Category Archives: Leadership

Constructive Criticism

If you have been in leadership of any type at any level for very long, you have received constructive criticism. When we hear it, we may question how “constructive” it actually is. One thing is certain…’s criticism, and it can be hard to accept.

It seems that in music ministry, everyone has an opinion.  Add to that the large number of amateur musicians who see no difference between their skills and that of a professional and you have a formula that’s ripe for lots of commentary.  “That tempo was too fast!”  “The key is extremely too low for the congregation.”  “You really should consider using more hymns for our blended congregation.”  “You really should consider using more contemporary music for our blended congregation.”  “Have you considered stepping down from the ministry?”  All the while, we are diligently trying to lead the people of God into authentic worship in the best way we know how.

As the criticism flies, we must be careful to guard our response. There is a tricky balance between exercising authority and assuring the members of your congregation and worship team that you are sensitive to their concerns.  For the past few weeks, my local congregation has been studying the book of James using Beth Moore’s wonderful DVDs. As I have continued to read the book and faced the above criticisms this week, I was reminded of what James 1:19-20 advises:  “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  I’m thankful that this week, I have kept my mouth shut and my ears open.  Then I’ve been able to take all the constructive criticism to the Audience of One and ask for His feedback on the situation. As always, He continues to give direction, clarity of mind, and perfect peace.


Worship Wars

 Every church faces worship wars at one time or another.  The comments come in many varieties, but the basic issue is always the same.  “I don’t like style X.”  “Why does every song have to be so old?” “Why all this loud new music?  Weren’t the hymn writers inspired as well?”  When worship wars erupt in a local congregation, they can be a major source of stress for the worship leader as well as the senior pastor.  Hopefully by understanding that these complaints are really nothing new, some of the stress will be eliminated and our focus will remain on the One who we worship.

Historically, the most famous worship war occurred during the Counter Reformation.  The Council of Trent, a meeting of bishops considering reforms within the Roman Catholic Church, complained that the current form of music was too loud because of those new-fangled organs and was too worldly in its structure.  Composers were beginning to include secular melodies in their sacred works;  in other words, Saturday night’s dance sounds were finding their way into the Sunday morning mass.  The kicker, however, was the complex harmonic structure of the music.  The music was getting in the way of understanding the text in the opinion of the Church elders. The Council of Trent made a single recommendation – let’s end the conflict and just return to the official music of the Church…..Gregorian chant.  Let’s just keep doing things the way we have always done them in order to stay comfortable.  (Sound familiar?)  Thankfully for musical development, the Council saw the error of its ways and polyphonic music continued to be a part of the sacred worship service.  (In my Music Appreciation class, this is the point that I would recommend they listen to Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass to hear an example of the beautiful music that came out of this conflict.  If you aren’t familiar with the piece, do a youtube search now and take a listen.  You will be glad you did!)

Because our current situation is based in worship and not history (a common rebuttal to the above argument by many traditionalists), let’s also examine music in the Scripture.  Music has been a part of the worship service since its earliest inception.  Recall the role of the Levites in preparing music for the various feasts and festivals of the Jewish people as recorded in the Law of Moses.  It is assumed that these priests received formal training in music theory and performance as part of their rigorous preparation.  As we move forward in Jewish history, we encounter Israel’s greatest songster:  David.

David’s early life was that of a shepherd boy.  While Scripture does not confirm this, I find it hard to believe that there would have been time (or finances) for private instruction in harp-playing and song writing for this country boy.  David was probably a self-taught musician;  many of his songs as recorded in the book of Psalms are so highly esteemed because of their simple quality.  These simple down-to-earth songs had little in common with the high praise songs heard in the Temple on a regular basis.  Despite their simplicity and repetition (consider Psalm 136 and others), David’s contemporary songs brought joy to the ears of the Heavenly Father.  After all, David was a man after God’s own heart.  (Acts 13:22)

Imagine the struggles within the New Testament church immediately after the resurrection of Christ.  The traditional Jewish songs were still true of the majesty, excellence and glory of God, but the Church now needed new songs to express their revelation that Jesus was the Christ!  The old songs simply could not adequately express the new work that was being done in their heart.  The issue is expounded even further when the Holy Spirit comes in Acts 2;  then and now — new experiences require new expressions of the Spirit and soul.

I can only imagine the struggle the early Church faced as they attempted to blend their traditional Jewish music with the songs written for the new day in which they were living.  Based upon the frequent statements regarding the Church’s unity of mind, I am convinced that they kept their focus on the One they were worshipping rather than the mode in which their praise was expressed!  What a lesson our modern congregations could learn from this…..and how our Father would be honored if we would simply worship Him in unity of voice, mind, and purpose.

Are contemporary songs anointed?  Some are, some are not.  Weren’t the songs of previous generations anointed?  Some were, some were not.  The discerning worship leader will prayerfully follow the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the congregation they serve and blend music — old and new — to lift high the praises of the One we serve. 

Certainly we won’t all like the same style of music used in our worship service.  However, when we all love the One we are worshipping and keep our focus on Him, the style won’t matter so much…..only the heart of worship will.


Developing the Next Generation

As leaders, we are responsible for the ministry of today.  We are also called to begin developing the skills of those who will come behind us, the children and teens who are displaying interest and skill in worship ministry.  If we are not comfortable working with these students, this can be a daunting task.  Here are a few ideas of how you can provide valuable experience and training to these developing worshipers while allowing them to be an asset to your current ministry.

Add them to your praise team! We have used children and teens in our praise teams during services with a youth emphasis for many years.  Why not include them the remainder of the year?  The purity of their sound can provide a nice contrast to the adults they are paired with.  More importantly, the best way that we can develop worshippers is by putting them in worship opportunities on a regular basis.  Allow them to become comfortable from an early age with expressing their worship in front of a congregation; it will be an aid to them as they grow and it will speak volumes to the members of your congregation.

Provide them training! Knowledge is power!  Training can take place in several ways.  These students may enroll in organized lessons; introductory classes in music reading and sight singing can be a fun way to make them a part of the ministry.  It can be very simple, too.  Take a few minutes from your weekly rehearsal to talk about mic technique or how to handle difficult singing passages.  This short commentary in the middle of your rehearsal gives them some insight into the process and is a great reminder for your established team members.

Mentorships!  Musicians love to share their knowledge with younger performers, so take advantage of this.  Pair your students with established members of your team.  The adults can answer questions during rehearsal, provide encouragement and feedback in a trusted relationship, and serve as a prayer partner and spiritual mentor as well!

Let me share a bit of my personal testimony in this area.  I had planned to write this post yesterday afternoon, but time got away from me.  Since this has been on my heart for a while, I had begun to take the steps to add 3 teen singers to my local worship team.  What I saw in rehearsal was so encouraging.  The students enjoyed themselves and the adult singers stepped up and began mentoring and encouraging those students.  What a positive first rehearsal for these young ladies.

As scary as it may seem when you begin to think about it, I encourage you to take the step and add teens and children to your regular praise team.  There will certainly be obstacles (the very nature of working with children and teens), but the benefits to the local ministry and the students’ lives are well worth the effort.