People often talk about leading from your strength, ABSOLUTELY a great idea.
But how do you reconcile that with learning a new instrument.
If you have always been a guitar player and are learning piano, if you have been a vocalist for years and are just getting accomplished on an instrument, if you are a killer AG player but have been working on lead guitar...
How do you decide when, if ever, to use the new skill on stage?
I'll use a new skill on stage when I know it won't distract from what I'm on stage to do. And as it gets stronger, I'll use it more.
Leading from your strength doesn't mean that you stop learning. As the old saying goes, the day you stop learning is the day you begin to die. I think stretching ourselves is critical for our own growth, and it also serves as an inspiration to others who are watching us.
While 'necessity is the mother of invention', I think 'need' is probably one of the best motivators I've seen. I 'really' learned to play guitar when playing for province-wide multi-University Christian Fellowship Retreat. I was returning to the team, but just a month before the conference one of the guitarist bailed and they moved me over to Rhythm Guitar. Looking back, it was probably one of the best things to ever happen to me. (While it was happening, it was just such a stressful time, day and night practicing guitar, as I was the drummer the year before.)
I know I've asked other team members to stretch themselves at times (ie. not play their 'favorite' instrument for the good of the set/team). As long as it's adding something to the team and not distracting it's great. For our church, it's less about the perfect worship performance, and more about letting people express their faith via act of service. You definitely get more out of 'church-life' if you are actively involved with serving others.
In a more humbling-way, I also do believe that sometimes it's nice to be 'out on a limb'. Sometimes when you've honed your primary instrument so much, things can get 'too easy', and you may fall in into the trap of going through the motions. With a new challenge, often times you're stretched to your limits, and for me, it seems in those times I can feel God working and I become more dependent on him. Even the greatest musician was horrible at one point.
Yet I believe, as I aged and hopefully get more mature, I've learned that God really has a well laid-out plan. If He wants service to run beautifully and perfecting, it is not outside His power to make it so, in-spite of whatever we do. The opposite is also true, if emergencies happen and things blow-up, I recognize that my God is still in control, and it's still within his plan. I may be powerless, but He is not. I may not understand now, but He has ordained or laid out the events exactly as He planned it.
Still learning, but trying to rely more on God. Maybe looking at or asking what is God's will is probably better than any other litmus test.
For me, I'll learn a new instrument pretty much out of need. If let's say I am working at a church that really needs a bassist urgently, then I'll make myself learn bass. And I'll be out using the skills as soon as I am ready, which as Rick as said, that's when it won't distract from what I'm up there to do.
Of course, if it's entirely for your own growth and development (or fun) then you have the luxury of choosing when you want to start using your new skills. But, as Wayne so aptly put it, it's nice to be out on a limb. So don't wait until you are entirely comfortable before you step up. First, you may NEVER be comfortable enough; second, the stress is part of the fun! :D
Thanks, Chris, for mentioning the thing about not giving a disclaimer...it really detracts from the experience when someone gets up and says "Uh, I'm not really good at this, but here goes..." We think that by saying it, we're being humble. But it actually draws more attention to ourselves.
If you're going to do something new, prepare the best you can, and then do it. God will take it from there.
In the Psalms David talks about playing skillfully before the Lord. If you can't play skillfully, then one should not introduce that on the platform until they can play skillfully. Play from your strengths while building on the new things until they are no longer new.
I would qualify that to say that at least you should be able to play the instrument solidly - after all, there will usually be other instruments working with you. To me, skillfully means with a lot of finesse, and that takes years. But as long as a person is solid and not detracting from the rest, then I'd let them play.
Good point Rick. I've picked up a really good guitar player and a solid and growing bass player this way. Neither could play at all before but felt called to learn. I pointed them to a great, local, music store that has good instructors. When they got to that "solid" but not "skillful" stage I put the guitar player on the stage in the back where he felt comfortable and let him grow. He is now an amazing finger picker and helped us pull off James Taylor's You've Got A Friend a little while back. The bass player is holding a solid bass line and is at the point he's starting to experiment and learn some bass runs.
I've been in that situation a few times...my strength is piano but I really wanted to lead from the front (our piano is off stage and almost in a corner) so I started guitar - I had been playing awhile and had basic skills down OK but I knew I wouldn't get a lot better without actually stepping out 'on the limb' and going for it. I improved a great deal in those early weeks. And now it's gotten so much easier and I love it - gave a new life to being able to lead on stage. Now, I've immersed myself in scales and am preparing to play some lead guitar. I don't know how or where it will exactly fit in at this point but I'm really excited about it. In the meantime, it's been a means of developing and bringing new people into the team to cover instruments like piano and acoustic guitar as I try new things - I love the flexibility of the team I work with! I'm not the only one trying new instruments. My soprano has been working on bass. The drummer plays acoustic guitar and is growing as a vocalist. The keyboardist plays flute, saxophone and is a strong alto. I have a vocalist that wants to learn guitar and I will do what I can to see that she gets the chance to play when she's ready. Over time, I've seen a lot of neat things happen...I've seen several leaders develop from our team and go on to lead their own teams. And I've become a much better musician and team leader over all. So I encourage you to go for it!
I find it much easier to make these decisions about other people..it's harder to be objective when it comes to myself..
But after talking it through with musicians that are much more talented than me, I'm taking my guitar on stage at the big venue this weekend...
I usually lead there with just vocals and lead with guitar at the smaller venues.
Suddenly you reminded me of how I started off using the guitar for worship. At that time I was a keyboardist, a darn good one, but I WANTED to lead worship with guitar. Why? Because I saw this worship leader do it and it was so totally awesome!
So I trained and trained and practiced like nuts to get there. I knew subconsciously what I needed to have (clear counts, clear chords, strumming that would vary in intensity) and I did my best to train that up in as many songs as possible. Then started using all that in cell group.