Shepherding Idle and Faint-Hearted Church Musicians

If you are a musician who serves in a worship band, hear this. It doesn’t matter if you are a volunteer or if you are paid, if you can play songs in your sleep or if you are terrified and it keeps you up at night. I want you to know that God is working through your musical act of worship, and I thank you for your faithfulness.

Last Christmas Eve, I remember setting up my guitar gear on the stage of my church right next to a row of three Christmas trees, each one shorter than the last, mirrored on the other side of the stage. I thought to myself, am I just the fourth and shortest Christmas tree in this row? The church set up these trees because they wanted the room to have a certain vibe, and they neither distracted nor particularly attracted anyone to the glory of Jesus—an idea that sounded awfully familiar to me.

I know I’m not the only worship musician who feels this, at times. Worship leaders, if you saw into your bandmates’ hearts, you would be shocked how often we doubt that our musical offerings have any real value in God’s economy.  Are you shepherding your band to view their past faithfulness as ebeneezers of God’s grace as heartily as you are calling them upward to more faithful service?

“14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

1 Thessalonians 5:14 (ESV)

Worship leaders are responsible for admonishing the idle musician as well as encouraging the faint-hearted one. Getting these backward will ruin discipleship. The command in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 requires much discernment. To know whether to admonish or to encourage, you need to know your bandmates well and have a Spirit-led wisdom to discern their hearts.

Encouraging a musician doesn’t mean saying, “Great job! You’re so talented!” You have to reassure them that God just did something through their obedience. One man in our congregation often tells me, “Thank you for being faithful, week in and week out. You help focus me and my family on Jesus every week.” This is some of the greatest encouragement I could ever ask for.

In our shepherding, we all default to one or the other; calling people to more service or celebrating their past victories, but we need to respond to the posture of our followers’ hearts. If you wonder which way you may lean, I have noticed this general rule. Many wrongly ask, “Should I pay my musicians, or should I just be really encouraging to them?” as if players who are regularly encouraged don’t need money, and players who are paid don’t need encouragement. We need to eat like everyone else, but money is not the best compensation for artists. When an artist begins to make art for the sole purpose of getting paid, they cease to make art. All artists understand this and are quickly unsettled when the only return we see is money. We want to know someone is going to be changed by what we’re doing.

Don’t get it backward. Don’t admonish the fainthearted, or encourage idle behavior. I’ve been admonished while fainthearted before. It sucks. It might cause your band to respond with more service, but their hearts will just grow wearier in their desperate attempt to remain self-sufficient. But if you lay a foundation of encouragement, and remind them that God has been working through their gifts all along, their hearts will be strengthened to jump out on more and more Christ-dependency. They will trust that God has used their musical gifts for his glory, and will be eager to trust him with more.
Wes Ardis

About Wes Ardis

Wes lives in South Austin with his wife, Sarah, and daughter, Emerald. He serves as band director and lead guitarist for Jimmy McNeal, and is a resident in the Austin Stone Worship studio with Kyle Lent.