5 Things Worship Leaders Can Learn From Music Teachers
“Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono
Music teachers are great. I'm married to one... so I'm a little biased... but I think it's true. There is no way I could do what I do for living if it wasn't for my music teachers growing up. I originally went to school to teach music. I was able to teach music, theater, etc. at a private school for a few years. I take supplemental contracts here-and-there to assist with and direct school athletic bands and so on... so even though teaching music isn't my 9-5, it is still a big part of my life.
This weekend, I was with my wife, Melinda, at the Ohio Music Education Association Professional Development Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. It's been great for a multitude of reasons, but as I go to these sessions, and interact with these educators (and soon to be educators) it solidifies a feeling that I've had for awhile. That feeling is... worship leaders and music teachers share a lot in common. Just like their title would suggest, these music teachers can teach us a thing or two.
1. Communication Is Key
Throughout essentially every session I sat through, each clinician formally or informally bolstered the importance of communication. These teachers are communicating with students, administrators, parents, other teachers... and it's important. Sometimes communicating with parents is easier for some teachers than communicating with administrators, or vice-versa. All needed forms of communication, however, are important.
Of course, just like music teachers, we need to exercise boundaries in communication, but cutting it off all together is not good for anyone.
How are you communicating with your team? Your pastors? Technicians? What do you want to make better about it?
2. Assessing & Developing Skill Is Important
In a sense... you can practice, you can get better, so you can help control YOUR skill level... but you can't control the base skill level of your team. BUT you can help enable your team to grow musically, and in-turn, enhance their skill.
Something my wife specializes in is curriculum and assessment in the music classroom. Assessment in any arts classroom can be tough. In most cases, a student's musical progress isn't easily objectified on a scantron. So, these teachers need to be really intentional about their assessment. They have to groom it for each class. It has to be personal as well as corporate. You may have a choir class full of students that need individual growth and assessment... but they also operate as a whole, as an ensemble. Worship teams are no different.
If you're like most churches, you're not just hiring out all of your worship team musician and technician spots to paid-professionals. We have volunteers of varying skill level, with even more varying backgrounds. In the words of my wife, assessment needs to be "R.E.A.L." --- Reliable, Efficient, Applicable, and Life Long. You can read up on Melinda's REAL model by CLICKING HERE!
Essentially, REAL makes sure your assessment is quality. It makes it so you can trust the data you track so you can communicate it well, use it to plan for the future, and use it to be able to give your student/team member critical feedback and "feed-forward" to help them improve in the future.
For example, in a rehearsal if your bassist is having trouble with a rhythm, you can either get teach them how to play the rhythm in that song specifically OR you can actually teach them the rhythm (and its principles) so they can apply it to any song that uses it.
3. Advocacy Is Paramount
A pretty regular issue for many music educators is that they are typically supervised, judged by, and overall talked about, by people who aren't necessarily musicians/artists in their own right. Not every student has a musical family. Not every administrator understands the importance of a music program.
There are people in your church that probably assume you sit in your office all day playing guitar. They may also think that leading worship and playing music on stage is "fun" every single time. It's unrealistic to expect every person to understand the skill, ability, time, etc. it takes to do what you do. So... Taking another page from the Music Teacher handbook, Worship Leaders need to promote healthy advocacy.
It's easy to complain, it's easy to want people to recognize the amount of work you put in... But you know what else helps (better)? People talking up what the worship team means to them, to others, and so on. Enable your biggest stakeholders to be your advocates. It's hard to squelch all that positive energy.
Imagine if your church was buzzing about how great having a worship team is rather than saying than about how hard the worship leader works. How would that help shape how you do ministry?
4. Find Out How They Learn
For music teachers, they = students.
For worship leaders, they = team members and your congregation.
Music teachers always have to take into account the developmental stages of their students. Long form essays on musical form and history are not appropriate for 6 year olds. Sitting on carpet squares singing preschool songs is not appropriate for 17 year olds.
Of course, how you help develop your musicians and techs varies based on their base skill level and many other factors... But what about our congregations? Remember, worship music and its language doesn't always make sense to the seeker. If someone is new to the faith, singing really intense songs depicting the crucifixion may freak them out. However, for the lifelong believers who mark their calendars for Good Friday worship... Those songs are necessary. Of course, I'm speaking in generalities, but I think you get my point.
The songs you lead help enhance worship... but they can also enhance spiritual, and critical thinking about God at the same time.
5. Not Every Student. Not Everyday.
This is a saying music educators refer to when it comes to assessing their classes. Some bands, choirs, and general music classes are small. Others are 100+ students. How do you hear from all of them? Work individually with all of them? Get feedback from all of them? Well... Some days are better than others. Each teacher finds their own tips and tricks. However, it's about assessing and progressing in increments and over time. This is something we can apply to worship leading.
You won't be able to have a deep musical, personal, or spiritual conversation with every team member after every rehearsal. You won't be able to catch every new visitor after every service. You have to divide it up. Plan. Pray for discernment in each situation. Offer other lines of communication with your team and church newcomers. Just like in the classroom... some of your team members won't desire or require much "extra" interaction with you. Others may desperately desire it all the time.
Whoever needs you, be as present as possible instead of spreading yourself thin trying to catch every person every time.