Posted by: worshipguitarguy | March 23, 2007

Help, I’m Having Problems with My Electric Guitar Player!

(or the post dedicated to Eddie Van Halen’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.)

Lead rock guitarists are a unique sort.

This has to be one of the most touchy and difficult situations for a worship leader to deal with. What happens when when as a worship leader, you have a major problem with a guitarist who doesn’t see eye to eye with you? Specifically if they’ve honed their abilities on playing classic rock, and really don’t know how to play differently? (Or even worse, one who blatantly does their own thing, and causes dissention in your team?)

This is a very tough issue to deal with, and let me stress that what I’m about to talk about aren’t clean and simple solutions. Anytime you deal with a person, things tend to get complex… 😉 But hopefully these things from my past can help you avoid some future points of friction.

Head Things Off at the Pass:
Many of you struggle to find musicians to join your team. Once you hear about a guitar player, drummer, etc. who comes in wanting to play, your all over that person. But before you snap them up to join the team, try something first. Spend a few weeks, getting to know them as a person. Get to know their interests, passions, and heart for service. For me, the most important characteristic in a worship team or band member is a person who’s open and has a heart for service. Truthfully, technical and musical ability isn’t near as important of a qualification.

If you find someone who fits the mold, ask them to sit in with you and the team for a couple of weeks. Get to know them as musicians and see how they fit with your team. If the experience is a positive one, it may be time to ask them to join your team.

Even though it’s tough to find good musicians, it’s tougher to struggle through months (and years) of interpersonal conflicts. (And guess who everyone looks at to resolve them!) Worship ministry is an awesome privilege, and that’s something all of us should remember, whether we’re paid staff or volunteers.

Record (Video or Audio) Your Services and Give Copies to Your Band Members:
Truth is, no matter who you are, this is a huge help.  But sometimes it’s especially helpful for people who don’t realize they have “problem areas” with their playing.  If a band member actually listens to or watches themselves making mistakes, it’s often a much better way of dealing with a situation than constantly confronting a band member.  Sometimes subtlety is the best approach.

Keep the Vision of Worship in Front of Your Team:
Simply put, the vision of worship is summed up in the words of Psalm 115:1

Not to us, O LORD, not to us
       but to your name be the glory,
       because of your love and faithfulness

Part of the responsibility of worship is that we check ourselves at the door so that God becomes the  center of our time in music.  There’s often a very fine line between rocking something out and playing in a way that brings attention to ourselves as musicians. 

A great example was something I ran across at a church I’ve been to several times recently…  The lead guitarist was a very talented young guy, in fact he could technically play circles around me.  But his playing on most every song consisted of fast lead runs on the pentatonic scale, (plus his tone was very shrill.)  He seemed to be a very genuine person but through the service his playing was more of a distraction than a reinforcement.  In time, I think he’d be the type of person that if the message of simplicity and minimizing distractions was constantly in front of him, he’d eventually catch on.  It would just take a bit of time.

The “Dreaded Talk”
Sometimes, no matter what you do, a person just may not be a good fit for your team.  And I think the worst fear for many worship leaders is having that “Talk” where they ask someone to step down.  If you feel your headed down that road, first make sure to pour over that decision in prayer.  Also, if there is someone who is a close accountability person for you who is also aware of the situation, run it by them and ask for their thoughts.  The biggest thing you don’t want to do is blast what your considering all over, so make sure that person is someone you can trust for wise and private counsel.  And if it ultimately comes down to talking with a band member, do it in a one on one setting, preferrably in person instead of through e-mail or on the phone.  And while sharing with them, make sure to encourage them for who they are.  A friend of mine calls this the “turkey sandwich” approach, you put the difficult news between two slices of encouragement, and it often helps the problem to go down better. 

For a great resource on this topic, check out Brenton Brown’s “Equip – Reign in Me” interview, available for purchase on iTunes.  It runs about $6.00 right now. 



  1. Sounds like you’ve got yourself in a bit of a pickle!

    Pray about it. God knows the right way to approach people, and he knows how it’s gonna turn out. So, just ask him.

    I’ve been at a new church for 4 months now (playing electric guitar) and I sort of wish the band(s) had me sit in with them. But, I got thrown right in the mix.

  2. Boy, this post really addresses a peeve of mine. 😉

    It’s hard for a lot of musicians to distinguish between leading worship and performing. Having said that, many times it’s not entirely their fault. I’ve been to many churches that have an “entertain me” attitude. What is intended to be worship ends up being a concert. Worship leaders in these environments tend to get trapped into providing entertainment — willingly or otherwise.

    Lead guitar players (I am one) love the spotlight. Unfortunately, many lead guitarists are more interested in flash, speed and guitar acrobatics than they are in melody, tone and phrasing. Nothing is more distracting to worship than a guitar player having an “Yngwie moment”, particularly during a soft contemplative song. Overuse of effects is also a common offense.

    Lincoln Brewster is probably the best contemporary example of what a lead guitar player should be while leading worship. He can rip and shred circles around just about anyone, but his playing is thoughtful and appropriate. Sure, he cuts loose from time to time, but not just for the sake of doing so. For those of us in the 40+ bracket, Phil Keaggy is the man!

    Dealing with musicians usually involves dealing with egos and some egos are very fragile. It’s hard to counsel without offending. You offer some good advice and approaches to dealing with a difficult situation.

    Your reference to Psalm 115 is very appropriate.

    Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name be the glory…


  3. David

    for us in the 20+ bracket, Phil Keaggy is THE man!!


  4. One other important tip. Make sure your youth pastor or senior pastor leaves those ‘invitations’ up to you. I got stuck with a bad guitar player, because my youth pastor ‘invited’ him and then I felt like I was stuck with him.

    I tried all of the techniques mentioned, in various forms, but the message never got across. Fortunately in my case, when they graduate high school, they can no longer be in the youth group, but it was a looonnnnngggg two years until he graduated.


  5. I was at a worship conference where Glenn Packiam fielded a question on this very topic (though a bit more general–it covered anyone in the band). Instead of blindsiding the person with “the talk,” a good approach would be to meet with the person and (1) explain to them where they’re not measuring up, (2) set goals for them to meet within a specified time frame, and (3) point them towards resources (e.g., mentoring, lessons) that can help them meet the goals. At the end of the time period, have another meeting and evaluate their progress against their goals. If it isn’t acceptable, then you’ll have to ask them to step down, but they will have had that last chance to improve and will likely know before you tell them that they haven’t met their goals.


  6. When it comes to worship bands and dealing with ego vs ministry related question, I think the new-age theologian, Bill Joel, had it right when he wrote, “Honesty, is such a lonely”. I am not sure why it is difficult for us to confront in love. Sure, we fear we may offend but the individual will respect you for being honest rather than wondering if he is the topic of discussion in the blogisphere.

  7. As the lead guitarist for a professional worship band and also a worship leader, I totally understand what you are dealing with. One line I use all the time when working with volunteers, and I think i read this in a magazine a long time ago, is that a worship musician should never be noticed when they are there, only when they are absent. I do, however, believe that a worship band is there to give glory to God, and part of that is playing with the creativity he has gifted us with. I think we as worship leaders fear being too “out there” and as a result, have dumbed down our music to the lowest common denominator. But that’s another post 🙂

  8. What about leading worship with electric guitar?

    The “norm” seems to be that if you lead worship (vocally) and you play guitar while doing it, you have to use an acoustic. I love my acoustic, but just feel more at home with electric.

    What are the thoughts here about leading worship and doing so with electric guitar?

  9. the following is from Glenn Kaiser’s website. It contains notes from the Music, Musicians, and Ministry workshop at Cornerstone Music festival 1994:

    “For Worship Leaders and Team Members

    The Basics:
    1.Attitude- a servant’s heart- be certain Jesus gets top billing
    2.A worshiper in the truest sense is not a performer
    3.To Hear the Holy Spirit, not simply listen to the music
    4.To give attention to the text- the lyrics and their meaning as you sing and or play
    5.To be in an attitude of prayer
    6.To be sensitive to the context of the music ministry in that specific situation (expresing joy, God’s holiness, compassion, justice, judgement, whatever)
    7.To have rehearsed enough that you are able to forget the music and truly focus on the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit
    8.Being wise enough to “lay out” or quit singing or playing if your part is detracting or distracting! (when in doubt-lay out)”

    retrieved from:

    Glenn has a lot of relevant teaching on worship, worship teams, and worship leaders. What it all boils down to is focusing on worship of our Lord. Too often, egos get in the way.

    Tom, I prefer the electric guitar, too. If it doesn’t bother the congregation, there is nothing wrong with leading worship with an electric guitar. As long as the focus is on Christ, not you or your instrument of choice, any instrument is just as good as the next. When an instrument distracts people from worship, then it is inappropriate.

  10. Our front guy uses his electric most of the time. He rarely uses his acoustic. For the softer more intimate worship songs,we use a fender rhodes piano with a dd20 delay running through the effects loop. Leading worship with an electric is definitely possible and works very well in my opinion if you use the right effects. On clean parts if you use a long sweeping delay is sounds really nice and gives you a really full sound.

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