How Do I Handle A Singer Who Wants More Solos?
When it comes to the question of who is qualified to “lead” songs on a Sunday morning, you, as a worship leader, lead pastor, or staff member should have a well thought-out rationale and criteria. At Journey Church, we have spent a lot of time discussing this as a leadership team. It’s a discussion that comes up quite frequently as we continue building clear leadership pipelines for each of our ministry areas. At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, I want to break down our rationale in a few bite-sized statements that will hopefully bring understanding and clarity to the issue and foster additional conversations with your own teams.
- Every Worship Member Leads Worship
First and foremost we believe everyone on the platform is “leading worship” in one way or another. From guitar players to background vocalists, every position matters, and everyone contributes his or her own unique set of gifts. Each person brings a unique palette of colors and designs to the worship team canvas. Therefore, we try our best to eliminate and fight against the mindset that “getting a solo” is the pinnacle of being on the team. It’s not. We want everyone seeing themselves as a worship leader in his or her own capacity. Everyone contributes and all are equal.
- Skill Matters to God
I know that can sound trite, but hear me out. In terms of the platform, it gets tricky because there are a couple of significant little words that get thrust into the conversation, words like “talent” and “skill.” And for right reasons. The Bible is clear that skill matters to God. 1 Chronicles 15:22 explains that David chose a guy named Chenaniah, a leader among the Levites, to lead the corporate singing “because he was skillful.” Additionally, 1 Chronicles 25:7 describes a group of worship leaders who were “trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful.” So, in terms of skill in worship leading, we believe that since it matters to God, it matters to us.
- Find the Right Seat on the Bus
To borrow from Jim Collins, we want to make sure each team member is sitting in the right seat on the bus. In other words, we want to set each person up for success by placing him or her in the best possible position to accomplish the goal for that day (which, I might add, should always be to bring honor and glory to Jesus and to make healthy disciples). This of course means that not every background vocalist will get an opportunity to get the solo. Again, if we all truly believe that every position matters, we won’t find ourselves vying to get the best seat (Luke 14:8-10). Instead, we will excel in the position we’ve been given, even if it doesn’t receive the spotlight.
A reporter once asked Leonard Bernstein, the world-renown conductor, what was the most difficult instrument to play. Without hesitation Bernstein replied, “Second fiddle! Without a doubt. I can get any number to play first violin, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm is a real problem. Of course, second French horn or second flute would be similar. And yet, if no one plays second fiddle, we have no harmony.”
At Journey, we want to make sure that each vocalist values “BGVs” just as much as the solo spot. We want to make sure each guitar player values “guitar 2” just as much as “guitar 1.” We want to make sure each drummer values “percussion” and “aux drums” just as much as “drums.” So, I’m always watching…watching to see the attitudes reflected by team members, regardless of their position. And I might add, I’m always watching myself and assessing my own heart as well. If I’m too good to clean up crap from the ever-problematic lobby bathroom, I don’t deserve to be on the platform.
- Employ a Team of Overseers
It may sound odd to use this type of terminology in the worship department, but I believe it is vital to the success of the worship ministry at any church. To put it simply, I don’t sit in an empty room by myself and randomly select songs and song assignments. At Journey we use a team approach, which includes our lead pastor. See, as a worship pastor, I am an extension of the ministry of my lead pastor, Jimmy Carroll. I have to ensure that the philosophy and methodology of the worship ministry faithfully represents the vision God has given Jimmy. Otherwise, I circumvent the vision and bring dishonor to God and His church. At Journey, Pastor Jimmy and Paul Crouthamel, Executive Pastor, both help to ensure that we are adhering to the vision and mission of Journey through the weekly execution of our worship services. Far from micromanagers, these men seek to infuse the vision into me on a weekly basis so that I can successfully carry out the vision through the worship ministry–from song selection to lead soloists (I kinda hate that term. Refer back to point 1), from sound volume to flow. Every element matters and every team member matters. Some might say we are “picky” about who stands front and center to help lead our congregation. But we call it stewardship of the mission.
- Clearly Assess Both Character and Competence
Finally, we use a simple assessment tool with all of our leaders at Journey, including the worship team. We call it the competence and character matrix. We borrowed it from Mike Breen and 3DM. It’s a tool for assessing the leadership capacity of individuals along two specific degree lines–competence and character. As you look at the graphic below, you will see four possible quadrants. For example, a person with a high degree of competence and skill, but a low degree of godly character and spiritual fruit has the potential for unlimited harm. However, an individual with high competence and high character (the ideal quadrant) has unlimited potential for good in the kingdom of God. Additionally, someone with low competence but high character is a remarkable human being, but will be limited in his or her kingdom impact. Finally, the low competence/low character person is simply just existing, casting limited harm and doing no real good.
When speaking with volunteers, rarely do I use the formal language found in the matrix (I can’t speak for our other staff members, however.) For me, the beauty of Mike Breen’s scale is that it gives me the language by which to think about the varying degrees of my team members. I take the character/competence matrix and cross-reference it with each unique individual in normal conversation. In other words, I wouldn’t necessarily say, “Billy Bob, your vocal competence is amazing. You’re over here in the right hemisphere. But your character and walk with Jesus is low. So that lands you in the bottom right quadrant.” Instead, I allow the competence/character scale to serve as a lens by which I communicate the heart of the issues. For example, I may say something like this to Billy Bob: “Bro, I know you’ve been wanting to sing solos. I get it. You’ve got the pipes for it. And your Texas longhorn belt buckle is on fleek, bro. But man, honestly I don’t know enough about you yet to know exactly where you are. You seem like a good dude, but in order for me to know that, you need to be around more. Why don’t you come to our monthly huddles for some hang time and discipleship? Why don’t we grab coffee once-a-month and talk about what God is teaching us? And why don’t you let some of our older men pour into you a little bit as well?”
Without his knowledge, I’ve led Billy Bob through the matrix (stopped to say hey to Neo and Morpheus), helped him see where he is along the development pathway, and then finally given him some concrete steps for progress to happen.
To close, let me say that having the competence/character matrix as a tool in your tool belt will give you some practical handlebars by which to navigate difficult conversations. But it’s not a silver bullet. Remember what the Apostle Paul said, “The greatest of these is love.” Worship leaders, you have to love your team. They can smell a fraud a mile away. They know if you love them or not. They know if you would take a bullet for them. So love them deeply and always handle them with grace and care.