Church Music ? The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Church Music ? The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Over the past couple of decades the “praise band” has become more and more popular in churches. In the past, the only way the average church member participated in the music was singing the hymns with everyone else or singing in the choir. Either way they were singing with a larger group, so if they weren’t very good at singing, it didn’t matter. With the advent of the praise band, that changed and the result has sometimes been pretty bad. So, what do you do when someone who isn’t very good wants to be a part of the band?

Exposed:
Even though a praise band is a group, there is usually only one person playing each instrument and maybe a couple a singers, but even the singers usually are singing different harmonies. So, everyone in the band is exposed. There is no cover from other musicians. If the base player hits the wrong notes, then it’s very obvious. If the drummer can’t keep a steady beat, not only is that usually apparent to the congregation, but it usually makes the rest of the band mess up as well. So, unlike the choirs of the past, with a band, it’s not so easy to not care if someone can’t sing or play well.

The Big Problem:
Church people are “nice”. That’s not necessarily true for everyone, but as a whole, church people tend to not want to hurt people’s feelings. My question is whether that’s really being “nice”. Personally, I don’t think allowing someone to humiliate themselves in public is very nice. I have a theory that most of the people who try out for American Idol who stink try out because people at their church told them they were good and should try out. Perhaps in some cases congregation members who have not music training may not realize how bad a performance is because they don’t have the trained, critical ear of a musician, but I think in most cases, the people are just trying to be “nice”. Maybe what they are really doing is trying to avoid their own discomfort, but you can be honest about a person’s lack of musical ability without being mean.

The Other Big Problem:
Musicians are arrogant, stubborn, and opinionated. Just kidding…or am I? A while back we had an issue with some of the musicians in my church. I was talking to a friend about it and he said they have an expression in their church, “They’re an artist.” It’s not an insult, but more of an understanding. True artists tend to be passionate and very personal about their art. So, they can come off seeming arrogant, stubborn, or very opinionated. Whatever you want to call it, the passion can cause for some difficult issues. The truth is that most church music programs (and drama programs) have issues because of this, more so than other ministries of the church.

Two Perspectives:
So, let’s say that as a band leader, you have overcome the need to be “nice” and have realized you can actually tell someone when they aren’t very good. When do you do that? Sure, if you have a congregation of 1000, you probably have several good musicians for every instrument. You could probably even hold auditions. However, if you have a congregation of 100, your options are limited. You may not have people experienced with certain instruments or musical accessories. From my experience, your decision of who can be in the band (based on skill) depends on your perspective of what the band is for:

1. One perspective is that the band is leading worship and with the congregation in mind, the goal is to have as much quality to the music as possible.
2. Another perspective is that the band plays the role of an outreach or a way for members to be involved in the church. The goal is to include people.

These are two opposing perspectives. With the first perspective, if someone isn’t very good, they will not be allowed to play in the band. The band may even do without some instruments or singers in order to make sure that all those involved are skilled and the music is good. It’s an exclusive group. With the second perspective, being an inclusive group is the goal, so people who have little musical skill or experience are allowed to join the group. The music quality may suffer (and probably will), but people get to be involved and feel more a part of the church.

What’s The Right Approach?
So, which of the two approaches to the church music is best? I don’t know. I think its decision you have to make for your church. Church’s with smaller congregations may not have much choice if they want to have a band. They may just have to take what they can get. So, your congregation situation may determine which approach you take. Whichever approach you decide on, there are two things you should not do.

1. Don’t let your decision to have your band be more inclusive be because you just don’t have the spine to tell someone they aren’t very good. Make the decision before you start the band and be honest with each other.
2. Don’t let arrogance creep into the group. There’s no room for the “I’m not playing if they are in the group” attitudes. You can be a skilled musician and be humble.

There is also one thing you should do. Always remember that this is a service for the Lord and keep a servant’s heart. Servant doesn’t mean pushover or spineless, but it is a humble attitude and a desire to provide the best you can do.

Francis Beaudry is currently the conductor of two orchestras. He is a writer and arranger and has published musical works for choir and orchestra. In addition he is the president of TheMaxZone.net, an online musical accessories superstore offering instrument accessories, musical accessories, and more.