“Worship is so simple, yet there are always a thousand new things to learn.”
Take this as sort of an open letter of encouragement to all aspiring musicians and potential music leaders in the Church. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and these are some thoughts that keep coming up in conversations with folks in my local church body as we strive to shepherd one another, and work to improve and train, specifically in our church music.
As the worship and music director in our local church, I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple years about training up our body of musicians and singers, as well as training up faithful guys who can lead our church to sing in a genuine, humble, biblical, skillful, and engaging way. And as I and a few others have looked for and spent time with those musicians and potential leaders, a few concerns keep cropping up. If the Church, and by “Church” I mean Christians everywhere whom God calls and ransoms out of their sin to be worshipers of Him through Jesus, is to continue her great tradition of worship through music in her local church contexts, a few things need to keep happening. And our culture threatens to shipwreck these areas too, probably more than ever. Here’s what I mean – these are things to consider that I pray for and encourage in our own local church.
1. Sacrifice, and Focus Your Time
To really be good at something, you’ve got to sacrifice time to focus on that particular skill or ability. This is a pretty good rule-of-thumb. Very few of us have enough natural gifting to be able to play a sport, build things with our hands, or play an instrument with expert skill while also failing to practice. Even folks with that extra helping of talent, in music for instance, only benefit from more practice.
And in our culture, distractions come in legions. There are so derned many things that fight for our attention, whether for entertainment or otherwise, that it’s hard to focus on a few things, and become excellent in a few areas. Don’t spread your time too thin across too many “good” things. If you have a desire and some natural inclination and ability toward music, and you’re a believer, consider really sacrificing some other things to pour your time and energy into becoming the most skilled musician you can be, with the broadest skill set you can develop. Seriously – becoming a good musician involves lots of practice time spent alone with an instrument, not to mention time you’ll hopefully spend with others playing in a group or band setting. Becoming skilled in music requires both types of practice.
2. Resist The Easy Path
I’ve heard several musicians and singers take some pride in their “self-taughtedness.” Try to talk music theory, or talk nuances of the dynamics of a song, and they might fall back on the response, “I don’t know about that stuff – I’m self taught,” or, “I just sing what sounds good. Just let me sing (or play, or whatever).” Now this might bother me a little extra because I had to work extra hard to play and sing halfway decent. And this isn’t to discount some of that natural ability that some folks are so graciously given by God – praise God that He doles out talent the way he does sometimes, freely and in great measure. But, the point is to not settle for using only what you were born with. Whatever your ability level, keep building on your skill set in humility, always recognizing areas that can be improved and sharpened.
It’s also easy to learn how to play certain instruments by shortcutting the traditional process. This is also both good and bad. Take guitar as a stark example – YouTube videos, websites, and simplified chord charts abound to help the budding guitar player learn his craft, but often at the expense of learning nuances, theory, notes on the neck, proper finger positions. But learning some of the finer, foundational elements of music and how they apply to your instrument can really help you build that broad skill set down the road. The quick and easy path to learning a song could possibly limit your ability in the long run. Resist our prevailing culture of ease and minimal effort, for the joy of a better payoff that comes after some hard work and practice time.
3. Put Your Money Toward Your Music
Again, our culture today spreads us so thin. There are a thousand-and-one things to spend our money on, in addition to our time. There are so many ways to entertain ourselves, which we like to do, and continuously putting our money toward just a couple important things seems backwards and old-fashioned to some. But, to be good at music often means a sacrifice of money too. And it’s so worth it. If you’re a musician in the church and you have some of that natural giftedness combined with a desire to grow and lend your talents and gifts to building up the Body of Christ, invest your money there along with your time. If you’re a competent guitar player still playing a “Costco special,” it might be time to invest in a nicer guitar. Guitar player without an amp? Save your dollars and get an amp. If you’ve got some natural ability and a desire to help the Church’s music, but you haven’t broken through to a higher skill level, maybe it’s time to invest in some piano or voice lessons.
I’m always surprised at how many church guitarists who’ve been playing quite a while, some even as music leaders, don’t own a pedal (floor) tuner. Granted, a nice one will run you about $80 – $100. But the return on something like that, keeping your guitar in tune at all times and sounding more consistently good, is really priceless. And helpful to your church family as you lead them in song.
I know we all have lots of expenses. I can’t spend nearly enough money on music accessories as I sometimes wish I could. Sometimes an $80 expense just won’t work out. But the encouragement is for all of us, when we can, to put our money toward fewer things, and more toward those that we care deeply about and that matter for God’s Church. Invest in your local church’s music as God gives you the opportunity.
Let’s continue to strive for more of a singleness of purpose, spending our time, energy, and resources to become more excellent in fewer areas. Wrangle with those abilities that God has already given you an inclination toward. Specifically with music, pursue it. Give yourself to it, and ultimately in worship to God through that avenue. May the Church be blessed and built up, and the Gospel treasured and proclaimed because the Church’s music-makers work exceptionally hard at their craft.