10 Years of Playing Christian Worship Guitar
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Burst out and sing for joy, yes, sing praises! Sing praises to Yahweh with the harp, With the harp and the voice of melody. Psalm 98:4-5
Sometime in the next few months (I'm not sure of the exact date), it's coming up to the 10th anniversary of when I started playing Christian worship guitar at church. I'd only just became a Christian, and I'd just started going to church regularly, as an adult, for the first time. I did go to church on and off as a child, but I wasn't really a believer. Unless you count, maybe, a few years when I was very young — too young to think I understood that science explained how God doesn't really exist.
Not long at all after I started going to church (as a Christian and an adult now, ten years ago), the music leader announced that they were looking for more musicians to play in the service — including guitarists. I thought to myself, "That's something I can do". So I turned up to the next practice night with a guitar.
Before I knew it, I was going to church and playing guitar what seemed like (and I think probably actually was) almost every week. We used to do six songs in every service, and stayed on stage a lot of the time in between songs, since it was easier than to keep getting up and down all the time. About the only time the musicians consistently weren't on stage was during the sermon.
At that time, Springwood Baptist Church was, I think, the largest church in the Blue Mountains, just West of Sydney NSW. We had about 1000 people, split over four separate services each Sunday. We had four different pastors (and sometimes guest preachers also), so the pastors rotated a lot. When I first started playing there weren't a lot of other electric guitarists in the morning service. There seemed to be more of every other type of musician, and more people in the other roles (including pastors).
After not very long, I had the thought that I probably spent more minutes on stage, on average, in the then-packed-full morning "family" service than almost anyone else, in the largest church in the Mountains.
Looking back, after ten years — if I could do it all over again, I would have done things a lot differently.
Most of all, I would have put less time and effort into the technical aspects of musicianship and performance, and put much more of myself into just following Jesus properly with my whole life.
"I Don't Think Jesus Would Have Played Lead Guitar"
I read that sentence in a book that I bought last year (2018), not long after I started studying at Bible college.
I was 14 when I started playing guitar. I knew almost nothing about it when I started. Like really almost nothing. I took lessons for a few-several months in what turned out to be classical guitar. After that I was self-taught. Over the next few years (my mid-late teenage years), I became completely and totally obsessed with guitar.
The first guitar book I owned, which I picked out from a shelf at a local music shop, was called "Lead Guitar" (by Harvey Vinson). At the time I didn't even know what "lead guitar" was. But I knew I very badly wanted to learn to play it. The book had some interesting tips, including that aspiring guitarists should include "playing stoned" (i.e. high on marijuana) as part of their training.
It's hard to say which was a stronger motivation for me to learn guitar as a teenager — a genuine love of music, or the desire for other people to like and approve of me. I grew up as basically a science nerd with an interest in nature, and I thought that playing guitar (and especially lead guitar, once I figured out what it was) would make me cool.
Both of these motivations led me to an obsession to learn to play really well. Which was, at the time, the most important thing of all in my life.
By my early twenties, I decided that basically the entire experience of learning to play guitar, and also the things I ended up doing as a result of my interest in the music scene (like getting drunk almost every day), had been a huge minus. I pretty much gave up guitar completely for ten years. I did some office work, then a uni degree (in Physics), and then more office work, with computers.
When I started playing church guitar, in a way, it was like a time warp back to my earlier life. A lot of the thoughts, feelings, and motivations that I had in my first (teenage) years of guitar were still there. Those thoughts and feelings had gone into me very deeply, over many thousands of hours of repetition, and near-total obsession, in an almost-religious-like fashion. So when I picked up a guitar again, that was what came back into my mind and my heart.
When I think about that time now, the thing that stands out the most is how much desire I had for worldly "success", acclaim, approval of other people, and all those kinds of things. And also to get the music as technically correct, and technically impressive, as it could possibly be.
When I was practicing, playing, and thinking about church guitar, my thoughts and feelings were usually quite far removed from an attitude of prayer and actual worship of God.
For a while after realising this, and starting Bible college, I really wished I could give up playing church guitar altogether. That was around the time I read that sentence in the book about how Jesus wouldn't have played lead guitar. (I'll find that book and list it here eventually, it's in my storage unit right now). I kept playing music at church, as an act of service to my Lord and to the other people at church. But inside I was secretly wishing I could change to a different church, where no-one knew that I could play guitar, so no-one would ask me to.
Playing Music as an Act of Actual Worship
Somewhere while in that mind state, I had this idea, of what the complete opposite of the way I'd approached playing music might look like:
I imagined sitting down (I guess I could be standing, but when I first thought of it, I imagined myself sitting) and playing something that was easy to play. I think that was one of the biggest things about this idea. That the music itself shouldn't be, from a technical point of view, something that requires years of near-total effort, and staying up till the early hours of the morning, and not sleeping properly, and the many other things that need to be sacrificed for a "professional" level of technical performance quality.
And the key point — being easy enough to play, there would be enough free thought space for me to actually think about what I was playing, in the context of prayer, and actual worship of God and of Jesus. I think these things, most probably, come much more naturally to vocalists — because they're actually singing the words. It would be a lot harder to not think about the words, and what they mean, when you're actually singing the words yourself. I find it fun to sing along when I play, but I most often don't — because it distracts me from being able to play as technically well as I can when all I'm doing is thinking about how technically well to play the music.
So this is where I'm at now. Like I'm trying to re-learn how to play music, all over again, but with an entirely different attitude to how I originally learned it. And entirely different motivations. Rather than quitting music, or trying to downplay this side of myself and my life as much as possible, I thought of an even better idea. I can continue with my practice of worship guitar, but from now on make a concentrated and deliberate effort to re-focus on the actual worship of God, who I love, and who loves me.
I think that if I do this enough, and in the right way, this will allow me to erase/re-write over the worldly thoughts and aspirations I had about music and guitar, that were so deeply embedded into me a long time ago. And I think it will work much better than just quitting guitar altogether (like I did in my twenties, last time I completed a uni degree).
My Current Musical Goals
These are my new (and now, current) musical goals, which I shall be focusing on in this next stage of my life:
Swapping Memories of Worldly Goals for Godly Goals
The main one is to go back over all of the old thoughts and feelings I had about being a guitarist and a musician, in a worldly non-Christian context, and examine them in the light of my Christian faith, and replace them with much more positive thoughts and feelings and associations.
The old wordly way I thought about music and guitar playing led me to a massive chasm of unsatisfied longing, to desiring things that could never be achieved (like fame and acclaim of others en masse), and to highly destructive lifestyle choices.
To replace those thoughts with a motivation and focus of true worship of God leads to the opposite of those dark and destructive effects. It leads to satisfaction in the feelings of loving God, and being loved by God. To confidence in that I am saved. To hope and positivity in that I can use the things I've learned about music to help other people worship God. To desiring even more closeness to God, which can be achieved, and I have been achieving, and still have more to go in that direction. Which will improve my life even more than it has already...
Putting Music Online Again
I've also decided to start putting music, and information about Christian guitar music, online again. This will also include a lot of explanations of how to use music, and guitar, as an act of genuine worship. And contrasting that with the worldly types of goals that are so common in the music industry, and even in much of the Christian music scene — just like my own experience of "Christian" guitar was for the first several years after my conversion to Christ.
I'll deliberately try to contrast the current obsession with technical excellence, and professional level performance, and recording techniques, and all the other aspects of music that take our attention away from the actual worship.
This will involve much more of a minimal approach. And will also be a lot more focused on having fun, and just enjoying the music. Rather than trying to get everything "right" technically — even for the seemingly constructive goal of attracting people to the Christian music and the worship involved with that.
Does Christian Music Really Need to Compete with Worldy Music for Technical Perfection?
There is somewhat of a legitimately valid argument that Christian music does have to be somewhat technically well developed. And of a certain high-enough quality that people used extremely polished and professional secular music will be able to appreciate. This is the place I'd been coming from myself for much (in fact closer to all) of my own journey up to now with being a Christian guitarist.
However now I feel like it will be much better, for myself, and also as an influence on other people, to deliberately go against that trend. We don't need our worship music to be polished to the extent that professional secular music is. The motives are totally different, just for one reason.
Even just the most basic motive is totally different between the two worlds.
Despite all claims that music is about the "soul" of it, the most basic motive of the secular music industry is competition. To be better than the others. To be the one who gets the hit records. The huge view counts on internet media outlets (especially YouTube). To be the one who puts the other artists further down the list of popularity, behind yourself.
The most basic motive of Christian music is worship. And praise. And prayer. If you think of playing a Christian song as an act of prayer to God, that's the kind of thing I've been thinking about recently. And including others (like my brothers and sisters in Christ) in that worship. And letting other people take the "glory" of performance, rather than trying to compete with them for it.
Clearly these are completely, totally different.
Less of a Focus on Gear and Equipment
I've acquired a lot of gear over the years. Much of the time, it felt kind of like I was chasing my own tail. I mean that I was chasing something, but that thing I was chasing seemed to only get further away the more I thought I was getting closer to it.
That happened with my overall entire experience of secular worldly guitar playing, but it definitely also happened with buying gear. After a while I realised that the more I got, the more I wanted. And then I pretty much stopped buying more gear.
Now I've got so much gear. And much of it I acquired, sadly, with more of a feeling of stress and worry than anything else. Which was based aroung stressing about how I could extract a highly successful musical career out of it — like my original plans and obsession as a teenager were.
Now I've changed my focus entirely, I can just have fun with it, and use it for actual praise and worship of Christ. And actually enjoy it, rather than continually, massively stressing out about how I'm going to achieve "success" with it all.
Big, Deep, Changes
I think that doing these things (like I've described above) will really create a massive change in my life. Considering how much of myself, and my life, I spent focused on an obsession with success as a musician (and all of the things that went along with that, and including my failure to achieve that success, and the resulting dissatisfaction and deeply instilled and buried resentment from that failure), there is a massive amount of things still left over in my memories and my subconscious for me to go back over and fix.
Considering how powerful the attraction of the secular musical industry is, and that many people come to music as a goal before they come to Christ — just like I did myself — I suspect that I'm not the only one who may benefit from adopting this new direction, and motive, and focus.
So I'll be writing all this up online, and putting videos up of playing, and explaining in detail the changes I'm going through inside, and contrasting the old selfish worldly motives for success and glory with new motives for genuine worship of Christ. This will greatly help me in undoing the damage that my earlier obsession with rock guitar did to me. And I think it may also help others in doing the same thing. Or, at least, provide some educational material in how to be a Christian worship musician.
My YouTube Channel
I got to really not like it very much. Which is why I haven't even mentioned it on this website until now. I'll have more to say about this in future. But for now, here are a few of the most basic thoughts I have about it:
I was very stressed about making the videos. My health was very poor while I was doing them, and it took a lot of effort, and doing the videos seemed to make my health even worse. And I found doing them very stressful. Much more so than playing live on stage. Which surprised me, I thought that playing on stage in front of people would be more stressful, in terms of stage fright.
I felt they were quite inadequate in terms of technical production quality. A few of the comments on them also reflected that. Like there's a massive expectation for things to be of a certain quality. Now I think that's just an extension of the secular music industry and it's motive of competition and trying to outdo everyone else.
I really don't think that God requires us to spend 5-10 years of full time education, and tens of thousands of dollars on professional quality equipment, just to praise him, and to pray to him in the form of song. Yet that expectation seems to be out there, and it was something I went into Christian guitar already having, due to how it's so important in the secular music industry.
Originally I had a number of non-Christian songs on the channel. Mainly guitar solos. After several years I deleted all the non-Christian songs, since they basically contradicted the Christian message that I wanted the channel to present. I also gave up teaching private guitar lessons, for the same reason: Basically everyone wants to learn things like "Highway to Hell".
Most of the songs on the channel I'd only just learned how to play when I made the videos. So most of them are pretty rough in terms of playing quality. In fact, the whole reason I started making those videos was to record a song I'd just learned, so I would be able to use the video to remember how I played the song the next time I played it. Since we did so many different songs (I must have learned something like 200-300 different songs over the 10 years I've been doing this), and different styles. And I tried so hard to do everything at a technically difficult and "professional" level. Which meant that there really was a lot to remember. After making a few videos, I thought I might as well upload them to YouTube so that other people might use them as one more possible way they could be played in a church setting.
Starting to Work on the Channel Again
Now, I'll start up doing videos again, but with a very different approach. As explained previously on this page.
If I get time I'll do a whole matching website to go with it, which was my original idea when I started the channel. If I don't have time for that, I'll just make a "music" section on this website, and use that instead. But I like the idea of having a separate website for it, since it's more of a niche/special interest topic than just the general Christian material that Christ.net.au is for.
Either way, I'm going to really, deeply, thoroughly explore the very large and significant changes there are in going from an interest in guitar playing from secular/worldly goals, to an interest in guitar playing as a genuine act of prayer and worship of Jesus Christ, my saviour and my Lord. And put all of that experience online...
Cover image by Inna Vlasova / Shutterstock. I liked the look of this stock photo for the cover of this web page better than any of the photos I took of my own gear. The guitar looks just like (and probably is) an Ibanez RG350DXZ, which I own one of. It's the only "good" guitar I own that's never been to church — not even once. Mainly because I've always thought of it as a heavy metal / rock guitar. After seeing this picture, and writing this web page, I've changed my mind about my Ibanez RG. I'll bring it to church sometime and play it. It will help me to remember my old ideas about "success" as a musician in a worldly sense, and to replace them with new ideas about music to worship God, and to express my gratitude to Jesus for saving me. And my happiness and satisfaction with my new life as a Christian. Which is the complete opposite of the emptiness that my "religion" of heavy metal / hard rock guitar led me to.