Praise with What You Have
My parents’ church is relatively small. As you travel north through California, their little town is nestled right at the end of wine country and the beginning of the Redwoods. It’s both beautiful and sparsely populated (both great reasons to live there!).
But this also creates unique challenges for leading a worship team. At some churches, each spot in “the band” runs several layers deep. Many churches have multiple bands that alternate from one Sunday to the next, with substitutes for each position. But not when you live in a remote area.
My dad has led the worship team in their church for most of my conscious life. My earliest memories of his worship leading are of him waving his hand conductor style as the congregation sang hymns to piano or organ accompaniment. Eventually they worked in some praise songs, and it was only a matter of time until some of the songs were led on the guitar. In other words, as styles changed, their worship music got more modern.
But here’s what I love about the music in my parents’ church. They have always praised with what they had. I remember a period when much of the instrumentation was put onto a floppy disc and played via MIDI off of a keyboard. When I was in High School and could barely form a cord with my rookie fingers, they had me playing backup electric guitar. I sounded awful (I remember it well), but I was there and willing, so they let me praise.
That little church has seen a handful of musicians come and go. When one guitarist would head off to college, another high school student would rise up and fill in. As you can imagine, none of these guitarists sounded like Chris Tomlin (perhaps they do now!), but they had willing hearts, so they helped the congregation praise God.
They also had a period of time when the primary instrument was the mandolin. They had a world-class mandolin player with a willing heart, so they worshiped to the mandolin. Sometimes they’ve had drummers, sometimes they haven’t. Sometimes they’ve filled things in with a flute, other times a violin.
My dad has faithfully led that church in worship through the years, and its musical style has changed frequently—not because they were trying to impress anyone or keep up with a specific style, but because they praised God with what they had.
Worship leaders with a bigger pool to draw from have to make more difficult decisions about what style they will go for, what instruments to feature, etc., but my dad has never really had to worry about those things. He has just led with what the Lord has brought. Sometimes this has meant that they have “reverted” to my dad leading the congregation with his waving hand as my mom and other pianists played hymns. But from everything I can tell, the church loves it all. They are there, after all, not to sound cool, but to praise God with whatever is at their disposal.
There is, I believe, a place for excellence in the musical worship that we offer to God, and the instrumentation we use can itself glorify him. But the moment we feel ineffective in praising God because we can’t perfect a certain style, we can be sure that we’ve begun to equate worship with a genre and missed the point entirely.