Managing Multiple Musicians

Not too long ago I received an e-mail from someone whose music team has grown, resulting in less-gifted musicians still on the team. He asks:

Do you set thresholds for talent/ability that must be met in order for people to participate in the leading worship?  What about ‘good people’ who don’t meet your thresholds? As a corollary, how do you manage multiple musicians who ‘pass muster’ wanting to play the same part?  In other words, do you have 4 guitarists every Sunday, or do you rotate your players?

Every growing church will eventually face the issue of too many instrumentalists and/or vocalists. Here are a few suggestions and ways we’ve addressed that issue:

  • I think of three standards for musicians – godly character, natural expressiveness, and musical skill. I generally rank them in that order. Where those lines are drawn depends on the size and maturity of the church. Obviously, I’m looking for people who excel in all three.
  • Be honest with people about their gifting. I told our musicians at one point that it’s okay to be a “B” vocalist. They just need to be the best “B” vocalist they can be, for God’s glory! Many sports teams have more than double the actual number of players needed for a game. But everyone has a part to play on the team.
  • If you’re in a situation where you know some people shouldn’t be on the team, I’d recommend gathering the whole team together and laying out the standards. Let them know that as the church grows, more gifted people will come in to take the place of some people currently on the team. If that happens, God will provide other opportunities to serve. Our desire shouldn’t be to prove we should have a place on the team, but to gladly welcome and encourage those who might replace us.
  • After a group meeting, you may want to have a musical interview for everyone on the team to get a better idea of where their skills are at. If you have four guitarists, but only two good ones, you may need to release the less skilled musicians. But remember that weaker musicians can sometimes fill in for more gifted members. So don’t release them too soon! Obviously, if unrepentant sin is the problem, it doesn’t matter how gifted they are. Their participation will negatively influence the team and, more importantly, dishonors the Savior they claim to worship.
  • I’ve often found that when the bar is raised, people will often realize they shouldn’t be on the team. If they don’t see it, I need to be a faithful leader and let them know. In my 30 years or so of leading teams, I’ve only actually had to do that a handful of times. But, when I do, I emphasize that God has a unique place for them to serve, and that there will be more joy in serving with the gifts God has given them, than trying to prove they can be on the team.
  • We mostly rotate our instrumentalists and vocalists, combining different players at different times, although our singles band leads twice a quarter. We schedule musicians for the coming quarter.  The advantages of rotation are many: more people can serve, you can adjust to people’s schedules, people learn to be better musicians by playing with different people, it adds variety to the sound. Of course, there are advantages to having the same musicians each week as well. But, rotation works best for us at this point.
  • It’s always good to remind our folks that we serve for God’s glory, not our own. Encouraging others, expressing gratefulness, and being faithful are three fruits of the Gospel that help fight our ever present tendency to complain and compare.

    I’d love to hear your comments on what you’ve done to address this issue, or any follow-up questions.

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    13 Responses to Managing Multiple Musicians

    1. Mark June 17, 2006 at 6:57 AM #

      Hi Bob,

      I’m really glad you’ve given your ideas on this subject, as it’s one I wrestle with regularly.

      Personally I have always been reluctant to explain to people that they their gifts could be better used elsewhere. As a manager in the secular world, it is sometimes my job to conduct capability reviews with employees, which can ultimately be used as a means of dismissing workers who are not performing well enough. I feel that adopting a similar approach within church life is perhaps too ‘professional’. The church, after all is about grace and service, not about perfection, and I don’t want people to feel needlessly rejected. Therefore, I try to work with the musicians I have, usually be combining the weaker players with stronger ones who can train them (and cover them up if necessary!).

      This mainly applies to the existing group members from when the church was much smaller. I have recently started to produce briefing sheets to show to new volunteers to help them assess whether they are well suited to the group: hopefully this will prevent weaker players joining in the first place.

      Your thoughts on this would be much appreciated.

      Many thanks.

    2. Bob Kauflin June 17, 2006 at 11:00 AM #

      Mark,

      Thanks for stopping by. You wrote:

      The church, after all is about grace and service, not about perfection, and I don’t want people to feel needlessly rejected. Therefore, I try to work with the musicians I have, usually be combining the weaker players with stronger ones who can train them (and cover them up if necessary!).

      Good thoughts. I agree that our goal isn’t to model the professional business world where there can be a ruthless pursuit of “success,” but to recognize that God gives different gifts to different people. I’ve found 1 Pet. 4:10-11 helpful in thinking through this:

      As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1Pet. 4:10-11)

      My job is to help people know what gifts God has given them, and to equip them to use them for His glory. The bigger the team or church is, the higher the standards will be. Why? So that people won’t be distracted by people whose desire to serve musically far outweighs their gifting. Those who led the singing at the temple were skillful at it (1 Chron. 15:22; 25:7). We don’t have to be embarassed about making skill or gifting an issue. Of course, we should do that wisely and graciously, not callously and impatiently.

      I think you’re wise to include lesser gifted people on the team, especially those who can grow. That’s something we try to do at Covenant Life as well. Another option to releasing people is to open up new areas of service, like a vocal ensemble or choir, where people with less talent can participate meaningfully.

      One more point. You mention not wanting people to feel “needlessly rejected.” Amen. However, the feelings of rejection may be coming out of a person’s idolatrous desires rather than the actions of the leader. We want to be very careful not to exercise our authority insensitively. But we do need to exercise it for the good of the church, the good of the individual, and the glory of our Savior.

    3. Ryan June 17, 2006 at 1:15 PM #

      Bob, thank you so much for your comments on this subject. I am hoping to write an article on my blog about excellence as well sometime, and you’ve have given me lots to think about. I am dealing with a situation that deals directly with this topic, so I’m glad I can have encouragement from an established leader to help people to see that I’m not the only one who feels this way and that it is indeed Scriptural.

      But how do you deal with the issue within a “small” church? In our congregation of abou 450, I have someone who really has a desire to be on the worship team, and this person has a great heart, but every time I plan music for this person’s team, I have to pick carefully because certain songs won’t work as a result of this person’s lack of ability to drive that song. But at the moment, this person is the only other person that wants to play this instrument at our church.

    4. The Guy Who Wrote the Question June 17, 2006 at 1:44 PM #

      Bob,

      As always, thanks for your insights and the ministry you have to us out ‘here’.

    5. Bob Kauflin June 17, 2006 at 3:43 PM #

      Ryan,

      You wrote:

      I have someone who really has a desire to be on the worship team, and this person has a great heart, but every time I plan music for this person’s team, I have to pick carefully because certain songs won’t work as a result of this person’s lack of ability to drive that song. But at the moment, this person is the only other person that wants to play this instrument at our church.

      I start with the basic understanding that no instrument is “required” for congregational worship, other than perhaps the human voice. The standard I’ve used in a smaller church is, “Will this person’s lack of gifting be a distraction or hindrance to Christ-exalting congregational worship?” If we can avoid a few songs they can’t play, I wouldn’t define that as a hindrance. If they can’t play half the songs in our repertoire, I might ask them to lead with no instrument, and let another instrumentalist lead the band. If that’s not possible, I’d probably encourage them to practice, and wait to use them until they knew more songs.

      I think with prayer, encouragement, and humility we can strike the balance between having expectations that are too high and having none at all.

    6. Holly Magnuson June 18, 2006 at 12:04 AM #

      This was really good! The hardest part for me in being the worship director is the thought of having to tell someone they aren’t “good” enough. You gave some good tips here.

      How do you handle “try outs” of new people on the worship team? Do you have require new people to be attendees of your church for a period of time before they can be part of the team?

    7. David Delgado June 20, 2006 at 11:36 PM #

      Bob,

      You quoted….

      As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1Pet. 4:10-11)

      I like your thoughts on this issue. The only thing I would like to add is that I have found it to be a disservice to the body of Christ and to the person if they do not have the skills. We are cheating the body of Christ of a servant that could use their SPECIFIC skills and talents in a ministry. We are also cheating people of thier time by not allowing people to find their talents.

      I think if we are going to step up to the plate and require more from our vocalists and musicians than we should ourselves be willing to shepherd them through this process.

      Here is another question:

      Would you hire musicians if the volunteers could not get an acceptable quality?

      Touchy subject I know. Love to hear your thoughts.

    8. Bob Kauflin June 22, 2006 at 5:36 PM #

      Holly,

      You asked:

      “How do you handle “try outs” of new people on the worship team? Do you have require new people to be attendees of your church for a period of time before they can be part of the team?”

      We’ll be offering a seminar at the WorshipGod06 conference to answer your first question…In brief, we have semi-annual auditions. People sign up to come in for a 15 minute slot. After they audition, we send them a letter to let them know where they can participate, pending the approval of their pastor. In a smaller church, it would be much more informal. You could have regular times where new people are invited over to your house, or to the church building, to play/sing through some songs. In that context, you can get an idea of their gifting as well as their heart.

      Over the years, I’ve thanked new people who want to participate on the team for their interest and desire to serve the church. I then communicate the priority we place on knowing the spiritual lives of the people who serve from the front, and that they’re here because they are supportive of the pastors and the church’s mission, not simply because they want to find a platform for their gifts. I let them know we want them to use their gifts out of relationship. In most cases, people are glad to hear that we’re careful about who we allow to serve in a public position. When people respond negatively, they typically don’t stick around long. But I’ve never regretted waiting to put someone on the team.

    9. JJ June 25, 2006 at 12:04 PM #

      Hi, Bob!

      Love your answers on this thread. I’d like to mention another point for us to consider…

      Many musicians in church will not volunteer for an instrument role in worship if they see another person there, even if they are more skilled than the person currently serving.

      Now that’s not a problem if the person currently serving has at least what people agree to be a basic level of skill, but if the current server is more a hindrance than a help…

      Now I’ve not gone through the experience of having to tell a musician that he/she isn’t good enough (though God knows I’ve been tempted numerous times) but as I am a serving musician speaking to leaders in the worship ministry, this is a factor they need to take into account when making such tough decisions…

      JJ

    10. Shane June 27, 2006 at 1:07 AM #

      Bob,

      I’m new here. We’ve been doing one of your re-arrangements (Your Great Name We Praise) in our church for a while now, and then our pastor attended a conference in KY last in May where you led worship.
      Anyway, to the point; I offer this as encouragement.

      Shortly after I assumed the role of worship leader at our church, I new we needed to make instrument changes on our worship team. This was my first time as worship leader, so in my inexperience, instead of simply asking our bass player to step down, I tried to reassign him. Long story short, he didn’t want to play any other instrument, and simply quit.

      Things were weird between us for while, but by God’s grace we mended our friendship. Later, he actually thanked me for getting him off the praise team because he knew all along he was supposed to be ministering at one of our mission churches.

      God worked out his plan for my friend, and today he is actually pastoring at a church plant in a neighboring community. Please be sensitive to the Spirit’s instruction; just do it better than I did!

    11. David Huntley July 11, 2006 at 6:56 AM #

      I would like to say that I read all of the comments and they have added great insight to my problems. Like many people I feel that some of the problems I am experiencing are unique but I am sure someone can help and I assure you that I have been praying and praying over these issues. I pastor a small country church as a lay supply pastor and was led by the Lord to start a praise and worship team. I had been involved with a praise and worship team that was no longer together and 2 of those members became part of this team. One of which went out and bought all of the equipment (sound board, monitors, wireless…) that any group might want to have. And you are thinking where is the problem? The problem lies in the fact that this musician (drummer) has only been at maybe one fourth of the practices and or worship services. He returns no phone calls and I struggle with if his heart is in the right place and I know that it is not my place to judge. The other person I mention (Bass Player) calls at the last minute saying he is not going to make it or he is going to be 30 – 45 minutes late to practice and or worship service. Here is the problem that I seek advice on. The praise and worship team I know God wanted this for this small church we have gone from 3 youth to having 14-16 youth in just a few months. I now have 4 youth that are maybe less talented as vocalists that have joined the praise team but they have a greater commitment. Most have been to every practice and worship service and I feel that the other 2 are not setting a good example. I have been in a church where people were asked to step down and they have felt that the church has lashed out at them and I have seen them walk away from church but more importantly turn away from God. What advice would you have to help overcome this problem? Do you maybe have set guidelines that I could use for our praise and worship team?

    12. Brandon Swanner January 6, 2010 at 9:48 AM #

      Bob,

      We too are a church that has seen a significant increase in giftedness this past year (PRAISE THE LORD). I am working on a 2 month rotation schedule for our musicians now.

      I am now trying to balance the two tensions of having a musician play enough to feel involved and not burning them out. Specifically this is an issue with our guitarists. We currently have 3 electric guitarists, and four bassists in a church of 150 members(great problem). What do you recommend as an ideal “rest” from service? How much is too much?

    13. daniel.lyle@gmail.com April 2, 2011 at 1:43 PM #

      I struggle with the whole “we just want people to serve” argument for open inclusion in the worship ministry. In the two years I was a children’s pastor I never once heard that argument in relation to volunteers for the children’s ministry or any other ministry for that matter.

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