Sound Engineers: The Hidden Treasure of the Worship Team
by Dwight Beal
This article first appeared in Reformed Worship; for other articles and to subscribe go to www.reformedworship.org .
As the church adjusts to changes in the surrounding culture, worship leaders are faced with the challenges of new technology. How is it best used, and who should be the ones using it? Often the person with the keys to the building is put in charge of the new sound system, regardless of his or her musical/technological skills or spiritual gifts.
As a worship leader/musician, I’ve worked with a number of sound people over the years, and I’ve come to some pretty passionate conclusions about their importance. The person behind the mixing board is the invisible member of the worship team, every bit as integral as singers or drummers or even leaders. He or she yields tremendous influence over how we experience worship. So it’s important to get the right person for the job.
Qualifications of a Sound Engineer
There are techno-geeks and there are sound engineers. Techno-geeks love stuff; plugging things in, turning knobs, and firing up amplifiers. Sound engineers love music. Music is art, and good sound engineers are artists. You can teach someone how to operate a mixing board. You can’t always teach a person how to massage a mix into a work of art that’s a blessing to people and a fragrant offering to God. This is as much a gift as a beautiful singing voice, or the ability to preach or teach. Good sound engineers like to listen to music regularly, to train their own ears and hone their instincts. Never put someone behind the mixing board simply because she’s interested in being there; instead, identify and develop people who are gifted in this specific area.
Just as music is art, worship is spirit. In a worship setting, the sound engineer must have great spiritual sensitivity. The mixing of many voices and sounds can either create a joyful noise or a clanging cymbal. It can either assist people in hearing God’s voice or be an incomprehensible babble. So the person in control of the sound needs to be aware of who is in their midst, what is going on at each given moment, where the Spirit of God seems to be moving, and how to react accordingly. This takes great skill and discernment.
For sound engineers, the technical stuff is a means to an end—but it’s still stuff they need to understand. So the best combination for a sound engineer is the person with a strong musical and spiritual awareness accompanied by a technical savvy. When a microphone cable goes bad, a speaker blows, or it’s time to get that essential mix, the sound engineer needs to know what to do. The more trained and experienced this person is, the better.
Because they are integral to worship, sound engineers need to be intimately involved in the musical and spiritual life of the worship team—the planning, the prayer, and the rehearsals. A worship team can rehearse for hours, but it will all be in vain if the sound engineer doesn’t capture the vision and help translate it into reality on Sunday morning. It’s also imperative that the sound person is easy to work with, flexible, positive, and submissive to leadership.
Over the years, I’ve seen the nicest sound engineers turn into ogres! Their can-do attitudes may slowly morph into self-protection and territorialism—probably because they’re often overworked and underappreciated. You can usually tell when a sound engineer is approaching this bitter stage when (a) there always seems to be a reason why your idea will never work, or (b) he or she starts referring to the equipment as if it belongs to him or her personally: “My mics, my lights, my soundboard.” Sound people need healthy boundaries just like we all do, and they are just as prone to burnout. You’ll want to do your best to raise up more than one sound engineer for your ministry so that they can share the load. And they may need an occasional reminder that all that stuff belongs to God!
Some Closing Thoughts
Many churches have invested lots of time and money to update their technology but have not given the same consideration to technical personnel. Quality equipment is important, but it’s useless in the hands of people who don’t know how to use it. Keep in mind that the most technically savvy people in your congregation are most likely in high school or college. Your congregation would be well served by identifying who these people are, providing them with top-notch training, and inviting them into ministry. There could very well be hidden treasures in your midst!