Don't Sell It Short

From a purely musical perspective, it’s no secret that being a worship team musician comes with a discipline-specific set of challenges:

  • The role is typically unpaid, under-thanked, and taken for granted.
  • It’s often dismissed as a hobby within broader musical culture, forcing those musicians who play predominantly or entirely within the church to go the extra mile to gain legitimacy amongst their peers.
  • The culture of musical worship can be as volatile and trend-prone as radio pop, putting the sounds that were “fresh” this week in danger of being labeled as “played out” by next week. The task of a worship musician often feels more like fitting in with the cool kids than striving for excellence on an instrument.
  • The stylistic and technical components of most congregational music could accurately be described as “cautious,” leaving more experimentally minded musicians feeling creatively caged, or simply bored.  
  • (Insert personally applicable challenge here)

While the musical challenges of serving on a worship team are clearly evident, I’m convinced that as much or more attention should be paid to its musical benefits. Rather than characterizing a musician’s service on a worship team by its difficulties, I hope that this list of (mostly exclusive to the discipline) worship team benefits will encourage the week-in-week-out worship team musician not to sell their church-based musical endeavors short:

  • Changing Landscape
    • Because of the often-volunteer-based structure of most worship teams, and the musical variance across era, genre, instrumentation, and other characteristics in most church’s song selections, you can count on the musical landscape of most worship teams to be as varied, interesting, and challenging as any other context. There are only a few other contexts in which you’d find yourself playing driving rock, bluegrass, old-school gospel, and power ballads in the same set, and even fewer where constant personnel changes allow you to make music with a different set of folks on a weekly basis.
  • Catalyzed Growth
    • Due to the aforementioned variance in the musical landscape of most worship teams, there’s very little room for phoning things in, and thus, very little room for complacency in a musician’s craft. This comes with its own frustrations, but the positive is that playing on your worship team will force you to be more thoughtful and active as a musician (read: better).
  • Consistent Engagement
    • Unless you’re playing in a band with at least a modest level of success, chances are you wont be playing a gig every single week. Obviously, this doesn’t apply for most church bands, making service on a worship team into one of the most consistent music-making opportunities available. Obviously, you shouldn’t join a worship team just to play music more frequently, but for those already serving on a weekly basis, it’s always important to be thankful for the recurring opportunity to practice your craft.
  • Concentrated Focus
    • Unlike most musical contexts where the goal is simply for the audience to react positively, musical worship has a unique set of goals, and in turn, a unique evaluative structure. Since our goal in musical worship is to communicate God’s truth to our congregation through song in a way that is faithful and able to be understood as well as felt, we can’t approach things like we do at a regular gig. This unique perspective forces into a positive kind of pragmatism that allows our music to be more than just a self-serving vehicle.

Again, I won’t argue with the inherent challenges of serving as a worship team musician, and I know that sometimes it doesn’t feel as legitimate as playing in other contexts. But even before you get into the deeper significance of your service on your church’s team, there’s no question of its value on a purely musical level. Don’t believe anyone when they say or imply that being a worship musician isn’t legit. Don’t sell it short. 

With hope,

Ian