I come from a family of musicians. It’s a great way to grow up, but a problem we used to often encounter is that we could not turn off that side of ourselves in church. Some of you know what I’m talking about: The band starts to play, the worship leader opens their mouth and BAM—they sing a note that is nowhere near the right key. The musician in me inwardly cringes as the worship leader attempts to try to find the melody of the song … and fails. I know this is worship time, but I and my family can’t help but give each other looks every time the singers mess up their harmonies or the drummer gets a little "too happy" on those drums.
It is often a challenge for church music directors to find willing volunteers who not only want to give up their time but actually possess musical skill. They are often left to scramble, sometimes going outside their church membership to hire other singers and musicians to come in. Just how important is musicianship to the worship experience? What attitude should singers and musicians carry when in church?
Depending on what type of church you go to, the allotted worship time can be from 15 minutes to over an hour long in more charismatic churches. Regardless of how much prominence musical worship is given in your church services, it is up to those in charge to provide the right atmosphere for those to enter into God’s presence and leave behind the worries of the week. Worship should be a time of reverence, but commonly we settle into a pattern of familiarity with the chosen songs, the A-A-B-A structure or the calming voice of the worship leader as they invite the congregation to participate. It can easily become a ritual lacking any spiritual significance.
Yes, church music directors and praise team leaders should strive to make great music unto the Lord—the Bible says that whatever we do, we should work at it with all our hearts (Colossians 3:23-24)—but they also should understand the hearts of their musicians are more important than how many vocal runs they can produce. Worship teams are so much more effective when the love for God is evident on their faces. As I’ve heard someone say, they are not worship leaders, they are lead worshippers. When praise teams are more concerned with putting on a solid performance than with joining in worship with the congregation, there is a problem. Church is supposed to be a community, not a business. You can always work on improving someone’s musicality, but they have to come already prepared with the right spirit to worship.
We can get picky over whether our church chooses hymns over the "light-rock feel" of Chris Tomlin. But it all comes down to making a personal choice to look past the music and focus on what you are actually singing about. A song that used to have no meaning for me was Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name.” I had sung that song in church for years and thought it was pretty boring musically. However, at a service I recently attended, the worship leader explained the lyrical content. The song says, Blessed be Your name / when the sun’s shining down on me, and then the next verse says, Blessed be Your name / on the road marked with suffering. Oh, wait, so this song is about praising God when things are going your way, as well as when you are in the midst of intense suffering? It’s about being able to say, “Yes, Lord, I will worship You. I will bless Your name no matter what my circumstances." That is a message we all need to take in. Now when I hear that song in church, it has renewed meaning for me; the music does not matter because I found a way to connect with the song no matter how proficient the musicians are.
When I was 15, the youth pastor of our church said something that has stuck with me ever since. He said that everything we do can be worship to God. The words “worship” and “music” have been tied together so permanently that people think worship time ends when the praise team leaves the stage. But when we pray, when we tell our friends about Jesus, when we tithe, we’re worshipping. Worship is anything that lifts up God’s name and praises Him. The way in which we live our lives every day should be an act of worship.
And it doesn’t matter how you worship, either. Not everyone is going to run around a church singing “Hallelujah!” and not everyone is gonna stand still with their hands at their sides. I love to lift my hands toward God when I’m singing, but I have friends who don’t do that—and that’s fine. It does not matter what you do when that time comes; what matters is where your heart is. Be present in the worship. Try (as hard as it can be) to focus on God and His awesomeness instead of how the girl playing the piano should probably be wearing pants from that angle. Blocking out the world (and its unseemly distractions) is part and parcel with being able to enter into the presence of God.
My family may exchange loaded glances from time to time, but when our focus quickly turns to worship, we are able to move on. If the music is actually inhibiting your ability to worship, you better check and see what it is you’re actually praising. Don’t make music your god. Change your circumstances in order to avoid being put off by anything that may hinder you. Maybe you will even have to purposely seek out a different church. Whatever your options, make the changes necessary to take your focus off the screechy soprano and put it where it belongs—on the King of Kings.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)
Tara Burke is earning her master’s degree in communication and culture, specializing in race representation and performance studies. A writer, singer and blogger, her main aim is to make relevant, progressive works of media and culture that point people to the love of Christ. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, in Canada. Follow her on Twitter @taradotwords or on Tumblr at taraburke.tumblr.com.