Reflection #12 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 12 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #12: The busyness of the playing of the average praise band drummer is usually in inverse proportion to his/her age.

If the above assertion is accurate–and it has been for the visits my wife and I have made to numerous Chicagoland churches in the past two years–what should a conscientious worship leader do to address the issue, assuming the worship leader finds busyness on the kit a problem?  Three suggestions, but first a quick word of encouragement re: how to offer constructive criticism encouragingly–especially if trying to guide a younger person.

Studies are rife supporting the notion that we hear negative feedback with more intensity than we do positive feedback.  Anecdotally, in my teaching career at Judson University (which began in 1991), when poring over student evaluations of my classes at the end of every semester, I am prone to ruminating over one semi-negative comment from a student in the midst of a sea of otherwise-glowing reviews from the vast majority of the class members.

Hence, in my own opportunities to offer constructive criticism to younger folks (which I did with frequency when I directed the chapel ministry at Judson), I eventually made it a habit to give feedback via what I called the “Oreo Method.”  Even if my assessment of a student’s performance was mostly negative, I somehow found a way to acknowledge, first, one thing the student did well.  Then (even if it was the primary observation, dwarfing all others) I would suggest what could be done better (never what was “bad”).  Finally, I finished “on a good note,” and gave the student encouragement re: one more thing that went reasonably well.

I know good, well-meaning Christian leaders who scoff at this approach, ticking off all kinds of rationales for “speaking truth in love,” giving an “accurate assessment” of the use of gifts, and all kinds of ways of communicating that whatever someone did was not sufficient or good enough.  (They often work in churches or parachurch organizations that put a premium on presentation–as if technical excellence was tied closely to holiness, as if smoothness of content delivery was indicative of spiritual maturity–and they would look at my approach as fostering mediocrity and coddling those who need to be challenged if they are to reach their full potential.)  I disagree; moreover, I am willing to believe the Holy Spirit will direct my path and that of anyone I am evaluating so that opportunities to address concerns arise over a period of time.  There’s no need to share feedback that is overwhelmingly negative in one session.  (Obviously, there are extreme cases where someone behaves severely inappropriately or consistently misses a well-articulated mark that all recognize as important for accomplishing the job, but those are different situations.)

So, with a busy young drummer who is in your praise band, what might you do to help him or her develop more-appropriate playing for the setting?

AbrechtFirst, introduce your drummer to Carl Albrecht, who, for many years, was the primary drummer for worship leader Paul Baloche and other Hosanna/Integrity artists.  I’ve attended a few conferences where Albrecht presented, and I’ve seen him become visibly moved talking about how the drums can, when played with sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit (and the worship leader), be used in mighty ways to bless God and His people.  Any resources he releases will be rich in content–both technical and theological.  You can see his most recent work here: Carl Albrecht’s website.

Second, gently convey the notion of the “Fraction Principle,” a concept introduced to Doerksenme by worship leader Brian Doerksen (“Come, Now Is the Time to Worship,” “Refiner’s Fire”).  In short, if there are six musicians playing in the band, each musician should be contributing one-sixth of the musical material.  Drummers are particularly susceptible to the temptation to overplay (so many options!), but gentle counsel in this regard can pay huge dividends.  A more thorough explanation of the the Fraction Principle can be found here: Brian Doerksen’s “Fraction Principle,” as explained by Dan Wilt.

Third, appeal to your drummer using the “still, small voice” metaphor.   Simply put, the best drummers for corporate worship are those we don’t notice in any particular way, who don’t draw particular attention to their chops.  An apt biblical metaphor here can be found in the account of God’s communication with Elijah in 1 Kings 19.  Though God throughout recorded history up to that moment had surely spoken in dramatic fashion at times, this time He was not in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire.  He was in the “still, small voice.”  That’s how Elijah clearly heard the word of the Lord that day.  There’s a lesson there for drummers . . . and all of us who lead worship in a band setting, for that matter.

Playing energetic drums without overplaying takes effort.  Worship leaders, if this is an issue for your team, may the Lord be with you as you encourage your drummers!

Coming next week (Lord willing): A few thoughts on the satellite-and-video-sermon strategy.

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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