Serving the vision, not the person

Recently I met with a sound tech from another church who spoke about having to essentially arrange the music on the fly, because every musician in his church played full range, all the time, without leaving room for anything else in the song. I asked a few follow-up questions, and it became apparent that their worship team had no clear leader, and no clear vision. Maybe it’s not a recipe for disaster, but it’s certainly a good recipe for mediocrity.

It’s not unusual for a team to lack focus if they are not coalesced behind a leader, but even if their loyalty to a person leads them to be a team player, then the loyalty is only as good as their relationship with that leader. And what if the leader isn’t there? Will they still do it? The most important task for creating clarity of purpose on a team is for its leader to cast vision. In a smaller church, that leader may be a pastor or a lay leader, but someone needs to be the custodian of a vision, communicate it to the team in broad terms, and then help them see how their specific contribution builds that vision.

I know this sounds obvious, but how often do we violate this idea because of weekly pressure to put together a service? We call up somebody we know to fill a slot as a favor, hire somebody for a period that we know isn’t really committed to the church, etc. These people are not motivated by vision, and these short-term sacrifices erode a vision that we haven’t cast. I know that there are practical realities that we can’t escape, but I believe that many of these issues arise from the fact that people were never enrolled in a vision.

If you need to ask a player to lay out for a verse to build dynamics, or get a drummer to keep energy up in a song that they are feeling differently for you, how would you rather go about it? Do you want to ask them to do it for you as a favor, or would you rather point to a clarified vision that they have already agreed to serve? What about a sound tech that has personal feelings about how much bass should be a in a room? If there’s a clear reason for bass to be at a given level, are they more or less likely to leave it there once you’re on the platform and can’t control them?

I’ve spent a lot of time with my team talking about our goals as a team. We talk about tension and release in music, about creating space for a climax in a song, and about building a service to a strong point. We talk about the tech experience, what the congregation needs to hear, and how they will best follow and be comfortable singing. When I need a specific change or arrangement change, I can ask for it based on what the vision is, not based on my opinion. It’s easier to get everybody on the same page this way.

Building consensus around a vision is hard work up front but it pays off every week. Vision is a great place for teaching pastors to get involved, since the worship leader and teaching pastor should be on the same page anyway. Craft a plan that can be used to illustrate to anyone the church’s philosophy of worship, how it uses its mix and dynamics to reinforce that philosophy, and how individual musicians are all a part of a larger organism. If you can have that conversation, then a lot of the others will go smoothly.

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