How Much Talent is Necessary?

In our church there is a lady who obviously loves God with all her heart and worships Him. She has asked about becoming one of the music ministry singers but she does not sing very well. I’m not certain how to handle this.

As a general rule it is necessary for a person to have some level of proficiency in the task they are desiring to perform. This is true in nearly any area of life—brick laying, cooking, computer programming, and, yes, music ministry. This seems obvious. The difficult part is determining exactly what level of proficiency is adequate for the situation.

Some churches are comfortable with taking someone not very skilled and having them improve as they participate. This is a sort of learn-as-you-do-it approach, almost an apprenticeship concept. These churches frequently use the numerous “make a joyful noise” passages as their basis. Other churches have very strict criteria that demand those involved be at an extremely high level of musical proficiency. Churches from this school of thought would point to Psalm 33:3 as their guide: “play skillfully.” And of course there are many churches that position themselves somewhere in between these two extremes. So what’s the right answer?

Unfortunately, Scripture does not give clear instructions on the correct answer to this question. The temple musicians listed in 1 Chronicles 25 were all “trained and skilled in music” (1 Chronicles 25:7). However, it goes on to say that the “young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties” (1 Chronicles 25:8). Although they all had at least some level of skill, apparently there was no forethought given to putting the less-skilled musicians with the more accomplished ones. No distinction seems to have been made.

Since the Bible does not give a clear indication in one direction or the other, then it seems safe to assume that either could be correct depending on the situation and circumstances. A smaller church may find it necessary to recruit people of lower skill levels, simply because that is what is available. Larger churches, with more people to pick from, may decide to raise the standard.

The important point in all of this is to decide what is right for your church. Maybe the apprenticeship concept will work well for your situation, and after prayerfully considering it, you decide it is right for your congregation. Great. Do it with all your might. However, in following that course, don’t begrudge another church’s decision to follow a different path. Decide what is right for your setting and your people and then do it. (Of course, it should be obvious that as your church grows, you may decide to adjust your standards.)

One final practical thought: if the person’s singing ability is so poor that it would be distracting, you might be able to offer another part of the worship ministry as a place of service. Things like running the video projection or organizing the worship ministry music can be real acts of service and allow the person to be involved in the worship ministry.

Formulate carefully thought-out and clear guidelines of what type of criteria will be used to decide who does (or does not) participate in the music ministry. Share these with those who are interested. This will save you from needing to make up the rules as you go along.