I received this question from a leader who recently had a young girl sing a very off-key solo in his church. He had worked with her to improve her pitch, but it was to no avail. Her parents didn’t recognize how poorly she sang, so he wrote:
How do you deal with a scenario like this? Singing is evidently not a gift that this girl possesses, yet her parents encourage her. I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone in this family, but should I continue to allow her to sing in services? If not, how would you recommend dealing with this issue should it arise again? I have no problem being “confrontational,” but I certainly don’t want to dash hopes or discourage this young lady or her family from any service for our Lord. Any suggestions?
I’m happy to respond to this question since I’ve faced similar situations in the past.
First, always audition the people who are going to sing (or play) a solo before you commit to using them on Sunday. It’s not enough to go on someone else’s recommendation, unless you really trust them. In all other instances, listen to the soloist yourself.
Second, you definitely shouldn’t allow someone like this to continue to sing solo in the main meeting. We aren’t serving the individual or the church when we consistently let bad vocalists sing solos. 1 Chron. 15:22 says, “Kenaniah…was in charge of the singing…because he was skillful at it” (NIV). Of course, you’ll have a smaller pool to draw from in a smaller church and standards might be lower. “Giftedness” can be a relative term. But we’re not obligated to publicly use people whose lack of talent distracts or even offends people. God gives us gifts for the edification of His church, and it’s the leader’s job to make sure someone’s gift will be a blessing and not…something else.
Third, we need to remember that though the truth might hurt, we don’t need to communicate it in a hurtful way. Telling someone that they’re not gifted as a vocalist is not “dashing their hopes.” It’s giving them hope for what God is doing in them. They might feel you’re being unfair, critical, and harsh, but that doesn’t mean you are. You’re helping them see more clearly where God’s grace is and isn’t active in their life. Any time I’ve had to tell someone they shouldn’t be on the team, I’ve tried to help them see that serving on the music team keeps them from using the gifts God has given them. Of course, we need to do that graciously and kindly. We’re not discouraging them from any service for our Lord; only service in a particular area. We take seriously the words of Romans 12:3-6:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.
And remember – desire is not the same thing as gifting.
Fourth, I’d make sure my pastor was aware of the situation, and wouldn’t try to communicate any of this by e-mail. I’d pull the parent aside one Sunday, or call them. I’d thank them for their desire to serve the church, but explain that with all the work you put in with their daughter, she still didn’t sound very good. If I thought the daughter could sing, and was just nervous, I’d provide opportunities for her to sing for a smaller group, or maybe in a choir. I’d also encourage her to take lessons. If I didn’t think there was hope, I’d encourage the parents to help their daughter find other ways to serve. It always helps when we follow up a week or so later to find out how they’re doing.
Finally, recognize and repent of your desire to have everyone think you’re a great and wonderful leader. We often put these decisions off, resulting in greater problems down the road. People are deceived about their gifts, others struggle with why they aren’t being used, some wonder about your discernment, and those who are truly gifted have fewer opportunities to serve. Situations like these help us put pride to death and learn what it means to truly care for people.
May God give us the courage both to speak and to receive the truth as we seek to glorify him with our gifts – gifts we’ve received for that very purpose.