With many technologies now easily available to send out recordings and music to lots of people at once, more and more ministries are becoming cultures of “listen and learn.” That’s where the onus to learn the music for worship is completely on the individual. The choir member or praise team vocalist does this by watching a YouTube video with a printed out chart or by logging on to some planning software that has all the files imbedded.
It’s fast and convenient, and makes the organization of a team of people super easy. What could be wrong about that?
So here are just a few reasons why this approach can be a really bad idea.
- It’s not always that legal. I can hear the collective, “What?” from many of you. You have your CCLI license and even a rehearsal license. You may have even secured another license or two from other sources and your planning software company provides the tools to operate so it must be legal, right? Not really. The law on this is far from settled. I sit in meetings where publishers talk about file sharing through planning sites. It is a huge threat to the income of writers. This is a very gray area right now and churches that aren’t diligent in policing their activities and informing their people are probably breaking the law. The CCLI license (or something like it) is important, but it doesn’t cover everything. I would say it doesn’t cover many things a typical church does. You might say, “We’re going to do it anyway.” Well, that would be a shame wouldn’t it?
- It doesn’t enable your team to do their best. Unless you have a team of highly-trained professionals, your people are probably not at their best with this method. Even the pros around Nashville prefer prep time before the red light comes on. You might achieve something that “gets by” week to week, but how does that stand up to offering your best to and for the Lord?
- It cannot create community. You may be able to slam it all together in a Sunday morning sound check, but you will never have the opportunity to build spiritual community around what you are performing. A major part of leading a worship ministry happens in the times of preparation and rehearsal in which you are leading spiritually. It’s where relationships form and flourish. That cannot happen when folks are on their own to learn the music.
- The quality will suffer. The stakes will be too high in those sound checks to ever go for nuance in the performance. It will be “cookie cutter” and everything will soon sound the same because you will not have a way to make it any different. All of your music will be just like the recording or the video instead of being an authentic rendition true to your specific place of worship. You might have a “wall of sound” in which no one knows the difference. But, you’ll know. And God will too.
- It will marginalize your average musicians. People that need more time and help to learn music will suffer in this system. They very well may learn the song, but they might miss a good deal of the notes in their part. Their ear and reading skills are not enough to make up for the missed rehearsal time. Soon, they could very well drop out rather than participate knowing they are really not ready to perform. The role of the leader is to make sure the group feels ready to do their best. That is not possible with “listen and learn.”
- It’s just plain lazy. One of my seminary professors used to say, “Work smarter, not harder.” And he was right. It is important to find efficient ways to do our work to free us for more impact personally. But, the “listen and learn” method isn’t just an easier way. It’s a shortcut that has a negative effect on the worship ministry of a church. It replaces community with convenience and creates a world where conversations aren’t even necessary for ministry. Can you imagine?
Imagine this prayer: “God, I’ve got everything ready for Sunday. I haven’t had a single conversation with anyone I’m leading this week – or even a rehearsal – but they have the assignments, the music, and the worship order thanks to a software program I use. I’ll trust that You are keeping all of them spiritually focused even though I’ve done no actual ministry with all my extra time. Give us a great sound check – we’ll need it – and bless us all. Amen
Or, should we say, “oh my.”
Use the tools that are available. But, don’t let anything replace the good old-fashioned rehearsal and prayer time with your people. If you find yourself being drawn into an approach that eliminates that, then you might need to take a step back… before you and your “all-stars” are all that’s left of your ministry.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.