The Electric: When You Feel Unwanted

Each Week I’ll try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about being Turned Down in the Mix.

I was scrolling through a forum for electric guitar players, I stumbled across a thread for guy who play in church bands. Many of them had similar stories. They had been asked to play but where almost always non-existent in the house mix, or where never able to hear themselves in the monitors because the keyboard player or background singer complained, etc. They were men who wanted to serve and felt unable to do so.

I confess I understood where a lot of them where coming from and it inspired this post.

There were three general situations represented in that forum. I want to look at the causes and give some thoughts on responses.

1. The victims of sound men…

Their band leaders want them heard but the sound guys (for many possible reasons) don’t. I was a sound guy for many years so I know what a thankless job that is. If it all goes perfect then nobody notices, but if one little thing goes wrong it’s all their fault. Over the years I’ve been amazed how many people feel the freedom to go back and complain to the sound guys who are often only doing what they’ve been told to do.

That being said there are sound guys who see themselves as a “check” for the worship band, or who don’t get the vision for what’s going on. That can be rough, I’ve been there. This is where good, honest and open communication comes in. Talk to your band leader. Be honest, have dialogue, and maybe don’t do it during sound check before service ( 🙂 ). It’s possible that this is an issue that your worship leader is unaware of or is trying to work out already. More communication is generally a good thing.

2. We Like Guitars, kinda… 

The guys who’s church wants an electric guitar player, but it’s not the emphasis… Most of the music I listen to is guitar driven, but that doesn’t mean the music your church band does is. A lot of churches are piano driven, many others have acoustic folk in their roots. The is where the “it’s not about you” or “are you here to serve?” comes into play. A lot of worship band players have been told this, especially electric guitar players. This is the situation where it really applies. Maybe you’re not up in the mix because you’re wanted to fill in the sound, but the music isn’t the music you’re used to. If you’re used to driving guitars, you may think it’s a personal thing when really it’s a sound thing.

Like I said earlier. Communication is a good thing. Communication up front to understand our role as guitar players in our church music community, and communication afterwards to head off any misunderstandings.

3. We Just Aren’t That Into You…

Then there’s the 3rd group, those who aren’t wanted… I feel for you guys. I’m not sure how you got in the church band, you may not be sure yourself, but you’re there and you feel like you might as well not be. That sucks, that really sucks.

Should you leave your church over it? Maybe and No.

No because a church should be a family. I still come to christmas dinner even though my mom insists on playing that terrible Josh Groban christmas album. (Haven’t you ever heard of Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, or even Amy Grant Mom? 🙂 ) No because maybe God doesn’t want you to serve (for now) in music at church and maybe you’re supposed to teach kids in the sunday school or help mix the soundboard. Church should be a family and if you leave so quickly over this you weren’t part of the family to begin with. I you just take your amp and go else where, you may be missing out of the great things God has planned for you that you can’t see because all you can see is “your callings” as a musician.

Maybe this is a way for you to see that God is calling you somewhere else. You might that you find that the form and expression of your church doesn’t mesh with yours, and maybe that’s part of the problem in the band experience for you. For example: You come from a Pentecostal background and you’re serving/playing a baptist church, or you only play Classic Rock/John Fogerty style leads and the church you’re at is looking for something more along the lines of John Tesh. I find that a church’s style and expressions of worship and art are often linked (directly or indirectly) with it’s views towards evangelism, discipleship, community, and theology. It’s possible that something like this is God launching you out somewhere new. If that’s the case, then see the above about a church being family and leave in the light of that great truth.

These are just some thoughts. We have the great privilege of serving Jesus and His church through music and creativity, and finding our place in His service is part of our Christian journey. If you find yourself in this situation, as many of us have, know that you are not alone and this is a great chance for you to grow deeper in prayer, God’s grace, and the community God has called you to be a part of in the local church.

Who is Your Church Geared To?

Every church is geared towards someone, either intentionally or unintentionally. The Music of the Church is often the biggest indicator of a church’s primary demographic. Is the music of your church contemporary? You are geared towards a 40 year old Soccer Mom. Does your church music sound like a Gaither Homecoming? Then you’re probably geared towards the 60 and over crowd. Does your church hand out ear plugs? Then you probably don’t know who Bill Gaither is and you’re demographic is the young and the restless. Some churches are very intentional about this. Some churches have no idea why they are doing what they are doing, its just the way its always been done.

I prefer to be intentional about things and the music and expression of the church is no exception. Who are we geared towards? Why are we geared towards them? How can we achieve this goal?

Who?

Often this can be answered by who shows up. Things like your church’s median age, marrieds or singles, kids or no kids. You can also be aware of the area you live in: Urban, Suburban, Rural, etc.

Why?

This is something that will probably be set by the Pastors, elders, and leadership of your church. Some churches focus on the unsaved. Some churches focus on who they have now. Some churches focus on the youth, while other churches give great deference to the older members.

Being aware of this as a worship leader will help you in song selection, arrangements, band selection, etc.

How?

If you know who your church is geared to, and you know why, then you have to ask HOW. How do I serve the people God has given us and connect with the people we feel called to reach?

For me, my church has a wide demographic. A fairly even balance of old and young, married and single, and kids a plenty. We want to be geared towards everyone. The vision I’ve taken from my pastor is that we want to minister to everyone. We want to respect and honor the older saints and we want to reach the next generation.

As a worship leader, this can be a bit of tight rope, you can’t make everyone happy so what do you do? The answer I came up with was a ratio and a rotation.

The Ratio: If there are 4 Sundays in a month, 2 are as middle of the road as possible. 1 skews older, and 1 skews younger. This way we minister to the most people and groups of people possible. Middle of the Road will change over time, but currently I would define it as worship leaders like Chris Tomlin, Brett Williams, Brenton Brown and bands like Jars of Clay, Phil Wickham and the music you would hear on your secular top 40 station. Older Tends to lean towards the old Maranatha praise songs, hymns, and a gentler sound with a little bit of Bill Gaither thrown in. Younger would be worship bands like John Mark MacMillan, the worship bands out of Mars Hill Church, the Reality Churches, Sojourn Church Network, and Calvary Fellowship in Seattle, and the music you would hear on your local rock or indie rock station (KEXP in Seattle for me). In addition, the #1 style of music in North Snohomish County (according to radio station ratings) is country music so I try to have 1 Sunday a month lean a bit country/folk (this can fall under Older, Middle, or Younger depending on arrangement) because country music is a very natural expression for the people in this area. In more Urban or Suburban areas the style of expression might well be different but the concept is the same.

The Rotation: I lead 70% of the time, but we have other worship leaders who lead 1-2 Sunday’s a month, plus they often co-lead with me on my Sunday’s. I have a certain style that connects with certain people, these other leaders have different styles that better connect with a different group of people. Variety is the spice of life and when you are trying to serve as wide a demographic as we are, it’s not just important, it’s essential.

The point is that one group isn’t served to the exclusion of another group. We don’t ignore our youth and we don’t put the old people out on the Iceberg. Here’s how a month of Sunday’s might work at Calvary:Arlington

Example 1:

Week-1 (Middle Ground Set, pop/rock. CCM, Modern Hymns)

Week-2 (Older, Country set:Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, He touched Me, Glory, glory, etc)

Week-3 (Middle Ground. Other worship leader. CCM. Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, etc)

Week-4 (Younger. Modern Hymns, pop/rock. a little more overdrive on the guitar)

Example 2:

Week-1 (Younger. Folky, Modern Hymns. Channeling bands like Head and the Heart, Noah and the Whale and Damien Jurado)

Week-2 (Middle Ground. CCM, pop/rock)

Week-3 (Older, other worship leader. Maranatha Praise songs. Traditonally arranged Hymns)

Week-4 (Middle Ground. Other leader co-leading with me. Acoustic CCM songs.)’

Week-5 (Fifth Sunday Month, something different, lead by myself with no band, keep it simple and straight forward)

That’s how I do it. How do you identify who you are gearing towards and how to best serve them?

No Offense But I Don’t Relate

The Reason I started this blog is that I was looking for blogs and podcasts about leading worship so that I could get better in areas I’m weak in. For me this would be admin, mostly, but I’d like to get better at team development, running practices, etc.

I found that the blogs and podcasts were not dealing with these issues or they were done by guys at a big church. There is NOTHING wrong with big churches, I grew up in a church that was around 2,000 people strong. But the reality is that leading at church of 700 or so and then planting a church that averages below 100 people, the dynamics are a lot different.

Also, a lot of the musical style and expression they were discussing was foreign to me. The expressions I found either leaned towards performance or towards a form of simplicity that was often a cover for laziness and lack of vision. In short I just didn’t relate.

I’m not trying to rag on every worship blog out there… one of the blogs that seemed to me to be from a very performance driven church taught me a lot about admin. One of the podcasts that leaned towards that rigid simplicity reminded me that I wasn’t a rock star. Both sides were used by God to bless, challenge and teach me.

I just felt that I had a perspective I could share here, and  that there might be other worship leaders like me out there who want to grow in their gifts and callings but don’t connect with the currently out there or are looking for a different perspective. I hope as I write more posts that it will be helpful to someone in some way.