One question that comes to me all the time for worship leaders and senior pastors is how to build an audition system for your church worship team. The concept isn’t difficult – identify people, give them an opportunity with some kind of evaluation – but it’s the details of worship team auditions that people get stuck on.
I’m here to help you!
Since being in full-time worship ministry in 2003 I have auditioned hundreds of musicians and we’ve now developed a system that identifies the best musicians, helps them succeed, builds your worship team and keeps you as a worship leader from going crazy!
Before I lay out the full plan it’s important to get this analogy.
I love baseball. Do you love baseball? Even if you don’t you’re probably familiar with the way that baseball teams can build their roster. Generally there are three ways – you make trades, you sign free agents and you draft young players.
Now a worship team is not a baseball team but the analogy is helpful when we think about the idea of what kind of team do we want to build? Over time your team will take on some characteristics and one of the ways you can build the character of your team is through auditions.
Think of auditions like building through the draft.
You need to identify the vision of what you want your worship team to be and then build for that vision through multiple avenues, one of those being your auditions.
For example, if you want a certain skill level or a certain kind of musical style for your worship team then you need to build that into your audition process so that you’re building your team with the skill and style you’re looking for.
If you are hoping to build a worship team that has a very southern gospel or traditional style you will want to use your audition process so that you are not bringing very classical or very modern musicians on to your worship team. Or at least you’re using the process so that the musicians understand what is being expected of them in terms of style.
Also auditions are also a great way to build any character expectations into your team. You can lay out very clearly at the beginning of the process of someone joining your worship team what you expect of them as a part of this ministry.
One of the beautiful, difficult realities of having a leadership role is evaluation. We are asked to evaluate new ideas alongside existing realities. Leaders are constantly evaluating where things are and where things could be. Leaders are asked to evaluate people, events and systems at every stage along the way.
When it comes to a leadership role in worship ministry, evaluation can take on some added complexity. We are sometimes asked to evaluate someone based on their ability, their talent and what they have to offer our church. While this seems like an easy task in principle it won’t take you long to figure out that all kinds of circumstances can contribute to the complexity of evaluation.
Auditions are one of the ways worship leaders are asked to evaluate. We are evaluating the ability and compatibility of someone who has a desire to lead our church in worship.
This responsibility for evaluation is part of the role of the leader and you mustn’t run from it, you can’t apologize for it and you should never be afraid of it. God has called you, equipped you and empowered you to lead in the context where you are leading and part of that leadership is evaluation. Leaders must live out their leadership in many ways and evaluation is one of those ways.
The catch is often how do we evaluate, what do we evaluate and where are we trying to lead people. If we don’t have answers for those questions it will make our responsibility for evaluation difficult and the people who we are leading will be confused, disappointed and eventually disillusioned with your leadership. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
In our evaluation if we focus exclusively on ability, we will have a team of great sounding musicians who may or may not get along, who may or may not care about the greater mission of our church and who may or may not have their hearts in the right place. “They’re a killer player!” is never reason enough to let someone play on your worship team.
If we focus exclusively on compatibility, we will have a team of nice people who love to serve but you probably won’t have many people in your church telling their friends about how great the music sounds. “They have a great heart!” is never reason enough to let someone play on your worship team.
There has to be a balance.
Ability with compatibility.
Skill and soul.
Competency and chemistry.
Hands and heart.
When I talk about this with people on our worship teams I will often bring them to Psalm 78. Through the psalm we read the cyclical story of God’s faithfulness, Israel’s disobedience, their repentance, God’s forgiveness and God’s continued faithfulness.
Psalm 78 ends with this verse:
“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”
See it? Heart and hands. Soul and skill. Character and competency. Both are important.
If we’re honest, ability is fairly easy for most of us to evaluate. Can they sing? Do they have good tone? Do they care about having quality gear? Are they able to match harmonies?
Compatibility can be a harder thing to evaluate but it is just as important when it comes to the formation of our worship teams. In fact, compatibility may have more impact on the long-term success of our worship team and the worship culture of our church than ability on its own.
What you’ve read so far is a pretty good description of the why behind our audition process so let’s talk about the how. Your how will probably not be exactly like mine and that’s okay. We don’t need clones but take what we’re going to talk about in the next few pages and make it work for your own context. Make sure you get to the why of what you’re trying to do and the how will come from that.