A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of playing bass with my friend Russell Martin as we led worship for a 6-th Grade mini-camp weekend. As Russell and I talked with our percussionist, Brooks, we began analyzing the ins and outs of playing technique, whether on guitar, bass, or percussion. Brooks played out a drum beat and noted how many drummers would play it "one way" (badoom boom crack ka-doom, etc.) but he would play it "this" (insert onomotopeia here) way. As we began to discuss this idea, we realized how we all have a tendency to overanalyze our playing, regardless of which instrument we are playing. Given, the Lord wants us to play to his glory, using the best of our ability and skill (Psalm 33:3). However, we can get caught up in the flashiness of our playing and then it's not about worship about all, but about showing off our chops.
The great thing about leading worship is that 9 times out of 10, the audience won't know the difference if we don't get our part exactly like some recording. Unless they are musicians who play as well or better than the members of your team, they will not care if you pick instead of strum, if you play 16th notes instead of 8th notes on the hi-hat, or if you slap a funky bass line instead of merely playing the root note of each chord. Now, subconsciously, they will be able to determine what sounds good or what doesn't, but as far as HOW you get to that point, very few people in the audience will be able to pinpoint that. Leading worship often is about taking a great song and making it fit the playing ability of your worship team, making it easy for the congregation to sing along, and still be true to the original song.
This concept came up in our praise team practice Sunday afternoon. Our bass player, who has been playing guitar actually longer than our guitar player, knew how to play a particular guitar riff on a new song. She wanted to play guitar on that song and then switch back to bass. However, I pointed out that most people (probably everyone in our youth group) wouldn't even know the riff was missing and switching instruments would only be a time-consuming distraction. Also, it was robbing our guitar player of a learning opportunity. Why should she switch instruments and play the riff when he could learn it from her and probably have it nailed in a week or two. It is good to be skillful, but if our best is just being able to play the basics well enough to get by, God is still honored in that. So, let us all keep building our chops, play to the best of our ability, but let us not get so caught up in flashy playing that we forget who and what we are playing for. In the words of Neil Young, "Keep on rockin' in the free world!"