If you’ve ever been part of a worship band I’m sure you’ve felt like this at some point: “How am I supposed to worship when that guitar is out of tune?” Or: “I know I should be concentrating on God but that vocal part isn’t right.” You can add in any number of technical concerns that pass through the mind of the worship band member at any moment in the service. Where is the balance between the technical with the spiritual in worship?
I was scanning through our last article on reasonable service and was struck with this statement: “In the Old Testament a skilled workman was commissioned to build the altar, but the sacrifice offered gave the altar meaning.” If you haven’t read that article take a moment and give it a read. A commission given: authority to act, a matter entrusted, a group of persons directed to perform (Merriam-Webster). If you are a church musician, paid or volunteer, you have an awesome responsibility to play your instrument or sing to the best of your ability (and if need be to better your ability). A very real authority has been given from God and your pastor to stand in the midst of that church and perform or execute the matter committed to your trust; that is, worship. In other words, your skill has been required by your God in order to provoke yourself and your church to Worship.
A Short Story
When I was a younger worship leader all I could think about were the technical aspects of our worship; the figurative building of the altar. I played bass at the time and went to great lengths the be the best bass player I’d ever seen. I tried hard, and in some measure succeeded, in bettering my technical ability. As I grew as a believer I became more aware of the man behind the curtain. But, when it came time to play our music I couldn’t help but mentally switch over to the technical side of things. It was, in fact, hard for me to worship while playing in the worship band. So, I gave up playing in a worship band. As years passed I was drawn back into the music in church. I started playing guitar and I was terrible. Again, I spent time to become that “skilled workman” who could help build the altar. This time something was changing. I was playing alongside very skilled workmen. But, workmen who were very concerned with what was being placed on that altar. To say it another way, these band members were so skilled that it was almost a non-issue and therefore the more weighty matters took the stage…WORSHIP. Our musical prowess was now not an end but a means to elevate ourselves and anyone around us above the temporal and into the eternal, above the seeing eye and hearing ear and into faith! It was a time full of awesome and thought-birthing moments. I am thankful to have had that time with people very skilled, technical, and worshipful.
I was recently watching the Voice and something stayed with me. After a number of contestants had sung for these well known and skilled musicians the most frequent comments were either: “I just didn’t feel you in that song.” or, “Man, I felt you singing that!” The point? They’re technical ability is not the deciding factor. I’m sure you have to be a great musician to get on that show. But, those coaches are looking for something more. I feel that it is a very similar scenario in our churches. I get up there and sing and play as good as anyone but it rings hollow. What happened? I’m just building an altar. As necessary as that is, it’s meaning comes when the sacrifice is laid upon it. I’m not saying ignore the bad mix or the out of tune instrument. I’m saying be so skilled that those things become non-issues. I’m saying you are a skilled workmen and a very great matter has been entrusted to you. Are we, as church musicians, commissioned to build that altar? Yes. Is there skill involved? Yes. But, the meaning and value comes when the sacrifice is laid upon it, when we yield, in that very moment, to God’s mind, God’s mood, God’s affections and draw the whole congregation, as many as are willing, along with us.