Technology in worship – a sound ministry
by Marion Van Driel
Imagine some of the first authentic ‘seeker’ gatherings: people following Jesus, eager to hear Him tell stories about God’s kingdom and show it personified. We know Jesus spoke to multitudes of up to 5,000 in number. Since they stayed long enough to experience hunger (thereby witnessing yet another miracle), presumably they were able to catch what He was saying, even in such a great crowd – no mass exit of frustrated followers who couldn’t (literally) hear.
Often taking it for granted, many of us tend to forget how important it is to have clear sound in our own worship services. Jesus understood the physics of sound, using a natural outdoor amphitheatre as his stage. We who gather in church buildings have no such advantage. Churches often face challenges like inferior sound systems in poorly designed acoustical spaces, limited (or no) budgets for technology, and lack of trained sound technicians. Now there is help for at least two of these issues. (Every church must work out its own budget priorities).
The name Tom Lee Music has always been synonymous with piano sales and rentals, but the company also sells a host of other instruments and sound equipment. A year ago, Tom Lee Music in Langley opened a new division to address the need for technical support in BC churches. House of Worship manager Alex Toney, a long-time worship leader in his own church, is eager to help enhance the worship experience by providing technical expertise, instruments and equipment. When he was asked to head up this new initiative, “it was very much a melding together of what I do and what I’m passionate about,” he says. He explains that Tom Lee’s vision is about bringing music making to the community. Toney gets even more specific about that community. “For me, it’s really about serving the church.” Before this position was created, people who came to Toney looking for solutions to their church audio issues often heaved a sigh of relief when they learned that he’s a worship leader and ‘gets it’. Now, he’s mostly on the road, visiting churches, sharing his passion: “If there’s anything I can do to make their life easier, that’s what I want to do.” This includes a few things:
Tom Lee offers instruments, individual and group music lessons – including events like Master Classes for instrumentalists. With House of Worship, Toney has helped worship teams with various aspects of worship leading; – choosing songs, creating sets, key selection and other basics.
House of Worship offers training workshops onsite for church sound technicians – basic live sound training, a huge need in many churches. “Most [sound] people are grafted in, and don’t necessarily have any training…I get to give them a foundation to grow from,” Toney adds.
Standards of excellence
The job of being ‘audio/video guy or gal’ is a thankless one. No one notices the work they do unless there’s a glitch – then everyone turns around to glare in the direction of the sound booth! But technical people belong to the worship team, and their work is a crucial part of the worship ministry.
Toney asserts that technical people are as much a part of creating the worship environment as the worship leader. He also believes that for all worship teams, the standard of excellence “is on a sliding scale” which looks different for each church, depending on their resources of musical, technical and leadership gifting. “It’s very easy to look at what that standard is externally, but that’s not helpful. I encourage people to look at, ‘Where are you in your church, and what’s the best you can achieve with that?’”
He does believe that there are certain minimums, citing the psalmist’s charge to ‘play skillfully’ as a biblical precedence. The Levites, tasked with ministering to the Lord (praise and worship), were well trained before being released to lead the Israelites in praise. In a congregational setting, the task of the worship team is to invite people to minister to the Lord in a way that limits distractions that may produce a ‘cringe factor’. The minimum, says Toney, is “having a basic proficiency on your instrument or craft…you need to be good enough that you’re not deterring from the music, or the [worship] experience” for those gathered, hindering their ability to enter into a meaningful experience of worship.
Honing one’s craft – musical, vocal and technical – is an ongoing responsibility, with mentorship a major part of continual development. Toney also believes it’s even more important for every person on the team to have a “heart of worship.” He would tip the scales of proficiency vs. worship attitude, in the direction of the latter when choosing team members, preferring an amateur musician/technician with a desire for God’s glory to an “amazing musician who’s doing it for themselves.” He points out, “The call and responsibility of a worship leader is quite high. Just as the Bible says that pastors will be held accountable for how they care for the church, [worship leaders] are to direct the worship of the church to Jesus”. Those who take their responsibility of leading worship seriously – to God’s glory – will always be honing their skills.
Toney describes his own calling and vision as “an extension of Tom Lee Music’s mission of bringing music making to the community, to be the place churches turn to for resources, products, and services that inspire and invigorate musical worship in the life of the local church. I want churches to know that we care about their ministry to the Lord and the community and will do whatever we can to support that!”
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:3)
For more information, visit tomleemusic.ca/worship