Friday, December 4, 2015

Handling Criticism

I remember an episode of the old T.V. show the X-files where a genie was granting wishes to Agent Mulder. Mulder wished for world peace and ‘poof’, the genie granted his wish by removing all the people from the world. I’ve heard it said that ministry would be easy if it weren’t for the people.

The riskiest land mines I travail in my worship ministry are critics. They can feel like they are everywhere.  I don’t have all the answers, but I would like to share with you the things that I’ve learned over the years. But before I do, let’s lay down a necessary foundation.

I need to ensure that I’m not living in a ‘glass house’. A ‘glass house’ would be a place where I’m NOT open to being wrong or humble enough to look at my weaknesses. This will take a lot of ‘house cleaning’ for most of us. It takes humility to be willing to look at our weaknesses and admit we might have some improvements to work on.  Find wise loving people in your life and ask them the hard questions about yourself. Weigh what they say and if their feedback is found credible, implement change. If you make this a life practice, you’ll get to the point where you can walk in confidence knowing that it will be difficult for a critic to ‘blind side’ you with a valid criticism.

Once we are out of the ‘glass house’, we are free to deal with the critic. The first thing I’ve learned is to express appreciation and empathy. I have found that empathy can defuse a confrontation and prevent it from going nuclear. Put yourself in your critic’s shoes and at least imagine how they might be feeling, automatically assuming their criticism is true. And most importantly, love your critic. Pray for their best even if they present themselves as your enemy.

One essential thing I’ve learned to do with my critic is to determine if they are open or closed. I can quickly determine if a person is open simply by asking them WHY they hold their position. Open people use reason to support their positions. If a person is open, then they are the easiest to work with. Simply ask them their reasoning, give them your reasoning and both of you can see whose reasons ‘weigh’ more.

If the critic can’t give a reason, maybe when pressed you find them simply regurgitating their original criticism, then that critic is closed. Closed people draw conclusions often because of their own psychology, not because of reality. In this case, I will simply thank them for expressing their ‘concern’, make sure they know I love them and walk away. I may even have to inform them that we will have to agree to disagree but in that case, I will have to resist telling them why. You may have to employ ambiguity here. Fortunately, this can be easy to do because closed people don’t tend to go deep, they are often presumptuous. Therefore you can say something ambiguous without betraying your integrity. One general example might be, “I’ll look into it”. This is honest, as you’ll see below, but it doesn’t plumb the depths.

So I’m not necessarily ‘blowing off’ the critic. They may be right but they are not open enough to tell me why. I have made the mistake many times in the past of pressing in with questions to seek clarity, only to come up short with frustration on both sides, fracturing relations with the critic.

I have found that closed people tend to misunderstand a search for clarity with being ‘defensive’. You can’t win with these folks. So if what they are saying is not clear, don’t press it. And don’t feel guilty. The critic is really cutting off the conversation not you. You may be very interested in what they are saying or genuinely not understand them, but they close off your ability to go deeper to find clarity or a solution.

I was once given the criticism from a closed critic that when I lead worship, I often missed lyrics. Given the circumstances, I was perplexed at this so I started asking questions. Thankfully I could ask other people questions about this subject. As a result I was able to find that the real problem was that the multimedia person was not putting up the correct lyrics to our songs.

If I can’t definitively disagree with the critic, yet they are ill equipped to give me their reasoning, I have a circle of close friends who are Christ followers, and musicians with whom I can consult. Sometimes they can give me the detailed reasons the critic couldn’t give me and I can actually make a change for the better.

The insecure leader will interpret critical thinking as criticism. - Andy Stanley

If the closed person I'm describing is your boss, then beware. Everything I'm saying is greatly complicated and your ministry is at great risk. You can't simply smile and walk away in the long term sense. It is even more critical that you find others who can help illuminate. The best advice I can offer in these situations is that you do NOT try and seek clarity with these leaders. Without clarity, you are left with having to pick the interpretation of their directions that you think is best and run with and hope that if it is not what they want then at THAT point you can gain more clarity. If your boss is closed minded, try to hide any disagreement, keep your head down. "Shut up and color" is what they say. This is a very unfortunate situation. Look for the exit doors if no one with greater power can change things on this front.

In closing, here are some scriptures to support these points:

  • “….first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  – Matthew 7:5 (NIV)
  •  “….do not throw your pearls before swine….” - Matthew 7:6 (NIV)
  • “….the prudent hold their tongues”.  Proverbs 10:19 (NIV)
  • “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” – Proverbs 19:20 (NIV)

I have made many mistakes when being confronted by critics. But I always try to never ‘waste a mistake’. If I only would have known some of the things I share with you here, I think I could have extended many ministry opportunities in my life and more importantly, preserved relationships. Be willing to stare your weaknesses in the eye without flinching, meet people where they are, yet never push people beyond where they can go and most importantly love them. This is the way of Christ.

10 Things Worship Leaders Would Like Their Church to Know About Worship Leading

As a worship leader, there are things I sometimes wish my church understood about my ministry.
  1. Churches often don’t know the prep time it takes behind the scenes. The church sees the worship team on Sunday mornings but most worship teams have at least an hour-long mid-week rehearsal and a sound check/run-through before service. The worship leader also does the footwork of picking out the songs, rounding up charts, MP3s, and communicating them to the team. Many worship leaders use multitracks, downloading them or even making them to add to the sound of the group. Setting them up for control can be a little bit of a challenge if they are using a controller pedal into a laptop. The individuals on the team may often practice their parts before the mid-week rehearsal if they’re really on their game. 
  1. Vocals might be the most important vehicle for carrying the message, but the drums and bass are musically the most important musical contributors for most modern styles. If a vocalist calls in sick, it’s usually not such a big deal but if a drummer or bassist does, I’m on the phone or looking for my drum machine unless we are going for more of a “stripped down” acoustic sound.
  1. Sometimes decisions have to be based upon what FITS the style(s) for the worship service. You may love hand bells, or you may be a great classical pianist, both perfect for a more traditional service, but they may not work well for non-traditional styles.
  1. Sometimes fulfilling a member of the congregation’s preferences is the worst thing a church can do if it wants to survive and thrive. If a church is stagnant or declining, sometimes this is because the leadership has been listening to the preferences of the congregation. Sometimes the congregation has been getting exactly what they want and THAT is the problem. Sometimes churches develop cultures that are alien to the culture(s) outside its walls. If such a church is going to reach folks outside of those walls, it may have to sacrifice its preferences in order to reach others. Such sacrifice does NOT equal a compromise of doctrine.
  1. The worship leader and worship band often can’t tell when the house volume is too loud. A worship team doesn’t hear what the congregation hears. The team has a separate monitoring system.
  1. Excellence isn’t inherently a performance. It is a result of substituting distractions with inspiration. Yes sometimes a worship team mistakes worship for entertainment. Yes sometimes team members strive for excellence in order to garner attention and to “show off.” But a lack of excellence on a worship team, aside from the fact that it violates the picture of worship Scripture gives us in the story of Cain & Abel, and Psalm 33:3, can be a distraction. When a person is flat or off beat, it is hard to focus on God.
    Striving for excellence also increases the “carrying capacity” of the music. By carrying capacity, I’m referring to the music’s ability to carry the authentic heartfelt emotion of a healthy worshiper. In the end, it is always up to the worshiper to engage, not the worship leader. We can hinder worship, but we can’t force it.
  1. You can’t ask a worship leader to do a good job without at least RISKING people getting hurt. Excellence costs. Sometimes the only way a worship team can improve is to ask its members to look at their weaknesses and try to address them. If for instance, a vocalist is consistently flat, she might have to be told so while offering a way to address it via lessons or practice. Some people can humbly grow from such critiques while others go into defense mode. Pride is ultimately the reason anyone might adopt the latter attitude. Pride comes before a fall and humility before an ascension. This principle transcends music, overflowing into our Spiritual lives.
  1. Leaders in particular, don’t simply tell us you want us to lead “x” style. It’s often more complicated than that. When you say “contemporary,” you may very well mean something different than we do. Leaders, I suggest you start a dialogue and go deeper to avoid such pitfalls.
  1. Worship can include music but shouldn’t be reduced to it. Our language is confusing when we start the music portion of the service and then say something like, “let’s stand and worship.” Music is but one picture of worship. Worship is 24/7 and is defined in Romans 12:1-2. Worship isn’t simply what we do on Sundays but it is the very breath a believer breathes. It is purpose by another name.
  1. Most of our job consists of working with and leading people. However, the music component is more important than you might realize. The most difficult challenges most of us face as worship leaders isn’t the music, it is the people. The people are the reason we lead worship, specifically connecting them to God. As a result, a worship leader needs to be good with people to be effective.
    However, I think many people in the church underestimate the importance of the music component of the job. This is easy to do because if a worship leader is musically strong, their skills and knowledge can often become invisible. The pitfalls of a worship leader not having their musical skillset aren’t always obvious.
    For instance, a worship leader who has strong musical knowledge can communicate better (thanks to the language of music theory). As a result, rehearsals can be much shorter and less frustrating to the worship team as well.
    The better a worship leader is at music, the less they have to practice. Said another way, the more one practices music, the less one has to practice songs. As a result, a musically strong worship leader will be more relaxed and be more effective in other areas.