Some of this material comes from a recent conference in Bristol, so apologies if you heard it there, but over the next few weeks we are going to examine some general principles when leading the music at your church. Whether you are the main ‘leader’, or play an instrument, or sing in a group; the following are a few nuggets of biblical wisdom to chew over and pray through.
This week we are considering BEFORE we lead, next week DURING leading and lastly AFTER leading. Each week we will look at 3 areas; ‘ourselves’, ‘our skills’ and ‘our influence’.
Ourselves – what is going on in our heads and hearts.
Our skills – our musical gifts.
Our influence -recognising that how we do things as ‘leaders’ matters.
‘Watch your life and doctrine closely. Preserve in them, because if you do,
you will save both yourselves and your hearers’ (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV)
As musicians we lead. Whether we think we lead or not, we stand up and people look to us and they listen for our cues as they sing to God and edify one another. It is a joy-filled privilege to use the gifts God has given to lead the singing in any church, but as with all positions of leadership, it comes with inherent risks. One that bites so many of us, is that vile temptation to think that what we do, our efforts on a Sunday morning, will in some way cover the mess of our lives the rest of the week. It’s that ‘works-righteousness’ minefield that every leader struggles with. “If I lead and play well, if I’m sacrificial with my time, if I do more than others…I can fight sin with a wee bit less gusto in the rest of my life”. We never articulate the temptation with such precision, normally its a subliminal and subtle daily compromise. Paul says to his young leader – nope! It doesn’t matter if you play or preach to 10 or 10000. YOU, yes YOU – ‘watch your life and doctrine closely’. Watch your life, don’t compromise. Don’t think that just because you are a scarce and semi-precious commodity (a local church musician!), that your life before Jesus doesn’t matter for every moment and every breath. Before you get there on a Sunday morning to tune up and plug in, it matters. It matters how you live, how you speak, how you love, how you do everything. Don’t be a walking compromise with a capo! Also watch your doctrine. Again don’t let the fact you give so much to lead the singing, distract you from our primary joy of digging into the meaty doctrine of God’s Word each day. Don’t let a well produced song with cracking lead vocals on some random playlist, define your doctrine. It’s easy to do, because songs ‘dwell richly’, they stick. Dig into God’s Word DAILY and give yourself time to respond to him, in prayer and song, and through a life of joy-filled worship.
Before you get to church on a Sunday morning, do you practice at all? Recently at our Bristol conference I asked the same question and only 50% raised their hands. Before you descend into a ministry guilt fest, let’s acknowledge a couple of things.
- Life is busy – It can be manic and exhausting; therefore giving up time to practice 4 chords in the same sequence, repetitively for 4 minutes, can get easily deprioritised amid the humdrum of life.
- Church music isn’t challenging – I can play most church songs on my guitar using my blesséd capo (one of God’s greatest kindnesses!), with very little thought, but that means that I struggle to be inspired or challenged. If you are an accomplished / professional musician, you will struggle even more.
So think for a moment about what you practice? Do you practice to play a piece of music, or to lead people to sing? The two are of course similar, but they are also distinct. The New Testament imperatives are for the churches gathered to sing the Word (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19-20), therefore how about practicing with that as your aim? That is, everything you practice should help you lovingly and clearly lead your church to sing. Nothing else – no frilly licks, nothing that draws attention to you. But what does that look like positively? For me it means I’ll practice to make sure I can sing without looking down at my music too much. It means I’ll practice intros and outros lots so I can be as clear as I can be, visually and musically. Doing both of these in practice then helps me lead with a little less sweaty panic and a little more joy (hard when you are a relatively grumpy old man like me!).
Therefore, practice with the New Testament imperatival aims as your motivation. Simply, we have one main aim; to help people sing praises to God. Try it.
If you stand at the front of church (or off to the side), playing your instrument or singing, you are leading in some small way, whether that is directly or indirectly. As a result, you are being watched!
One of my boys plays guitar. He watches the musicians he sees at church, he picks up on their abilities and their mistakes (we all do it!). I’ve noticed that he also watches the musicians at other times because he admires them, he wants to be like them. So even when they aren’t playing, he notices them before and after church, when they are speaking to others, when they serve the coffee and even when he sees them during the week. Church musicians lead, they may not hold a biblical office (elder/deacon), but its naive to think we have no influence. ’Watch you life…’ before God, but also because of others too. (1 Timothy 4:16b)
How we live our lives before we get to church on a Sunday will influence others; to either build them up, or be a hinderance and that is particularly true if we have children at home. For example, if we stand up and lead on a Sunday morning looking all pristine and in tune, but home life is a discordant mess; what are we teaching our kids?!
None of us are perfect; but inauthentic compromise, is like a toboggan ride into a joyless abyss. So what can we do? As you get closer to leading on a Sunday morning, think practically about what you can do. Get to bed at a good time on Saturday night, get there on time to set up, get there practiced, get there with a humble attitude of service by filling your head and heart with the glories of Christ through the week.
Church musicians lead, you have influence. Therefore lovingly and sacrificially lead so there is a beautifully authentic and demonstrable connection, between your leading of sung worship as you gather in corporate worship, extending into a joyful life of worship.