On my way out of the second service, as people streamed in for the third, I caught the attention of the sound engineer, introduced myself, and did my best to quickly express how much I appreciated his work. I know enough jargon to perhaps establish that my compliments were qualified from a technical perspective, so I started along those lines… but then it occurred to me what I was really getting at. I then simply told him, “You led us in worship from the soundboard.”
Which is the most important musical instrument when leading worship? In my tradition it hasn’t been an organ for decades. Perhaps these days it is whatever the lead singer is playing, keys or a guitar. We could make the case that a rhythm instrument is most important, drums or bass. The MD (music director) role is emerging in our churches; perhaps the MD plays the most important musical instrument.
Could it be that the soundboard is the most important musical instrument?
If the soundboard is at least among the most important musical instruments, do we act like it? Do we invest in the gear? More importantly, do we invest in the people? What are our expectations of these worship leaders on the back row? Are we resourcing them as best we can? Do they get the respect they deserve? Are they included in leadership and decision making?
It seems to me that the back row is increasingly important as we pursue our mission, worshipping God, building His people, and reaching others. If we are going to be relevant in these times, in our culture, we need excellence on the back row. Those we hope to reach are conditioned to expect excellence in production. It is not that we need to compete with the hottest concert in town, or the corporate event that folks experienced recently… but if we skimp on, or are lazy about, production, we indicate that our message is not worth our effort or their attention.
The back row, of course, in most churches these days, contains a variety of roles starting with sound, lights, and media. Video is increasingly important, both for broadcast and IMAG. Broadcast audio is often overlooked as we too easily underestimate this vital component. Add camera operators, monitor engineers, translation services, simulcasting to other campuses, and such; producing excellence from the back row is usually a daunting task, regardless of the size of our church.
An increasing number of churches, understanding the vital roles on the back row, are paying particular attention to the leadership of the back row. Whatever the titles (producer, director, pastor, manager), those skilled in understanding the tech and, perhaps more importantly, leading technical people are in high demand. Many of the most forward-thinking churches, valuing integration of the worship experience, empower a high-level leader on the back row with broad responsibility. Such leaders not only manage the tech and technical personnel, but they are also in tight coordination with the leaders on the platform in both planning and execution… often a troika of the preaching, worship leading, and production leadership. The end sought is a powerful and relevant worship experience, tightly integrated and excellently delivered, that magnifies Jesus, equips His people, and draws many to Him.
No matter how big and complex the task, we must aim to value the personnel on the back row as worship leaders.
Church leaders will do best to think of back-row personnel as worship leaders. We need to do all we can to invest in their training and development, and prioritize putting the right tools in their hands. We must not treat the back row as less-than or some sort of necessary evil, but rather consider them as ministers with vital roles; we should value their unique perspective, seek their input, and respect their leadership.
Back-row personnel will do best to think of themselves as worship leaders. We should invest in our ongoing training and development, both technically and spiritually, always pursuing excellence. We must not get so bogged down in the techniques (the wires and knobs and buttons and gear) that we fail to lead worship, honoring God and serving others well.
Let’s be sure to lead worship from the back row.
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