The electric guitar is still a newcomer in the church.
American Christianity has struggled between a temptation to pursue relevancy and a desire to remain true to tradition. Thus the electric guitar has served as a visible representation of that disagreement, often between younger and older generations.
Though the electric guitar has now become more widely accepted and even commonplace in a number of denominations and worship service formats.
It's considered to be far less "contemporary" as most of the people in church have either grown up with, or alongside it.
This is a good thing, because the electric guitar is just a guitar.
Just like the pipe organ, it's capable to act as a vessel of redemptive worship or that of selfish pursuits and mindless noise.
But our role, once we bring that instrument into the church, expands and becomes much more comprehensive than just playing guitar.The challenge for those who play the electric guitar is now different.
It's a matter of understanding our role as worshipers and musicians in the church, in addition to knowing our instrument and being able to play.
We're not just called to be good at the guitar.
Certainly that's where it begins, and one shouldn't pursue a worship role without the proper skill set and understanding of their instrument (more on that later). But our role, once we bring that instrument into the church, expands and become much more comprehensive than just playing guitar.
It changes how we view music, musicianship, people, leadership and our own understanding of what it means to serve.
All those things come into play when we're talking about the role of an electric guitarist who is committed to the Gospel of Christ.
This is an encyclopedic look at that role and what it actually involves.
To SingWe aren't all gifted vocalists. That's alright.
You might even consider yourself to be exclusively a guitar player, without any ability or desire to contribute vocally. I would argue that singing is part of your role, regardless of whether you do it in front of a microphone or not.
Even if you're not being heard corporately your vocal participation fills your role as a worship leader in a number of areas.
1. Willingness to Expand your ResponsibilityYour posture should be one of willingness to serve. If you can serve as a vocalist, demonstrating your ability to sing without a microphone shows a willingness to step into a more expanded role, should there be a need for it.
The electric guitar is, unfortunately, an easy instrument to hide behind.
You're usually not carrying the rhythm or the major structural components of a song. Thus mistakes and disconnected playing are more easily covered up.
Be willing to engage beyond your own instrument and to posture yourself to serve in other capacities.
2. A Vocal ResponseAs we lead others in a posture of worship, we ourselves should be responding, not just by showing up and playing guitar as our churchly duty, but out of grateful hearts and our own relationship with Christ.
Speaking to yourselves in psalm and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Ephesians 5:19In a scriptural sense, that overflow is often expressed with our voices.
Psalm 100: 1-2 tells us to "Come into His presence (in this case His Church) with singing." Ephesians 5:19 is even more specific. "Speaking to yourselves in psalm and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord."
There are plenty of scriptural references to singing that don't make any kind of exception for instrumentalists.
Just as the congregation is responding to the preaching of the Word and the Gospel in singing, so should you respond as someone who has been called to lead others into a posture of worship.
3. Lyrical AwarenessIt's easy to get lost in your own instrument, particularly if that instrument is the electric guitar. And while it's smart to focus on what you're doing, ignoring or passively following lyrics means you miss out on several aspects of worship.
First, you lose your best framework for understanding the theology of the music and the liturgy of the service.
More than just being thematic, the music we sing in church is both theological and liturgical in its presentation (at least it should be).
The lyrics are providing either an introduction or a response to the preaching of the word. So if you miss those lyrics and don't comprehend the words, you've mentally checked out of the flow of the service.
Nick Lathe, a worship leader at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, in a post on The Resurgence, says that part of our job (as worship leaders) is to connect the songs we sing to the gospel.
His argument is that you can't really lead people to a place where you haven't been yourself. And since the words and vocal refrain are such an important part of establishing your own heart in a posture of worship, you need to be aware of and engaged with the lyrics as much as possible.
The best way to do that, is to simply sing them.
4. Communal ParticipationThe act of worshiping together with a congregation isn't formatted like a concert or a show, in that a small group of people performs while the rest of the room listens. Instead, the activity going on in that service is meant for everyone, including those who are leading the music.
If the activity that you're calling the congregation to participate in is vocal than you should likewise be engaging in that same activity, even if the electric guitar is your primary responsibility.
This is critical to both your own personal walk and your responsibilities to the congregation as a visible leader.
To Act as a Musical SubsidyWe've mentioned briefly, that the electric guitar is usually not a foundational instrument, since it does not serve to build the structure of a piece of music. Instead, it builds on an established structure as a decorative sound or a subsidy to the music being played.
Thus your role as an electric guitarist is to play things that enhance and promote the song, rather than distract from it.
That happens primarily (though not entirely) on a practical level.
- Short Arpeggios
- Rhythm Backing and Layering
- Melodic Accents (see Augment Melody)
- Swells, Variety and Tonal Dynamics
For example, if there's a bass line or a chord progression, your role isn't to simply repeat it.
Accent it with some kind of melody, or add some ethereal swells or tonal variety. In fact, that's what an electric guitar is built for, especially when you consider the variety of effects and tones that it can utilize.
So in a way, your guitar's role is similar to that of a keyboard or synthesizer.
It should be your personal goal to master these techniques and to become a specialist in them, so that you're comfortable and confident in the notes and melodies you're playing.
To Create and Augment MelodyAugmenting or highlighting the melody of a song can happen one of two ways.
- Create that melody with your electric guitar.
- Layer or harmonize with a melody that already exists (usually from a vocal melody line)
At certain times during a song, your job as the electric guitarist is to create the melody line. However, this needs to be done with a tremendous amount of discretion, so that you and another musician (vocalist or other guitar player) aren't colliding.
You also need to consider that a melody can be either in the foreground (like a guitar solo or lyric line) or in the background.
Some of the situations where you can provide the foreground melody would include:
- Fills after a chorus.
- Transitional parts of a song.
- When there are no vocals or piano melody.
- To introduce a lyric line.
Likewise, there are situations where you'll want to avoid being the foreground melody and opt for a background melodic augmentation.
- When another guitar or piano is carrying the foreground melody.
- When the vocalist is carrying the foreground melody.
- When foreground melodic patterns would muddy the song too much.
- During the verse's lyric line.
- During quiet turns in a song.
Playing less is a good thing, so don't feel like you have to be constantly picking through something.
To Order and OrganizeThe artistic mind is more likely to struggle with organization, prioritizing and time management.
Often those who excel in music and creativity may feel that ordering and organizing is constraining and in opposition to their ability to serve the church creatively.
Though a major part of an electric guitar player's responsibility, is to be orderly, organized and well-prepared when it comes to leading worship and proclaiming the gospel.
If it comes naturally, that's great; but if not, one might need to work a little harder to cultivate it.
Though it's easier and more practical than you think.
If we examine what we need to stay organized as a worship leader and an electric guitarist, the solutions are simple and easy to put in place.
The following aspects should be well organized.
- Notes, sheet music and tablature.
- Books, articles and scripture references.
- Guitar gear.
EvernoteI would find it difficult to think of a more useful application in recent memory than Evernote. The concept is simple, but tremendously effective. In short, it allows you to write, organize, tag and share notes across any device.
Tabs, sheet music, notes, amp and pedals settings or whatever else I need to jot down goes into this program.
As far as practical tools for organization and productivity, it's one of the best, and perfect for musicians.
Pedalboards and VelcroIf you're using a lot of pedals without a pedalboard, this is an area that you should consider investing some money.
You can check out a few different pedalboards that we recommend, and if they don't come with velcro, you can get the industrial strength stuff from Amazon at a decent price.
Pen, Paper, a Comfy Chair and a Good BookshelfYou need a go to spot in your home; a place where you can relax, wind down and dig into the Word, your music or good reading material. For me that's a spot on the right side of one of the couch's in my living room where the lamp sits right above me.
Not far from that is a desk with a book shelf, several pens and a notebook that I use while I'm reading.
It helps to keep me engaged and away from distractions like TV and other things that might temp my attention.
I'm also not losing books or having to keep everything jumbled in a backpack.
To Pursue Excellency and SkillWe want to take care not to over-complicate things.
After all, an electric guitar player, whether they're serving in the church or not, should be pursuing a high degree of skill and excellency when it comes to their instrument.
I would contend that this becomes even more imperative for someone who is leading or helping to lead worship.
Serving Should be Skillful
Too often, we assume that the heart and desire to serve in a particular area, provides cover for a lack of talent. This should not be the case. Even the most sincere and well-intentioned musician can't be helpful or beneficial if they aren't able to play well and master their craft.
Thus skill and excellency with the electric guitar, is not only part of your role, but it should be considered a foundational qualification.
In addition to coming to the table with an established skill set, the act of continuously improving your abilities and your musical knowledge is part of your role once you're part of the team.
Also the music that you become familiar with will dictate where you try to improve and how you tailor your practice sessions.
Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully on the strings.For example, if you find yourself working with a lot of short, melodic arpeggios, that might be an area to focus on during your own practice sessions. Whatever you find is most needed during worship, make that the areas where you pursue a higher degree of skill.
Psalm 33:3 exhorts us to "Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts." The ESV translation specifies strings which I've always liked.
Thus the scriptures speak directly to our calling as worshipers.
We're not only to have a heart and spirit that worships, but in order to lead effectively, we must be skilled with the instruments we use.
To Receive and Extend Grace and TruthThe life of the believer and the response of those called by Jesus, is to walk in (pursue) Godly perfection. Matthew 5:48 reads, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
But how is He perfect?
The Godhead lives and functions in unhindered community and love, with perfect grace and perfect truth.
When Jesus ministered he was somehow able to be completely truthful with everyone he came in contact with, while at the same time overflowing with grace for the sinner; for the entire human race.
That is the perfection, the line that we're never able to squarely walk.
Yet as Christians, much more as leaders and those called to exemplify His glory through music and song, our role is to receive that grace and truth from Jesus, and in turn to extend it to those around us.
So how does that look in the context of playing guitar and serving in the church?
On a practical level:
- Deferring to leadership, but with a willingness to contribute and offer constructive criticism.
- Love and affection for the congregation that's born out of a desire to see lives transformed by the Gospel.
- Willingness not only to play, but to speak into the lives of others, both in and outside of your immediate community.
- Patience with the leadership community and the congregation at large.
So first, we accept that the Gospel message is true and walk in the Grace and forgiveness that God has given to us.
Second, we express and vocalize that truth to others, while simultaneously having grace for them.
To Demonstrate HumilityHumility is a bit of a churched-up word.
But particularly in our culture, it's difficult to exercise humility, despite the fact that we've heard it emphasized so often.
If we're honest with ourselves and with the world around us, the spirit of pride can creep into our hearts easily. Perhaps it's pride in our faith, in our country or even in our Christian traditions and heritage.
And those are just the basics.
Put a guitar in our hands and give us a stage to play on, and avoiding prideful thoughts becomes even more difficult.
Our catholic brothers and sisters are wise to allow their musicians to play out of site and off stage.
But the heart of a worshiper and instrumentalist, regardless of their platform, should cultivate and demonstrate humility as best they can. This should occur not just in your personality and interactions with others, but in how you play and how you handle yor instrument.
A Disqualifying Pride
While everyone may struggle with and have proud thoughts enter their minds, there is a type of pridefullnes that disqualifies one from a spot on stage.
If your response to those thoughts isn't one of opposition; if you're not fighting against it and desiring that the Holy Spirit remove it from you, that's indicative of a heart that's not truly committed to humility.
This type of pride that goes relatively uncontested, makes it nearly impossible to demonstrate humility to the congregation.
It's difficult for to give that person a green light to be on stage.
To be Motivated by the Gospel of ChristEven when it comes to something as seemingly silly and insignificant as the electric guitar, our work and service in that area should be rooted in and motivated by the Gospel of Christ. In fact, that motivation will cover and establish many of these other areas.
Order, skill, humility, grace and truth are all fruits and blessings of God that, in my experience, are freely given to those who are committed and motivated by the rare jewel that is His Gospel.
It is this pillar that every other aspect of the believer's life is built around.
Music, family, work, food, hobbies and whatever else you can think of are all meant to create an outflow of love and praise to God.
When you pick up your guitar on Sunday morning, or when you're sitting in the basement late at night picking through worshipful chord progressions, you're doing so in response to the hearing of the Gospel.
To Disciple and EncourageLastly, your role as an electric guitar player is to make sure that playing the guitar doesn't self terminate. What I mean by that is that your work in the church should serve to encourage and to disciple those around you, particularly those who are younger than you and walking in similar paths.
Work to raise up other musicians and guitar players in the church. Be glad when someone else comes up who can rotate in with you and give you a break.
Also, don't spurn the thought of moving into a role of discipleship and encouragement while someone else takes the stage.
Let gospel-centered multiplication and discipleship always be a practical goal and endgame of all your work and effort.
Books and Resources I Used to Write This Post
ESV Study Bible by Crossway Bibles
Ancient Future Worship by Robert E. Webber
The Attributes of God by A.W. Tozer
Evangelistic Worship (PDF) by Tim Keller
You Can't Lead Where You Haven't Been (Blog Post) by Nick Lathe