Arguably, the largest trade show in Anaheim, California is the NAMM–or, the National Association of Music Merchants. I have attended many times over the years as a musical artist, guest of a manufacturer or as a representative buyer for a house of worship. Besides “geeking out” at the latest gear from all over the globe and soaking in performances in small venues of musical giants there is the reconnection with musicians that you don’t often get to hang out with due to distance and schedules. Our group of friends waited a rather long time to be seated in the hotel restaurant, but we finally ordered our food and immediately began chatting and perusing the menu. Before we were too deep into our lunch one of our table mates got our attention as he put his cell phone face down in the center of the table. His buddies quickly followed suit. I grudgingly stacked my phone, last on the deck as I saw the smirking glances in my direction. As an avid social media user I would have to engage in human conversation as unmediated by smartphones. What a shock and a way to go through potentially scary withdrawal symptoms. To add incentive to comply with the rules, the penalty was that whoever reached for their phone first would have to pay the entire bill. There were about seven of us–so, that would be an ouch on the bill. Most of us at the table peered at the stack of phones as one of them would buzz from a text every so often. But, we did not dare grab our phones for fear of a hit to the pocket book.
Monday mornings used to be a nail-biting affair for me as a worship leader. We had these comment cards which became a popular way for church members to express their opinions about Sunday worship service. For one, we called them “comment cards” and invited the onslaught of detailed prose. What was also known was that the entire staff and the board had a copy of these by early Monday morning in their mailboxes at church. By the 10:00 am staff meeting, this first page was already circulated through the grapevine. Around our boardroom table, we each received our copies of the staff meeting agenda with this list of comments attached to the front page. After the under the breath grunts from the pastor, we went around the table addressing each of these comments as directed to us. Some were pertinent advice. Others were an expression of their “friends” opinion as well as the “many people they know” that said the same thing. One problem was that many of these were anonymous. We surely could read between the lines with a bit of detective work. But, unlike other churches I had served over the years, the anonymous ones did not end up in the trash. They were, in fact, the most important on our list. I called this death by comment card. There was no way to address one comment saying the sound levels were two soft and one saying they were too loud. One unnamed dear person would question whether or not we had the Holy Spirit present and another would be thankful for the Spiritual refreshment.
How do we get young people to be involved? I think we simply invite them. There was a young youth ministry intern who was tasked by our youth pastor to raise up an all middle-school-aged worship band. My church in that season had plenty of young college-aged kids who wanted to serve in our church. That alone was a bonus, but this idea of letting the kids take over was something I had not seen first hand before. When they began leading worship, they all were pretty remedial at their instruments, learning them in their first-ever group setting. The sound was not always on the beat or in tune. It is one thing to pluck a guitar in a small room in the back of a music store. It is another to prepare to be in front of your peers playing music! I think they had but four songs they learned. And, yes, it did not sound very good––at first.
I still recall the smell of new carpet in our first brand new home. This was our first truly big ministry post as a worship pastor and felt much like moving into that new house with fresh paint and a tiny tree in the front yard. Our new church family filled our pantry, and for the years we served continued such hospitality. Everyone should get a honeymoon, and as with honeymoons, they are short-lived.
You would think with exponential growth that one would be in an ideal job situation in worship. But truth be told, fast pace of change brings chaos, and with that, challenges. You see, not long before I came on staff, this church opened a brand new sanctuary for worship. This humble group, used to fluorescent fixtures, exploded to a building with multiple catwalks and a balcony. The scale changed everything. Now, this young guy from the west coast arrives and even more change is put upon this bustling and growing church. So many mixed emotions exist in a fast-growing church. It is hard to keep up with the work, let alone one’s own reaction!
We all feel this as workers in the local church. The big service ends and the next Sunday it feels as if the oxygen levels in the church building are below half of usual. It has a name, this after-event nemesis: The Easter Wall. You have just put on one of the biggest events of the year. Easter–as well as Christmas–draw our largest crowds of people. After we indulge in that huge after-Easter nap, celebrate our team’s best foot forward, and warm from the afterglow of good vibes the normal time of year confronts us like a cinderblock wall at 30 miles per hour. We all have to go through the emotional and physical limitations of putting on our version of Super Bowl each Spring. We don’t regret it, no matter how tired we feel or how deep extra expenditures softened our budgets. The resurrection of our Lord deserves to be celebrated with as much splendor as we can muster. As the Psalmist sings, “Make his praise glorious!” Now that we had a great time, let’s get through the rest of the year.
Easter Sunday, often called the Super Bowl of the church by many, happens but once a year. In other words, we put a lot of our eggs in the basket of Easter–more than we might be willing to admit at times. (Yes, forgive the intended pun.) Not too many years ago, I recalled one such game day. Easter Sunday services kicked off and ended with a booming playlist of radio pop music accompanied with beach balls, balloons, and fun. Of course, people were having a blast and the desired “feels” brought pats on the back and “attaboys” from church leaders for the service programming. What is wrong with feeling great, anyway? After all, people in our culture feel defeated and stressed by our lifestyle. Our emotions matter, too. We have to be willing to have empathy and even plan our worship around real people and where their lives are lived. Being in a bubble is a failure for a leader. The heart of the planning was to relate to such felt needs. This is what Jesus himself often did.
As a child, I remember church being a place that looked very different from any other. Pews, pulpits, choir robes, and music that sounded unlike anything on the radio. The tones of an organ humming and sound of people singing embedded a distinct set of memories. From the moralistic Sunday school lessons to the rancorous church business meetings, my church was perhaps not unlike yours. The endless casserole spread at church potlucks meant “church growth” happened on a weekly basis–just not always the kind some hoped for. Your Evangelical tradition may have been far different from mine. If you grew up Catholic, you might have sung liturgy and recall the first taste of communion wine when you were confirmed. Every tradition has clergy fashion statements, with collars or, in my case, those funny wide ties that never reached the belt. Flipping through a hymnbook on a Sunday night service was accompanied by childish games of renaming the titles of hymns or reworking the lyrics to the point of sacrilege. If you grew up with traditional church, you might be too familiar with it to savor the richness of it. At least, I can relate to that experience. We make fun of it, even if we still appreciate our upbringing, but many of us abandoned church as soon as we left for college. Worship has changed over the years–much in reaction to this exodus. There was a need for a revolution in the last decades of the 20th Century. The way church was done did not work for so many. Today, we may be in the same boat.
You all face this question in whatever church ministry you lead. How do we recruit and keep committed people volunteering in our church? Our culture of mobility and distraction means church attendance for even the most adherent is likely to be about twice per month. You have ministries that require deliverables on a 52-week basis. The train doesn’t seem to stop for long at each week. Music, altar, childcare, youth, refreshments, and even parking in some cases all need attention. Beyond these, there are mid-week charity projects and special events around the church calendar. How are your Easter and Christmas seasons treating you lately? All of our plans succeed only by having people in place, trained, and committed. These activities all are applied almost as a template on the scattered lives of our people who schedule soccer games, family crisis, and work commutes before we can even open the church calendar. Our culture says that we then should be more efficient. Some refuse this for old-fashioned we’ve-always-done-it-this-way squabbling. But, what if we see that people are the product as well as the process. Shouldn’t we find a system to solve our dilemma of recruitment?
Nightmarish scenarios will rule the day when we least expect it. Worship teams, as a visible face of the church, will walk amongst landmines when a church splits, a pastor transitions, or major events like moving into a new church building. Yes, even good news can rock the world of your worship team. In one case, I met with my pastor about some conflict about music on the worship team. He had his opinion, and it happened to be the same as mine. But, his wife’s opinion lead the opposing thought. His wife happened to be on the team and he gingerly shrugged his shoulders as to how we were to move forward–talk about being caught in a “no-win” situation! One morning I walked into the pastor’s office only to find out there were two ladies there with papers in hand. The body language foreshadowed tsunami level waves of critique about the worship ministry that would be read from that sheet of paper in hand. An example of the fun was that one of them took the encouragement I gave to smile at people as saying she was unattractive. Things can get worse. That was not as bad as the time a worship team member accused me of being too attracted to her as a reason for not choosing her for our worship team.
I used to lead all worship music from my seat at the piano which included a choir, rhythm section, and, at times, horns or a small orchestra. I turned my head and body away from my vocal microphone to see what was going on with our teams and to give needed cues as the worship leader to the congregation. All of this turning, caused me to miss that sweet spot on my vocal microphone, besides causing back strain. The audio tech nearly faced-palmed each time this happened–likely when I was speaking or singing a vital part. Of course, I thought there must be ways to solve this problem. How about a head-worn microphone? Would that work?