I’ve never been a fan of first dates, or dating in general. I’ve always been a “relationship” guy. Spending an entire afternoon or evening with someone that you hardly know, with absolutely no reference of what to expect or what will happen is a truly terrifying ordeal. Every first date I ever went on I remember trying to mask my nervousness and anxiety (and sweatiness) with a severe overcompensation of bad jokes and random discussion topics. Good times. Luckily I finally met a girl who enjoyed bad jokes and random discussion topics… and thankfully the sweatiness subsided over time. PTL.
My “first date” with using tracks was in 2009. A friend of mine introduced us over coffee at a conference that we were both attending. After years of using wedges, I had FINALLY become comfortable with in-ear monitoring, I had some recording experience under my belt so I was used to click tracks, but I hadn’t yet been introduced to the illustrious “loop craze” that was beginning to permeate the worship ministries around me. Although I was altogether intimidated by the entire idea of running tracks, I was also captivated by how various ministries and artists were using them. I remember the excitement of installing Ableton Live Suite onto my Macbook Pro, spending months building my “loop rig” (featuring a Youn-FX midi pedal, which was a custom Looptimus ancestor of sorts), and burning countless hours online watching Youtube videos on anything and everything related to the subject. Needless to say, loops had won my heart. I began implementing them in every set of every service. I would spend hours and hours each week in my home studio meticulously programming different parts, always pushing the envelope a little further to incorporate various creative elements.
What unfortunately didn’t hit me until much later is that this “relationship” I had immersed myself in had become detrimental to my ministry. I remember having difficult conversations with several of our faithful musicians who felt like they had been “replaced” by the tracks and that they were feeling undervalued in regard to their skills, abilities, and gifts. What was even more concerning is that they also expressed deep hurt, discouragement, and discontentment with the worship ministry as a whole. Thankfully no one quit the team but God graciously humbled me and used these conversations to open my eyes to some egregious errors that I had made. I firmly believe that the two primary objectives of the Worship Leader are musical AND pastoral, and I had failed hard in the latter. So I began to seek forgiveness and ask God to give me His wisdom in how to balance both of these objectives.
Now please don’t misunderstand me, I believe that musicianship is extremely important. As Worship Leaders we should champion the mastering of instruments, excellence in performance, the use of proper dynamics, the understanding of musical theory, and the need for creative expression through technology and the like, all for the glory of God. A Worship Leader should be a skilled musician leading a team of skilled musicians but that is NOT EVERYTHING they should be.
A Worship Leader is also a shepherd, who cares for the spiritual well-being of those he is leading. I want our guitarists to come to rehearsal prepared because they believe that God is worthy of their best in all things. (Col. 3:17) I want our vocalists to not only sing skillfully (Psalm 33:3), but do so with unbridled passion because they wholeheartedly believe that He is better than life! (Psalm 63:3). I want to know what’s going on in their lives and to have prayed with them and for them during the week, and not just before taking the stage on Sunday morning. I want to be the biggest cheerleader for Jesus that they have in their lives. Any effort to make Christ, what He has done, and what He is doing more lovely to every member of our team is a worthy one.
So Worship Leader, play skillfully, push musicianship and geek out with all of the tech that you can get your hands on (with wisdom of course), but be faithful to guard yourself against neglecting those that God has placed under your care. It’s absolutely worth it.
Jason Dunton serves as the Worship Pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel in Houston, TX.
He holds a Master of Arts in Worship Leadership degree from Dallas Baptist University and is also a songwriter, producer and Nutella addict.
He lives and loves with his wife Joanna, daughter Penelope, and English Bulldog Grubby.
Twitter and Instagram: @jasedunton