Can Worship Leaders and Musicians Resist the Temptation to 'Perform'?

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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We're setting the bar pretty low if all we want to do is avoid turning worship into American Idol.   What I mean is that even if worship leadership is not ostentatious and glamorous, we're already idolatrous if we're thinking it's about us and our personal enjoyment.

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me, first of all, that the column really doesn't address American Idol, but rather basic standards of musicianship.  If I were talking about AI, I would talk about near-lewdness in attire and behavior, mediocre music, and poor singing "redeemed" by the studious attentions of the performers.  

And like Aaron says, that's a really, really low bar to pass.  But that said, we might be able to glean a few good messages from AI.

1.  Most pop singers are not brilliant singers, and an effective church singer does not need to be able to fill a stadium in the way Luciano Pavarotti or Beverly Sills did, either.  If you survived a couple of years in high school band or choir, or a few years of piano or guitar lessons, you can probably make it in church.

2.  AI is won predominantly not with outfits, singing, or outlandish behavior, but rather when the singer connects with the audience.  In the same way, church music "wins" hearts when congregants connect with each other.  Eyes of the music screen, they generally don't bite.  

3.  Every performer knows that they're "voted off" when they do not connect.  Same thing in church--watch the men especially.  They enjoy singing, but some songs are so emotionally driven, they feel (tongue in cheek here) that they'd have to put on a skirt to sing it.  So they'll tell you first about the lack of connection with a lack of singing, and then by showing up as an empty chair.

Some things not taught by AI (which I've never watched, if you're curious, but news articles suffice)

1.  You are way ahead if you learn to read music (including those < and > signs, pp to mp to ff, and cadence indicators) and harmonize.  The difference between a bar-room cover band and the group filling stadiums is often harmonies.  Anyone who has survived a year or so of high school band or choir should be able to do this, and you can learn as an adult, too.

2.  Per 1 Tim. 2:9, the attraction is the music, not the clothes or the body beneath.  Great musicians have, throughout history, attired themselves in black, in suits, and in robes so as not to distract from their main product.  Dress accordingly--doesn't have to be a robe, but you are not Madonna or David Lee Roth.

3.  Pay attention to the fact that in Scripture, most songs (e.g. Psalms) have the doctrine preceding emotion, not vice versa.  Avoid heavily emotional songs for that reason--and remember (see #3 above) that the men will not-so-subtly tell you when you're getting too emotionally driven.  Try to imagine a platoon of Navy Seals singing "In the Garden", for example.

(BTW, nothing against women in that; it's just that men tune out first when music goes to that extreme)

4.  If you don't start to memorize the lyrics after a few times practicing a song, odds are that the congregation won't "get" it, either.  It could be that you don't "get" the poetry or the musical genre, or it could be that there is something in the poetry or music that simply doesn't lend itself to the message.

5.  If you're consistently "not getting it", make sure you're practicing.  Most of us are not virtuosi, and hence we must rely to a degree on muscle memory.

6.  Warm up!  This is especially the case in songs where the mens' parts are in both their "chest voice" and their "head voice."  It makes the transition so much easier.  Then relax and have fun.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.