Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
What if you or your musicians aren’t that talented musically? How do you encourage your musicians in what they’re good at and help them grow at the same time? How do you create a culture where feedback is expected and received? How do you graciously let a musician know they’re not skilled enough to be in the band? We’ll be answering those questions and more in this first of two episodes that address the role of skill on Sunday mornings.
David Zimmer: Hi, good morning, or good afternoon.
Bob Kauflin: Or good evening.
DZ: Or it’s in the middle of the night.
DZ: This is the Sound Plus Doctrine podcast. I’m David Zimmer.
BK: And I’m Bob Kauflin.
DZ: And this is a blast to do together.
BK: It is, it’s a lot of fun.
DZ: So Bob, how’s it going?
BK: It’s going fantastic.
BK: And you?
DZ: I think I’m doing well.
BK: Great. I’m sure people love hearing us asking each other how we’re doing.
DZ: Yeah. This episode is sponsored by JHS Pedals?
BK: Oh, it is not.
DZ: It’s not. Nothing is sponsored.
BK: But… Yeah. Josh Scott is a good friend and we like the pedals he puts out.
DZ: They’re great pedals.
BK: Even though even though I’m not a guitar player and I have no idea what his pedals do.
DZ: Hey, so today, I would like to talk about music in the church. It is no…
BK: Excellent, since that’s what the podcast is about.
BK: I think we should definitely talk about that.
DZ: It is no surprise that for the majority of churches, the music in the service is not that great.
BK: Do you have any particular churches in mind? Is this like an expose?
DZ: A couple…
BK: That’s bad.
DZ: Well, what…
BK: Yeah, but I think that what you’re saying is true.
DZ: Yeah, whether it’s like the instrumentalists you have, or the vocalists or even the person serving each week leading the songs.
BK: Actually leading…
DZ: Picking the songs, picking the keys. How do you think through that? I mean, maybe starting with leaders. How do you think through leaders of a small church…
BK: That’s a great question.
DZ: Don’t have a lot of resources, don’t have a lot of the instrumentalists, yeah. How do we think through that?
BK: Well, we’ve thought about this a lot over the years like in the WorshipGod conferences. We’ll usually have some seminar that’s having to do with worshipping a big God in a small church or leading with limited resources ’cause it’s so common, it’s so crucial. I think as all things, we need to start theologically and realize, ground our thoughts in the Word of God. Sometimes, we’re working on a problem, but we don’t see the big picture, so we don’t get to the right place and we don’t have peace in working on the problem. So I think 1 Peter 2, starting in verse 4, it talks about our offerings and how they’re made acceptable to God.
BK: So He says, “As you come to Him,” verse 4, “a living stone,” this is talking about Jesus, “rejected by men, but in the sight of God, chosen and precious. You, yourselves, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices,” and this is the point, “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Our music is not acceptable because it’s so skillfully played or skillfully sung or because the band is in sync and everybody is right with a click track if you use a click track. Our worship to God, our musical worship is accepted like all our offerings because of the perfect offering of Jesus Christ. He took all our sins upon Himself, He suffered in our place on the cross, He was raised from the dead, and now He is the one through whom we come to God.
BK: So same thing, Hebrews 10:19-22 says something very similar, “Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,” not by how well you play the chart or how in time the drummer is. So that just brings a lot of peace, I would hope to anyone who is in a small church and you’re thinking, “You know our music just is not that great.”
BK: It’s just… Our congregation doesn’t sound that great, we don’t sound that great. So I think we gotta start there. Every church has the Gospel, which is the power of God. We have the Word of God, which performs its work in those who believe. We have the Holy Spirit who is the presence of God and who works in us and through us to accomplish His will and to glorify Jesus. And we have the community of redeemed saints that God has brought together for this very purpose, that’s what every church has. So you don’t have to be amazing musicians. So I think that’s where you start.
DZ: It provides also so much freedom for the congregation and the person who’s picking the songs and leading the songs. And if you’re an instrumentalist in the church, that we are bringing our best offerings.
DZ: But they will not ever compare…
BK: Yes, that’s right.
DZ: To the offering that Christ has paid for us.
DZ: So absolutely that is the place we start.
BK: It doesn’t matter. And we can give lip service to that. We can say, “Of course, I believe that.” Probably, a lot of people listening right now have said, “Yeah, of course, I believe that.” But in our hearts and in our attitudes and in our responses, we don’t believe that because we get stressed out over someone singing the wrong harmonies or someone coming in the wrong place or…
BK: The band not being as tight as they need to be. So we’re revealing in those responses where we’re really placing our trust. We feel bad every week that the band is not as good as it could be. It will never be as good as it could be for one, but even if it was, that would not make our offerings acceptable to God, only Jesus does that. So that’s on a vertical level.
BK: However, and that’s a big however. Skill is important. God commends skill. Psalm 33, “Play skillfully to the Lord with loud shouts.” And there are numerous places where God commends skill. Proverbs 29, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” I think we’ve mentioned that on the podcast before. But it’s still true, irregardless. So God does care about skill. So let me take a scenario ’cause there are a lot of ways we could go after this.
BK: I think maybe a lot of people who are watching or listening to this podcast would be in a church of about a 100, 200, 300.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: And your musicians, maybe it’s your piano player, maybe they only play a chart, only play notes, by notes.
BK: Or your piano player just isn’t very good. They play, like a lot of piano players, just a lot all the time.
BK: Maybe it’s your drummer. They just speed up and slow down, you don’t have the technology, to do a click. So it’s like, “We’re starting a song like this, then it gets to be like this in the chorus, and then it’s like this, and then it’s back to this.”
DZ: I know exactly how that’s like.
BK: Yeah, I know.
BK: Hopefully, you’re not doing that. So you just have… Or you have vocalists who… God bless them. They wanna sing harmony all the time.
BK: But they’re only sure with that harmony is half the time. And so the rest of the time, they’re singing notes, they are notes, they’re genuine notes, but they aren’t really having anything to do with the song they’re singing.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: So how do you handle that?
BK: Well, like I said, you start with the theology. Okay, this is not like making things unacceptable to God. Jesus, God, the Father hears all this through the offering of Christ, so it’s perfected, but…
DZ: Thank the Lord.
BK: Amen. But the people in the congregation can be affected.
BK: So I think it depends on how you think about membership in your band or among your musicians. I try to be slow to add people, rather than quick to add people, even if in a small church, because it’s much easier to wait to add someone than it is to take them off the team, to ask them not to play.
DZ: Yeah, yeah, that’s good.
BK: It’s just a lot easier. And I remember a guy, Daryl was his name. He came to our church. He had sung in other churches, he used to use tracks, sing to tracks and… But great guy. And he said, “You know, I’ve had this experience, I’ve done this,” and said, “Can I join the team? Can I be a part?” And I said, “Well, you know what? We really like to get to know people here. We want people be a member. We want you to get to know us. Wanna make sure you’re here for the vision of the church, and not just to use your gift, because you’re a part of the body. And it’s through being a part of that body, you discover what your gifts are. And just ’cause you did it somewhere, it doesn’t mean that’s exactly how God is gonna use you here.”
DZ: Yeah, that’s great…
BK: So he heard that and it was hard, he told me later. But he came back a year later, he eventually did get added to the team, and he said, “You know what, I just wanna thank you for telling me that I couldn’t be part of the team because really, I’d been to churches where they just added me right away. You know, I came in the door, they knew I could sing, they added me right away.”
BK: “And you know, I got the sense that they weren’t as concerned about me as they were my gift.” We don’t want to give people that impression. We don’t wanna treat people that way.
BK: We wanna treat people as members of the body of Christ through whom the Spirit will operate, and their gifts will have an effect on the rest of the church. But that’s not why they’re there, they’re there ’cause they’re a part of the body.
DZ: Yeah. You’re a part of the family, I love that.
BK: Yes, part of the family, that’s a good way of putting it.
DZ: I’m so thankful that you’re speaking to that because there is such a tendency in so many churches that, “We want this to sound as amazing as we possibly can. And so, can you play on Sunday? Can you come in?” And coming from Los Angeles, that’s like every church.
DZ: It feels like. That’s very much like, “You’re good at what you do, and you come in, and you do it, and then… ” And so I just I love the heart behind, “This isn’t just a place you’re playing.”
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DZ: You’re joining into a community of people.
DZ: We’re doing life together. And someone could join the team wanting to be a vocalist, and you could realize, “Your gifts are so much better serving us outside of you being a vocalist.”
DZ: And that tends to be even the case with all instrumentalists like, “Wow! You’re serving in this way and this way,” and they say… And this is just an extension of what you’re already doing.
DZ: I love that.
BK: Yup, so going back to the practicals, ’cause I wanna get to the practicals. You have someone on your team and they’re just not that good. Well, you gotta decide… How did they get there? Sometimes, people inherit musicians.
BK: It’s the pastor’s daughter, she’s a vocalist. She really can’t sing in tune. Or maybe it’s a drummer. You only have one drummer, Fred. And Fred has a good heart, great heart, just doesn’t play very well, just can’t play in time very well. I think the… You’ve gotta have standards. And I think a good standard is just to say, “We’re not gonna put anybody on the team who will be a distraction because that would go against 1 Corinthians 4 where Paul talks about everything that’s to be done is to be done for the edification of the body, the building up of the body.”
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: So if something’s going to tear down the body by being a distraction, that’s not good.
BK: So if you have a piano player who… Or a keyboard player, say who’s just always playing… Guitar player might be a better example. Guitar player is always…
BK: Keyboard players are… They’re always pretty much doing the right thing.
DZ: Oh they’re always good, yeah.
BK: I didn’t wanna say that. But a guitar player who’s doing lead…
BK: And just not hitting the right chords and stuff, but just… You just say, “You know what, I appreciate your heart.” Well, let me now do this quickly. So you have someone like that who’s actually a distraction, somehow they’re on the team.
BK: You have to have a conversation with them, and I wanna talk about that conversation. So I’m a pastor, so I can talk to that person as a pastor. If you’re not a pastor and you’re leading the music, it might be good to involve your pastor. Don’t be afraid to do that, to say to your pastor, “I need help with this. This is what’s going on.”
BK: Involve other people… Involve other people in the conversation. So you realize, Okay, this isn’t going well. I should say, it can be helpful before you talk to an individual and make sure there are standards for the team. In other words, to have some kind of meeting with your musicians where you’re saying, “Well, you’re just teaching from the word, you’re just sharing from the word, how God values skill and how it builds up the body. And when the temple was being built, Oholiab and Bezalel where men that God had gifted with skill to do those particular tasks, it’s not a bad thing to have skills, so we all wanna be growing in our skills. So set those standards and then you maybe go to a person and say, “Hey, how do you think you’re fitting in with the team?”
BK: You may not need to have this conversation, they may already know.
BK: Take a drummer who can’t play in time, they may already know. You might wanna go to him and say, “Hey, I love your desire to be a part of the band.” Always start with encouragement, because if you’re not starting with encouragement, you’re not seeing that person the way God is seeing them. He has encouraged us in Christ, we are in Christ. God sees things in us that we generally miss because Christ is in us, so it might be their heart to serve. So thank you for being part… And then I talk about it from the edification perspective. “I love what you’re doing, but do you realize that you’re not always in time?” And obviously, there should be some experience there. In other words you should be able to point to some times when, “Yeah, you tend to always rush in there.”
BK: So talk about, “Can you think of any ways that you can get better at this?” And the person might say, “Well, I just can’t practice. I don’t have a drum set at home.” And then you’ve got a choice. You’ve got to decide whether you really want drums that will be a distraction, or you go without drums. Maybe you put them on a Djembe or a Cajon or maybe you put someone else on a Cajon and… But you’ve gotta make that decision. What you can’t do, and I would encourage you not to do, is have someone on your team just because they want to be on the team. Because someone’s desire to be in the band does not require me to include them ’cause it’s not about the use of their gifts, it’s about the edification of the church.
DZ: Right, right. Yeah, that’s such a good point. So going back to having that conversation where you had some honest and difficult things to tell this person. It seems consistently, it’s out of time, or… How do you create that culture among your musicians and your vocalists that you could have those sort of honest conversations?
DZ: Like you have been pointing them to the body, edification of the body, but to be able to say those words, “I think you’re playing too much, or I think it’s not sounding in time, or it might be a distraction.” How do you create that culture among your team?
BK: That is a great question. I would suggest two things. One is creating a culture of encouragement and creating a culture of evaluation. So encouragement… Yeah, if you’re leading a team and you’re thinking every Sunday, “These musicians are losers. This is so bad.” They’re gonna feel that, you know.
DZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s good.
BK: You have got to come to the place where you can see good things, and I’d start with is a person showing up? That’s great. Are they helping to set up something? That’s great. Are they singing with passion? That’s great. If you can find nothing to encourage about this person on the team, my question would be…
DZ: They probably shouldn’t be in the team.
BK: Why are they on the team? Exactly, right. There’s gotta be something unless you inherited them.
DZ: You look great every Sunday. You come…
BK: Yeah. You’re clothed, do you come in clothed every Sunday? If you do inherit someone, there is… You may have to have that conversation where you’re with your pastor maybe saying, “You know what, I’m not sure this is the place you should be serving.” And those could be hard conversations, but you’re not serving their preferences, you’re not serving their desires, you’re serving the church. And so you might have to have that conversation with them.
DZ: Yeah. Well, and bringing in the pastor is wonderful because where he’s preaching the sermon for the edification of the body. We’re playing the instruments for the edification.
BK: That’s right.
DZ: We’re pointing them back to these words dwelling with richly within that.
BK: Yeah, the Word of Christ dwelling within us richly, that’s what we’re seeking to make happen.
DZ: Right, you’re not just by yourself trying to whip the team into shape. You’re doing this as a service together with your pastor.
BK: So culture of encouragement, you… On Sundays, I would just come in with the mentality… And this feels natural to me now, I think at one point, it wasn’t. I’m just gonna encourage every person I see. “How are you doing?” during rehearsal. “Thank you for that, that was great.” If I hear something that sounds like, “Oh, that’s good.” Rather than thinking, “Oh, finally they’re playing something good.” No, encourage anything that they’re doing good. “I like the way you entered that, that was great. I like what you’re playing on the chorus.” Just pass encouragement around liberally ’cause that’s catching, that’s contagious. People will start to do that as well and they’ll know that you’re not just looking for those moments when people do something wrong.
BK: I say nothing until someone does something wrong, and then you’re gonna hear from me. CJ, my senior pastor has modeled this for us, for me, for the musicians I play with for years, decades, where every Sunday when he’s preaching, even to this day, he will turn around after the end of the meeting, gives a benediction, turns around and just thanks everybody and gives very specific comments on what they did that was so good. I have tried to learn from that and be someone who will find the people in the band and say, “I really love what you did for that. Thanks for recovering. You recovered from that.” Whatever it was. So just building a culture of encouragement, it could be notes you send, “Hey, you did a great job.” So we had a new guitar player played with us recently, and I made it a point both during the rehearsal to tell him where he was doing good, and then after, we’re just say, “Thank you. I thought what you played was so good. I like the textures, I like the way you came in, I like the way and the fact that you didn’t play all the time,” and I just look for things. So I wanna set up that culture of encouragement, but you also need to have a culture of evaluation.
DZ: Yeah, talk about the standard that you said previously and the evaluation process.
BK: Well, the standard is you don’t wanna be distracting. So it’s possible that we’re doing things that are distracting and we don’t even know it. So playing all the time, for instance, if you were in a band, you’re playing all the time, that can be distracting. At the very least, it keeps any… May keep people from being heard, other people from being heard. It may be you’re singing harmony all the time, and when you sing harmony all the time, one, you’re probably not gonna sing accurate harmony all the time. Two, it just lessens the effect of harmony.
DZ: That’s good.
BK: So you might not know that. So it would be in rehearsals when I’m working with vocalists, just saying to them things like, “Hey, that part you just sung, I’m not sure that quite works, let’s try this.” After a meeting saying, “Yeah, what was going on right there?” And kinda do it in a joking way, not, “What did you do at the end of that turn? What was that?” But you know, “Yeah, it wasn’t quite what we expected there at that turn, was it?”
DZ: But you’ve already laid a foundation of encouragement.
BK: That’s right.
DZ: So it doesn’t feel like you’re passive-aggressive, it feels like we’re all trying to play our instruments or sing better, and there’s nothing…
BK: Yes, for the sake of the church, for the glory of Jesus.
DZ: Yeah, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yeah, for the glory of Jesus, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get better and having you help me get better.
BK: Right, that’s right. And I encourage our team, and you would know this ’cause you’re in the band, to encourage and evaluate each other. So it’s great, like the drummer might say to the guitar player, “Hey, maybe you could try this there,” or, “What you’re doing right there doesn’t quite work, doesn’t seem like it’s working.” Now, I’m talking in a context where we come up with our arrangements on Sunday morning. We’re not just copying what’s on a CD, and we could do a whole podcast on the advantages and the disadvantages of doing that. We don’t do that. And I’ll just say one thing about that because those who record CDs aren’t always thinking about what your church is like. And you might not have the instruments to…
BK: To play what’s on the CD.
BK: So it just gives me a standard that’s not only unreachable but unnecessary. So we pull together the arrangements that morning, and so that’s where you’ll have some advice and counsel and some remarks about, “Well, that’s good, that’s not good.” But I encourage that among the team members, not everybody feels confident to do that, but some do and some are gifted to do it. So hey, I’m not the only one who has musical ears, and I’m not always right, so let’s hear it from some of the other folks on how things could be better. And then we’ll often do it at the end of a meeting, just talk about things that might have been better. Especially, I would do it if a vocalist is new, newer, but even… I have a guitar player play with me, I’m always thinking, what can I say to them that will be encouraging and helpful, there’s something that could be changing, that’s what was modeled for me through CJ for years, and it just was so hopeful, both the encouragement and the evaluation. Now, you didn’t ask about this, but I wonder if it’d be good to talk about when you have to say to someone, “You know what, you probably really shouldn’t be on this team.”
DZ: Yes, yeah.
BK: ‘Cause that does come… That time does come. And again, there are a number of ways of doing that. We schedule people irregularly. Someone we usually play, a singer play one time a month, maybe twice a month, you can just stop scheduling them and let…
DZ: And they’ll email you.
BK: Let them email. I’ve done that, and to my shame, but…
DZ: I haven’t got an email from you like in six months
BK: Yeah, you’re kidding. I must have lost your email, I’m so sorry.
DZ: Oh, my goodness.
BK: Yeah, it may be time to say to someone, “You know, I… ” Well, let me say before this, I’m always telling people, “Look, as the church grows, there’re gonna be more people coming, so we wanna make room for them.” And we should be rejoicing in that. And I let people know, “Look,” that we have… In our church, we have eight, 10 acoustic guitar players, so if you… Which some people just heard them, “Oh my gosh.”
DZ: Sure. We want one…
BK: Sorry, we should probably send one to you, but they’re not gonna play every week, they’re just not. So that’s to be expected, but there will be sometimes a person, you can’t keep them in reserve, which I encourage leaders to do, don’t cut people off of your team too quickly, you might need them. Just like a football team has… I don’t know, 40-some players only 11 are on the field. I’m terrible at sports.
DZ: This isn’t a sports podcast.
BK: It’s not a sports podcast. That should be very obvious. So you got 22 people, about 24 people who are being used. What are the other 20 guys doing? Well, they’re in reserves, they’re ready to play. So you might have people like that in your band, but if say the person is not even that and you realize, it may be time for them to move on. Then you go to them and say, “Hey, thank you for what you’ve been doing. How are you feeling about your position on the team? How do you think it’s going?” And they might say, “Well, I love it, but I don’t serve as much as I’d like to.” And then you need to be honest with them and say, “You know, I would love to use you more, but to be fully disclosing, I think we have a lot of people right now who do what you do, who are actually better than you and love your heart to serve, love your character, but it’s just hard for me to schedule you right now. I wonder if God has other opportunities for you in the church,” and if you can suggest some that’s even better. I’ve known people, they’re fantastic at greeting. You want people coming into the church meeting these people.
DZ: Right, right, right.
BK: And that’s where they should be. Or maybe it’s with kids, or maybe it’s with counseling, maybe there are other things, other ways God wants to use them that they can’t do as well because they want so much to be a part of the band. We’re doing them a favor, we are loving them to say, “You know what, just because you’re not a hand, just ’cause you’re a knee, not a hand, doesn’t mean you don’t have a place in the body.” The body needs the knees. We need the knees. You may not have noticed this, but your body needs your knees and to lose the knees, it immobilizes the body. So if you’re trying to be a hand, Paul talks about this 1 Corinthians 12. If you’re trying to be a hand and you’re a knee, that’s not only not serving the church, it’s not bringing glory to God. You’re gonna be a lot of happier doing what you’re called to do. So I had to have that conversation with him. And again, if you’re not a pastor, you might involve your pastor in it.
BK: And let me say that conversation may end great. But it may not end great.
DZ: I was just gonna say, when you said that sentence like, “There are people that do this better than you,” I mean, I know you and I’ve probably even heard this conversation before that you’ve had with someone and you’re marked by humility, Bob, and generosity and love. But I heard the groanings of a thousand worship leaders. Just thinking like, I could never say that or that would blow up in my face, or that would be terrible, or that would never go well, but I think going back to what we’ve been saying through this whole podcast is that this is for the building up of the body.
BK: Yes, and sometimes it’s for my sanctification as well.
DZ: Yes, and it’s not just… We’re looking for the absolute best, we’re looking for people to serve and not be distracting. And if it’s marked by a spirit of humility and great graciousness, grace, it’s going to be a conversation that you can have with this person, it’s not just, You’ve been cut off.
BK: Yeah, it is because you love them and because you believe God has a specific purpose for them, but it’s not in the band, it’s not as a musician. And yeah, you can have that conversation and trust the Lord with the results.
DZ: Absolutely. Well, we’re definitely out of time, but I would like for our next podcast to be for leaders who are leading in song, how to not be a distraction with the songs you pick, the keys you pick them in… [chuckle] And I’m hoping that that could be another conversation that we could have in a future podcast.
BK: That’s great. And also, I’d like to talk more about just cultivating skill on your team, like the process of working with band members, vocalists, drummers, guitar players, who just… They can grow, but you wanna help them grow, so another time.
DZ: If the Lord wills.
BK: Yep, amen.
DZ: Thanks for tuning in. Have a great day.