“Hey! Can you play guitar?… Yes?… Well, join the worship team!” If it were only that simple. Unlike recruiting and hiring musicians for most secular groups – where the allure may be a record deal, exposure to large audiences, or a good source of income, recruiting musicians for a Worship team involves many important – although intangible – factors.
Let’s mark off the easiest item on the checklist. When we look for competent musicians, we look for musicians who have some ability to read charts, keep timing, lock into pitch, and for backup singers – who can hit assigned harmonies accurately and not drift to the melody. Auditioning musicians for competency should always lead off with assigning the candidate one or two songs that they can prepare – in as much time and using the same methods as with your team. If your team receives charts and a recording on Monday with rehearsal on Thursday, that’s what candidates should encounter in the audition process. They can then be evaluated for their learning capacity in a related timeframe. At the audition, we can then observe many skills, including:
· Adaptability to “the groove”
· Attitude (are they frustrated? Do they show signs of butting heads?)
· Adaptability to a worship leader’s cues
· Role-appropriate execution (Are they trying to play too much? Do they tend to miss cues – waiting for someone else to come in?)
The “musicianship” vetting process is relatively easy, because it’s the only observable criteria that is immediate. Beyond that, here is where recruiting musicians gets a bit more difficult:
Take the time to let the candidate settle in. Get to know them. Do they attend regularly? What is their past experience in the church? What is their past (or current) experience in music? Meet with them one-on-one outside the Church for some good ol’ fellowship time. After meeting with them one-on-one, arrange a meeting at a restaurant over some coffee with the rest of your team (or at least the key players). The Spirit will speak! But most of all, give it some time before putting them in a leadership position on Sunday!
When a potential candidate is asked the important question, “Why do you want to be on the worship team?”, we obviously look for more depth than, “Well, I like to sing,” or “I’ve played in a band forever so I’d like to play here too.” In the same fashion, however, we’re also not looking for the cookie-cutter response of, “I want to play for God.” This is why it’s always a good idea to let their character answer the “reason” question – but during their trial period. If they show up on time and are prepared, and are perfectly fine with being in the back-line, and are genuinely putting forth an effort to assist the team leader, then the “reason” for what they’re doing is most likely not “self.”
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” [Philippians 2:3-11]
This doesn’t mean that the candidate shouldn’t play to the best of their ability or be creative, but their performance should never draw attention from worship.
Is the candidate teachable? Or are they so confident in their talent that they ignore instruction?
Here’s where the potential musicianship, team communication, and heart for service can shine! Instead of holding one-on-one auditions for candidates, hold a “Team Jam”. Invite your core members to an evening of music – wherein there are one or two prepared songs ready for the candidate(s). Go through one song completely with the candidate watching from the congregation seating, then invite them up for the same song (replacing the previous musician – or possibly adding them if they’re a singer). Position yourself to be able to observe the candidate during the jam. If they’re comfortable with the first song, have them join you “cold” on the next song; but always keep assessing their musicianship, team communication, adaptation to cues, and ability to blend seamlessly into the “team” product.
The Trial Period
For those of you who were Reagan fans, you would recognize “Trust – but verify.” It’s always a wise decision to have a blanket “trial period” for incoming candidates who have passed the vetting process – NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE! They may be a well-known musician in the local scene – or even a friend of yours, but that doesn’t change the underlying heart behind their skill. They may be great coming out of the gate, but after a while start arriving 5 minutes AFTER the starting time for practice, or regularly come unprepared, etc.
Once a candidate has passed the audition, they should be assigned a mentor for their “trial period.” If your church is large and has a bijillion worship team members, assign candidates to mentors who are on the same instrument. If your church is small, assign a member whom you would trust to be an appropriate musical – and spiritual – mentor. Just because the candidate may be as skilled as Phil Keaggy, doesn’t mean they may not need even basic Spiritual guidance.
Potential team members must be recognized as having God-given talent, but must also display the poise and heart-posture of a true servant leader. I pray God imparts wisdom to you and your team in welcoming musicians into the family. Music is, as I believe, miraculous. It speaks to us on a level that transcends context of written words, and impacts us Spiritually and emotionally in a way no other form of communication can. This is an awesome power with which we’ve been entrusted by God.