Finding Your Place Pt. 3

Preface

I started playing bass when I was 12. When I was 14 I picked up the guitar. I’ve been playing both ever since. I led worship for the first time at age 14. I learned to practice by playing in bands in high school, and worship teams in my teens and 20′s.

Not everyone who plays in a church band has that kind of background. A lot of good folks learned to play their instrument on their own and don’t know how to play and practice with a band. The following series of posts will be thoughts on how to serve God and His church well, by learning how to practice well. Here’s a few thoughts and musings on “Finding A Place” in the band for you and your instrument.

Part 3: Finding Your Place In The Style

“Style and expression in worship are always secondary things when compared to the heart that is looking to worship Jesus”

People in the church come from a wide range of background and experiance and bring with them a wide range of expression. As an individual memerber of a church family, I don’t want to come expecting my preferences to be met every single Sunday, but I come to seek God, and serve Him and His people. The flipside is that as a worship leader, part of how I serve God and His people is by helping them express their worship in song to God. This means that a church with a healthy music and arts ministry should have a wide range of expression to match a people with a wide range of expression.

If you play in a normal band you generally only play in one style of music. People in a church band generally need to have a familiarity with several styles of music including, Pop, Rock, Country, CCM, Classical, Chorale, and Folk. This can be stretching. But stretching can be good.

How Does This Work Out?

“I had to play something totally out of my zone and I really grew because of it”

Let’s say you’re a bass player with a background in alternative rock and you’ve been asked to play on Sunday. You get the set emailed to you a few days before and it’s heavy on Country Songs (I’ll Fly Away, Tis So Sweet, He Touched Me, etc). If you show up to practice and start throwing down aggressive bass riffs it’s probably not gonna work out well. If you’re seasoned, you might throw “Live at Folsom Prison” or “Comes a Time” by Neil Young on to your iPod to get a feel for how a bass part works in that kind of music.

Another example, this one from my own mistakes. One Sunday I was playing lead guitar for the church band and the leader had a song on the set that I’d done many times before. The problem? I just started playing what I had always played (it was very U2-ish with lots of delay). The Problem? He wasn’t doing the song that way, he was doing a really straight forward, no-nonsense arrangement. I should have known better, but I didn’t, and I kept thinking “why isn’t he doing this right?” until the 2nd time we practiced it and I realized that I was the one who was off. Could the band leader have been better in explaining what was going on? Sure. But would all this have been avoided if I had just followed my own advice in Part 2 of this series and stopped and listened to what was going on? Absolutely.

What if I Just Don’t Play That Way?

“If I can learn how to play my instrument with skill, and to do so while playing well with others, then I think I’m giving my best offering.”

This is a good question. What if you’re a musician with a background in country and blues and the church band is really heavy on Contemporary Christian Music (CCM)? Or Visa Versa. I think there’s three ways to look at it.

1. For Band Leaders: I try to know the strengths and weaknesses of those I serve and play with. If I’m thinking indie rock, I’ll probably not ask the blues guitarist to play until next week when we do a set of songs that have a roots/country feel. But then at some point you also have to come to the realization that you won’t always have “the sound” you are aiming for and there’s more important things going on, and you ask the blues guy to play because that’s what’s important.

2. For Band Members: It’s always good to learn. If you’re church plays a certain style that you’re not used to, it’s usually not a bad thing to learn something new. I can think of a few times where I had to play something totally out of my zone and I really grew because of it. If the band leader asks me to do something a certain way, and I don’t try because “that’s not how I play” then am I there to serve or be served?

3. For The Times You Just Have to: Sometimes things are thrown together at the last minute. Someone is sick. Someone can’t make it. We need a drummer, and can you help? In those times when I’ve had to do stuff out of the ordinary for me I’ve just tried to do the best I could, do a lot of listening during practice and remembered less is more.

Why Does This Matter?

“I come to seek God, and serve Him and His people”

It does and it doesn’t. Style and expression in worship are always secondary things when compared to the heart that is looking to worship Jesus. So in that sense all the stuff I’ve written about isn’t that important. But, Psalm 33 tells musicians to play “skillfully” for God, and in the Bible our offerings are always to be our “first fruits” or in other words: our best effort.

The point of this series is to encourage musicians in the church to serve well. If I teach Kid’s classes I want to learn to communicate in a way children will understand. If I go to Mexico to build a house I want to learn the basic terms and tools of construction. If I felt lead to feed the homeless, it might help to know how to cook.

If I can learn how to play my instrument with skill, and to do so while playing well with others, then I think I’m giving my best offering.

Communication + Patience= Success.

“practice makes perfect”

If you find yourself in a situation with a church band that’s doing music that’s different from what you are used to then be patient and communicate.

-Be patient with yourself: You’re learning something new. That always takes time. Remember when you first picked up your instrument? It takes time.

-Be patient with them: They may be speaking another language musically then you. They may not realize it. Patience and grace can be two way streets. Extend it to them and you’ll most often find it extended to you in return. The blunt flip side is that if you or I are hard to play with then we might not get asked to serve with the band again.

-Communicate: If you’re in the band and unsure: “What do you want here exactly?” “This is the way I’m hearing it, is this what you want?” “Is this what sound you are looking for?” If you’re the band leader, head off problems before they start.Personally, I write arrangement notes on the chord charts for the band. I try to communicate the sound and style we are going for, etc. Generally speaking communication makes the world a better place.

How Do I Learn?

“People in a church band generally need to have a familiarity with several styles of music”

Mostly by doing, practice makes perfect, the more you play the better you’ll be at this. Also by listening (new music is a good thing) and by asking (see communication above). You can see it as a chore or you can see it a fun to explore and learn. It’s all how you view it. I learned about country music because of playing in a church band, and I had to learn about things like sustained chords for the same reason. I’m glad I did, and I’m a better player and musical servant for it.

Chasing or Challenging

Whether they know it or not most churches chase musicians and artists. They either chase after them or they chase them away.

Chasing After Artists

Have you ever heard of a church that pays a drummer from outside the church family to show up on Sundays?

How about a church that lets a guitar player stay on the worship team even after he’s left his wife and kids?

I know of examples of both of these situations. This is just my opinion but these churches seem to value “the artist” over community in the case of the drummer or people in the case of the guitar player.

I know of churches that have policies on who can be involved in the worship team but will break them without a second thought if they are a good enough musician. Imagine if we did that with the children’s ministry?

Chasing Artists Away

The flip side of the church that idolizes “the artist” is the one who shuns them. “Go be creative somewhere else,” they say. “The church isn’t the place for artistic expression” they might tell you. But they will often look down on the bass player when he joins a band that plays in the local bars or the graphic designer that falls in with a loose crowd of artists who don’t shun them.

Challenging The Artist

The goal I have is not to chase but to challenge. As the music director at my church I don’t want to chase after musicians. If I find out someone plays an instrument I’ll talk to them but I try not pressure and I don’t want to bend rules or policy due to talent.

But I also don’t want to chase them away. I want to find a place for the artists that God adds to our church family. I’d rather see them create for God’a glory in the context of our church family than outside of it.

I want to challenge our musicians and artists to be creative servants. I want to challenge them as family members to serve the same way we would a deacon or Sunday school teacher.

I will use and be thankful for the artist God gives us and I hope and pray that I challenge them rather than chase them away.