Jake recently applied to be on your worship team. On paper, he looks good: Jake played guitar for several years, had prior worship ministry experience at another church, and got a two-thumbs-up character reference from his current small group leader.

But the first one-on-one interview told a different story: Jake struggled to play in time. He mainly chopped open chords and didn’t bother learning the actual guitar parts. And when he sang, uh, yeah… But you scheduled a full band audition anyway. You chalked up Jake’s pitchy-ness to nerves, and his lack of practice on the fact that he came from a smaller church with different standards. But at the full band audition the presence of a click track, microphone, and other musicians just accentuated his deficiencies.

At this point, you have two choices:
Short-term easy/long-term pain.
Short-term pain/long-team healthy.

The first option is just to say, “Yes.” That’s easy, but that’s not healthy.

The second option is to say, “I’m sorry, Jake. The answer is no.” That’s painful—for both Jake and you. But that’s the healthy choice—not only for the team but Jake as well.

If you go for the easy “Yes,” Jake will never quite fit. He musically can’t measure up, and would frustrate you and the other team members. And deep down, no matter how much he wishes to be on the team, he’d recognize this and be frustrated too.

“No” does two things:

First, it protects your team from the frustration of trying to involve someone who doesn’t fit musically, relationally, and/or spiritually.
Second, even though it doesn’t feel like it, it’s a gift to the person hearing it. If Jake takes the “No” with the right attitude, he will either work to develop his skills or, maybe, more importantly, he’ll realize that he’s far more gifted to serve in other areas.

It’s always better to serve from giftedness than wishfulness.

So, it’s easy to talk about this, but what if you have a “Jake” right now. How do you say “No”? Before you say anything, you need to determine what kind of “No” it is. Is it outright, end-of-discussion “No”? Or something different—maybe a “Not Yet”, or a “Not Here”.

More often than not, we need to give the unequivocal “No”: “I’m sorry, you just aren’t at the musical level we need for our team.”

But sometimes a “Not Yet” is what’s needed. “We see promise in you, Jake, but you need to develop in these three areas…”

Be realistic and specific about what the person needs to work on. Don’t blow smoke just because you’re scared of saying “No”. Occasionally, you may find a situation where someone could use their musical gifts in another ministry within your church, even though they’re not at the standard of the main worship team.

Now, don’t just use “Not Here” and unload people on Celebrate Recovery, the youth band, or the children’s choir because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

So if the answer is a definite “No”, what then? Here are a few tips:

Be honest.
Respect the person enough to give him/her a truthful answer (without being brutal). But don’t waffle or hedge. Ambiguity can offer false hope and the lead the person on.

Be quick.
As soon as it’s clear in your audition process, do it. And don’t try to soften the blow by talking around the issue. Dragging out the conversation to avoid saying “No” is painful for both of you.

Be an adult.
Emailing a “Dear Jake” letter would be so much easier than talking face-to-face. And a phone call is tempting, too. But this isn’t junior high. Jake is a member of your church family who has put himself out there and deserves a respectful, in-person conversation.

Be for them.
Help this person know you care for him and appreciate his vulnerability of auditioning for the team.

Be smart.
Before you tell someone “No,” inform your senior pastor (or direct supervisor) about this decision (and make sure he has your back). If this thing goes sideways, will your church split? Probably not. Will you want to split? Definitely.

Be future-focused.
Don’t let the current need for musicians and techs cloud your vision.

Remember, it’s easier to disqualify someone before they join the team than it is to remove them after. (That might be worth reading again.)

So, embrace the short-term pain of “No” as part your duty as the shepherd of your team. Who you let in (and keep out) will help determine the long-term health and direction of your worship ministry.

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Besides being a professional song hoarder, Jon is the founder of WorshipWorkshop.com and WorshipTeamCoach.com, two sites that help worship leaders build strong teams and lead engaging worship. He lives and serves in Lexington, Ohio with his wife Shannon and their four kids.

1 COMMENT

  1. Love the article, any advise on how to coach or not an individual who has not grown with the worship team. They are “in” but now are not maintaining the standard that is now expected, since the team has grown musically?

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