It’s almost always good to create a relational context in which the congregation can connect.)
Also, make a musical package your audience—the congregation—can recognize and open. One they understand means, “Hey, you, let’s worship!”

High church, low church, unchurched—you have to know your congregation. You have to know what clicks with them and what kind of packaging allows them to more easily access your invitation to worship. Each congregation is different, and you have to be the expert on your own. Your team has to be able to meet that level of expectation—not as an end in itself but only as a reality your musical arsenal must address. Consider it like using your foot to keep the door open. Meeting that expectation provides you with a momentary opportunity to convey your message.

That’s just one look at the practical application of expectations. There is an entirely different conversation about excellence itself and the role it plays in worship. Another time for that …

In the meantime, keep the door open!

Other Worship Planning Articles.  

Previous articlePreach Like a Pro: How to Raise Your Game
Next articleMatt Chandler Impersonates Mark Driscoll'
I have experienced life-transformation while serving over the years in nearly every musical and technical role (except drums!) in churches ranging from a small start-up through overseeing all creative arts aspects as the Worship Arts Pastor at my current multi-site location. Besides the wonder of leading congregational worship as we embrace Jesus, I find joy in helping leaders and their teams work through their own times of transition to become more effectively fruitful. As we journey to the Lord's throne, there's always something new to discover - in Him, in myself, and in one another.