Hey Worship Leaders! Don’t Treat Your Musicians Like This

There are just so many amazing technology advances today to aid the average church musician. You can get the original multi-track stems from the best recordings of modern worship music and do everything from rehearse with them, sweeten a live set with them or fill an empty band spot with them. I applaud all of these and actually currently employ them in worship settings. However, how we lead our modern worship musician requires us to ask a couple of questions: Are we dumbing-down our ability to lead by relying too much on tech and not enough on musical skill? Are we using musicians to fill a slot in a machine rather than inspiring them to create?

Your guitarist volunteers each week for your worship team. He’s got a day job. He buys his own gear. Little time is left after his family obligations so we tell him exactly what to play and provide the pedals and even proper delay and chorus settings to mimic the tracks we download. It surely helps him execute something predictably accurate and without error. But, you might be boring the musician—the one that has skill and talent—to death. You might be allowing passable talent to be a part of your team, keeping them from aspiring to personal excellence.

Indeed, there is a balance. One fact must be stated. Being a better musician means you can be a better leader. And, it means your musicians can be better leaders, too. Musicianship is not simply providing a part or mimicking a recording. Each member of your team—in the ideal world—is leading worship and creating. To take away entirely the contribution of a musician’s creativity is to lose the imagio dei and settle for mechanical puppetry. Would you rather your music is perfectly executed or do you want people led? Do you want your congregation bored or engaged?

In my book, The Six Hats of the Worship Leader, I mention one of the six hats worn by worship leaders as being the music director. To be an effective music director means to lead other musicians with competence. Using the digital tools I mentioned actually is what I suggest! But, leading your team to be better musicians is to teach them—no matter their level of skill—to be musical leaders of worship. When you educate them on why dynamics will work in a section and allow the them to own it, they will likely rise to the moment. The more ownership artists have in creating, the more inspired and motivated they are to create. And, the result is one which is more likely to inspire others.

How do you get a better spiritual result out of your team? You humanize them. Use technology to serve the person, not the opposite. Understand that creating music is something people do, not machines. No one loves being a cog in a machine. However, people love being committed as part of a winning team. Your attitude about people and the results you want will come through. If you value execution over purpose, that is where the heat will be applicable. What is the purpose of church music, again? It is to lead people. When I am a better musician as a worship leader, I can direct music better. That skill ultimately makes my leadership all the better.

How do you become a better music director? That is another post. For today let’s simply ask this: Does it make sense that musical skill will increase a worship leader’s leadership?  

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Rich Kirkpatrick
Rich Kirkpatrick is a family man, writer, speaker, and musician. A ministry veteran, he has served in worship and pastoral roles in small and large settings. In 2014 he authored the book, The Six Hats of the Worship Leader. You can find him at RKblog.com where he writes about creativity, faith, and leadership.