The latest blog at is "Undistracting Excellence" by Rob Hampton. You can read it here:

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It was one of those perfect moments of worship. It had nothing to do with the band or the song; it wasn’t the lights, and it certainly wasn’t my heavenly VOX AC15 guitar tone. Instead the moment was focused entirely on God moving in a small room of sold-out worshippers. As a worship leader I love these moments. I live for these moments and I work hard to intentionally achieve these moments. But far too often, they’re interrupted with poor transitions and simple distractions.

This particular time, I remember specifically, the song had ended. Everyone was caught up in the moment of worship, and then the keyboardist hit the “demo” button on the keyboard which started a 90s style beatbox loop. It was humorous... scratch that, it was hilarious! But it was also mood-killing. We quickly went from an intimate moment of worship to a goofy reflection on our own humanity as everyone chuckled at the mistake.

This distraction was just a simple mistake, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it builds on something I’ve sought in my worship leadership for years... undistracting excellence. I first came across this concept in an article from John Piper, What Unites Us In Worship. Piper writes:

“Undistracting excellence. We will try to sing and play and pray and preach in such a way that people's attention will not be diverted from the substance by shoddy ministry nor by excessive finesse, elegance, or refinement. Natural, undistracting excellence will let the truth and beauty of God shine through. We will invest in equipment good enough to be undistracting in transmitting heartfelt truth.”

That is one of my primary goals when leading worship - to get out of the way and let people see the glory of Jesus Christ. I strive and I encourage my team to strive to play and sing their absolute best but not to a point of being distracting. Likewise, I encourage them to think through all the other ways we might be distracting. What am I wearing? How am I moving on stage? Is the guitar part I’m playing helpful to the song or does it distract from the worship experience? Is this vocal harmony showcasing how great my voice is or does it add that perfect texture to this part of the song?

I would encourage you, as a worship musician, to constantly be asking yourself this question every time you help lead worship: “Is this distracting or helpful to the worship experience”? By asking this simple question, I believe we can better honor God and encourage His people.

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Well said, Greg. There are certainly different contexts where sometimes thing are or aren't appropriate/helpful that might be in other contexts. On a side note, I love the idea of some rockabilly worship! Thanks for serving in the local church my friend.

In the months since I wrote this, I've reread it several times. I think one of the reasons that effect driven guitar sounds are distracting here is that, for people who already would prefer acoustic piano and organ, and for whom

electric guitar ⊄ {the set of "real instruments"},

having the guitar sound like a cavernous, reverberant, ambient keyboard pad isn't as calming, reassuring, or worshipful as one might expect. Having the electric guitar sound like an electric guitar, clean and dry - or slightly edgy with mild overdrive, is not as jarring or unexpected. Pete's tone on "The Who: Live at Leeds" would be near the extreme limit of my overdrive tones, and is actually well tolerated here. But I don't windmill.

No windmill??? Come on... haha

Even I have lines I won't cross. Skinny jeans, flannel, beards, banjo, craft beers flavored with fruit...

But, point well taken. No one around here is windmilling in worship. Maybe I make that a thing. Besides, I can put a hand in the air while still playing. That wouldn't be distracting.

You know, I've expressed much frustration over the years about playing in the band, but it certainly is delightful and sometimes frightening to be in a place where leadership basically says to me as a guitarist, "Here's the songs - do what you know how to do because we don't know what to tell you or whether we even should if we knew." So when I see advice to worship leaders how to clamp down on instrumental "expressiveness", or guitarists advice to each other about how to be more like someone else, well, I have no frame of reference for what anyone's even talking about. And sometimes I'm glad.

That is unfortunately a common issue in church music ministries. Usually people are leading that are volunteer and tend to be limited in what they can provide leadership and instruction to. I'm not a drummer, but I've worked hard to communicate to drummers over the years in a way that I can express to them what I want them to do (if they're not already doing it) even though I can't play it myself. And I don't play guitar, but I can still express what is needed there, usually. I try not to dictate exactly what someone should play (unless they really need that), but just give some direction and allow them to take it from there. Of course, it's nice when someone is able to just make it all happen on their own. That's easier. haha

Also, I have a tendency to make my experiences into short narratives which are periodically shared. Yes, boring old guy stories. So, how do you think a worship leader might like to be remembered?

"I remember him. He challenged me to think creatively and explore the tonality of my instrument, and encouraged me to retain a humble attitude while avoiding a formulaic approach to accompanying our worship sessions."

Or -

"I remember him. He always had directives about how everyone had to sound and behave while up front, and didn't think instrumentalists were capable of appropriate behavior without extensive, detailed instructions."

That's an interesting thought... how would a worship leader want to be remembered? You should post that as a new thread. It'll get buried in this thread if left here.

Do you think there were those who advised Moses to have those temple craftsmen use a nice oil stain on the wood to give a warm, inviting, non-distracting atmosphere for worship? And were horrified to find out that God actually told him to have them coat everything with GOLD? Excessively showy, that's what it is. It will clearly be distracting to corporate worship to have every surface coated with shiny opulent excessiveness. 

No. Turn it up. Get the drummer out of that plastic terrarium.  And get those amps back out here where we can see them. Use the PA to reinforce live sound rather than enforce sterile studio perfection. Have the electric guitarist growl away on those wound strings a bit more. And get those things out of your ears and listen and react to each other's playing rather than just memorizing and regurgitating to a click. Ok, I feel better now. Thank you.

Yes, you should feel much better now. haha!


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