Musicians of Differing Skill Levels Working Together

What do you do if your worship team consists of two or three extremely talented people and the rest are a lot less talented?

Although this can be a tricky situation, look at the bright side: you could have no extremely talented people and just the mediocre ones. You probably wouldn’t like that much, would you?

Actually, this scenario is fairly common. Most churches have varying levels of musical talent. And it often seems that the ones with a boat-load of talent also often come with an attitude (did I say that?!). They sometimes have a tendency to look down their snobbish noses at their less-gifted brothers and sisters (Oh my. I don’t think you can put that on a site like this!).

Of course, the other side of the coin is that the less-talented folks can have the I’m-just-a-worthless-good-for-nothing mindset (Eyeore, from Winnie the Pooh, comes to mind). They compare themselves to their mega-gifted counterparts, and wonder if they should just quit because they simply don’t measure up. “I’ll never be able to play like that person. I’m no good.”

Hopefully these are exaggerations on both ends (though I really have met both). Regardless, there is a measure of truth in these depictions. Getting folks from such extremes to work together is not necessarily a simple task.

First, it is imperative to instill a vision of servanthood into the ones with lots of talent. “This is not about you. It’s about all of us together honoring and glorifying the Lord.” If they truly grasp this, then they are more willing to help the others improve (and more willing to patiently endure mistakes or lack of skill from others), rather than looking down on the (real or perceived) lack of ability. Having a true servant attitude completely changes the dynamics. Share, teach and model what a servant attitude looks like. It will make a world of difference.

Additionally, the less gifted folks must recognize that they have a role. No matter how talented someone might be, they cannot sing harmony alone. I have yet to meet anyone who can play every instrument simultaneously. There may be some who are not quite at the same level, but they are still needed. Encourage the less talented. Encourage them to continue on. Encourage them to work at their abilities. Encourage them to do their best.

The principles that I shared in the last two paragraphs are really the principles Jesus used in interacting with people, though not necessarily musicians. The people who thought they were really something special, He told them in no uncertain terms that they weren’t quite as hot as they thought. “You want to be great? Become a servant.” On the other hand, the ones who were sure they were nothing, Jesus comforted and encouraged.

Beyond these things, endeavor to build a comradery in the group. There is a dimension of competitiveness built into music performance. Through years of lessons and training we are taught to try to be the best. Unfortunately this attitude is very prevalent among Christian musicians and even those involved in worship ministry.

Building solid relationships among the musicians can help alleviate this. The reason is simple. Friends—true friends—don’t want to compete against one another in any negative sense. Friends desire to help each other succeed. If your musicians truly like each other, the competitiveness can largely be overcome.

I have seen this principle in action for years in my home church, but have had this idea reinforced as I travel and minister in churches nationwide. I regularly hear stories of musicians’ competitive attitudes that have been overcome by those involved becoming friends. If the individual members actually like and care for one another, a difference in skill level becomes only a minor obstacle. It really isn’t that big of a deal.

Practically speaking, simply spending time together in non-ministry scenarios can cause this to become more of a reality. An informal dinner together can give people a chance to just talk and become acquainted with one another. A trip to a ball game, a night at the symphony, or a worship ministry retreat, can all be helpful in forming stronger relationships and thereby cause the people to work together more readily.

Having people with varying levels of talent is almost a given. It’s how you handle them that will make all the difference. Try these principles. They work.