This should be a question every lead worshiper ought to wrestle with and decide upon, for the quality and quantity of the outflow of your musical gifts to the church depend on your answer.
When I was just getting involved in worship music, I was a pretty rough, undeveloped musician. I could play a variety of instruments, but none of them particularly well. Of course, I thought I was amazing – but when I wanted to join the worship band, I was told (gently) that I needed to spend more time developing my skill. In response, I spent hours each day spending “time in the woodshed”, as my friend Norm Stockton likes to put it. I came to every rehearsal, even though I wasn’t on the team, learned every part of every song, and tried to build a playing style and tone to be one that would complement the songs that the band was doing. After many months, I was invited to join the band and began leading from the front, after putting in the requisite time behind the scenes. Even after being included in the team, I never slacked off from my commitment to offer my very best to the Lord and His Church, and that woodshed time is still part of my discipline as a musician.
This sort of persistence pays off, and it’s what good leaders look for in their musicians: ones who desire to live out the biblical standard of a worship musician: “trained and skilled in music for the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 25:7)
Simply having a desire to do something isn’t enough. There are plenty of people who want to play an instrument or sing well, but when I ask them how they are investing in themselves to hone their craft, how many hours they are putting in during the week to build confidence and skill, what conferences they’re attending, or what resources they’re studying and applying, I often hear the response, “oh – I don’t really have that much time to do that. I go to practices on Thursday, and that’s about it.” As if they are going to develop their skill by osmosis, that simply by listening to a song occasionally that they will somehow mysteriously be able to play and articulate it with excellence.
How sad that someone would think this level of effort is acceptable, to play music for the King of Kings and His people!! I want to challenge you all to set your personal bar of preparation WAY higher than that. We all know that ministry is costly, and we need to strive for David’s attitude in 2 Samuel 24:24, where he exclaimed, “I will not give to the Lord my God a sacrifice that has cost me nothing!” Let your passion shine in what you do. As Scripture instructs us, “...whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Especially in the secular music world, you can tell how passionate a person is about their craft, because the amount of investment they’ve made into their skills is easily seen in the way they perform. They don’t have to even be anybody particularly famous, but if they’re truly a professional, they have to take their craft very seriously – if they themselves are to be taken seriously by others. Why would musicians in the church settle for less than that?
Let’s be real. It’s really easy to settle. It’s easy to say, “this is as good as I’m ever going to get,” and give up on improving yourself. As a result, there are plenty of so-so musicians in the church today, those who are only adequate for the task, but not excellent. But is that really the kind of musician you want to be?
The Word says in Psalm 33:3, “Sing to the Lord a new song; play skillfully with shouts of joy!” Being skillful means having a heart that strives for excellence befitting of the Lord – putting in the time, honing your talents and abilities, showing yourself as a worker approved for the job.
I encourage you to strive to be a great musician. Being great does not mean you’re famous – it means you are passionately committed to doing what you do with the highest level of skill. Like the one who puts his hand to the plow and won’t turn back and won’t give up until the job is done right, bring that I-won’t-give-up attitude to your musicianship and your service to the Lord.
We’re instructed by God not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, so each of us should routinely engage the discipline of sober reflection and ask ourselves theses questions: what kind of musician am I? What kind of musician do I want to be? What do I need to change to get there? And then respond – make the changes, put in the time, live out the commitment and show the world what a great musician looks like for the glory of God.