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by Bubba Jennings
Every college student knows it.
Some professors prepare you for a test. Others prepare you for life. The problem with “teaching to test” is it inaccurately assesses the skills or critical thinking required in the real world. This is why some students exit their programs of study with high marks, but not much to offer their employer or even church. Great educational programs combine academic study with real-world application.
Music auditions in the local church face similar challenges. The audition process should test for what will be expected in practices, worship gatherings, and the musician's relationships with other volunteers. Many churches don’t have a regular audition process at all, and others just search for a recipe of what's popular on the Christian scene.
Before you can hold an audition, you have to find the musicians in your midst that might sign up to serve.
How Do You Attract and Audition Musicians?
Artists are like ants. Ant / artist colonies send out scouts to scope out new territory and report back their findings. If you squash the scouts or have nothing for them to sink their teeth into, they move on. Identify and create opportunities in your church for musicians. If your church has no platform for artists to grow, create, and contribute, then don’t expect them to stick around. Music is not the purpose of the church, but it can be immeasurably effective in communicating the message that is the purpose of the church, as evidenced by both the word of God and church history.
It’s essential to appoint someone who can be leader and liaison to musicians in your community. When selecting a leader over musicians, pick someone who understands the gospel, artistry, and the specific calling of your local church. Musicians should be held to the same standards as other leaders, but know they typically have their own culture—including language, behaviors, motivators, strengths, and weaknesses.
Worship is more than music, and auditions should cover more than musicianship.
Have your current music-types watch for places in your community where musicians gather and participate with them. Ask the lead pastor to talk about the specific music needs on stage in services, and ask people in your congregation to spread the word and suggest to your leaders anyone they know who might fit the bill. Frequently, there are godly and gifted musicians in the room that won’t beat your door down for a tryout.
What Are the Qualifying Marks of a Person on Your Stage Leading Worship?
Intentionally create tests for those joining the worship ministry that simulate their ability to do what current members do, on and off stage.
Here are some key questions that your audition process should address:
- Are they worshipers of Jesus off-stage? (1 John 5:2)
- Can they learn a whole set of music in the time period allowed?
- Do they know how to play with other musicians?
- What is the time commitment? 6 months? A year?
- Do they have a history of serving and giving?
- Are they involved in community? (Known by others, confessing sin, etc.)
- How do they respond to authority in their life? (Hebrews 13:17)
If you have a formal music education, don’t make the audition so tough that qualified folks will get dissuaded from serving in their area of gifting. Most volunteers don’t need to know about atonality, serialism, or a Hungarian minor scale, so stick to what is pertinent. That said, teach your volunteers music theory basics that help them serve your church better.
Sometimes leaders avoid hard questions because they fear losing a volunteer. Folks in smaller churches often say bigger churches are afforded “luxuries” in sifting through myriads of musicians. As discussed in this post, deciding between heart and talent in a volunteer is a mistake regardless of church size. Worship is more than music, and auditions should cover more than musicianship.
Who Makes the Final Decisions?
Whether you have a worship leader reporting to a staff pastor or a worship pastor on staff, make sure the one overseeing the ministry is involved with auditions. Determining the specifics of assessing musicianship and spiritual maturity is ultimately their responsibility.
When establishing policies and procedures, invite input from your lead pastor and elders on what they desire to see in your musicians. Whether you use open or private auditions (described in detail in the downloadable resources), always use panel feedback. Pick a panel that understands what music works now and what could work in your context. This provides a balanced perspective and makes it harder for the auditioner to feel wounded by a specific person. Make sure band or team leaders affected by the auditions are present for feedback too.
Lastly, auditions can be an incredibly effective litmus test of idolatry. Be available to address and shepherd those that discover idols in their own hearts during the audition process. If you build a comprehensive audition process for worship volunteers, you’ll improve your ability to call in the godly and gifted that God has brought you to serve his people.