Secrets: Guitar Solos In Worship

I just titled this with guitars, but we can actually throw in drums, piano, bass guitar or any other instrument because they all fall into the same category. Plus, I don’t want to pick on the guitarists here. We all know their feelings are the most sensitive…oops.

I digress.

I’m going to be honest with you, readers. Lately I have been struggling a lot with the idea of the modern church. I find myself questioning our practices, our motives, the very things that became the basis for our entire ministry. My thoughts seem to be consistent with my feelings towards boys in middle school; one day I’m in love, the next day I’m disgusted and ready to quit.

So today I find myself in the in-between. We’ve been in this relationship long enough that I know the other very well and I enjoy spending time with them…but I’m starting to consider their values and morals. Is he genuinely nice or just opening the door because he’s trying to impress me? Does this church truly care, or are they trying to make themselves look that way with flashy videos and promos?

Ya see?   I like you, church. I really do! ….but before we take it to the next level I’d like to find out who you really are.

Sunday morning scenario: After a quick kick-in by the drums, the beginning of your favorite upbeat worship song has started. You’ve played through both verses and choruses and are headed full-steam ahead into the bridge. The vocals step away from their mics and the lead guitar kicks on his lead pedal. His fingers wail across the neck, up and down the frets a blur as he races through the notes. His solo inspires the angels to worship. Everyone turns their heads upwards, humbling themselves before Christ. The congregation stands in awe of their Father, they cast their cares upon him an unabashedly participate in pure worship. They barely notice the music in the background. It is simply a support for the intimate experience with Christ. Some fall to their knees. This melody has the congregation focused on God, and God alone. The bridge nears the end, the drums start their crescendo and the vocals step back into place to begin the last full-energy chorus. God is glorified.

This happens every time there is a guitar solo at church, right?

I seem to remember more focus on the guitar player than God during most solos I have witnessed. The first two verses are awesome – people have their hands up by the chorus and the congregation starts to relax with their praises. After the second chorus, the guitar player kicks up his lead pedal. The rest of the band members turn their head to the guitarist with a grin on their faces, he shreds away as the congregation claps. Towards the end of his solo, applause erupts through the audience – even a few shouts of his name “woo! Yeah *enter band member’s name here*!!”

This doesn’t seem right to me.

So how do we make this guitar solo fit into the environment of worship we desperately desire to create?

I’ll tell you another secret. I love the praise band at my church (but maybe I’m a little biased??). I thoroughly enjoy worshipping with the great people in the band. They facilitate my praises to God and I am so thankful for that. Recently I’ve been more of a participant in worship, not a leader, like most of my past. (which is an entirely different post..) Now I am more often I’m in the audience than up on stage (for the first time since I was about 14…) Anyway, this past Sunday they were rocking out (as usual. Suuppperr sweet). I was getting into a song, loving it, and praising God. I was in my happy place. I waited all week to be there. My heart was bowed before God and it was a precious moment of surrender. All of a sudden the song breaks and here comes a solo highlighting one instrument. My eyes were no longer closed and focused on God…they were forced to be opened and stare at the person playing.

Is that okay?

PB can do it. Lincoln Brewster too. What makes it different?

No doubt that instrumental worship IS biblical worship. I don’t disagree with that at all. I also agree when people say they play their guitar solos to God – I think that’s entirely possible. What I’m trying to figure is when is it appropriate for these solos?

I think the answer to this question depends on each church. As worship leaders we must know our congregation. If the congregation uses instrumental breaks as an opportunity to connect one-on-one with Christ, then go for it. But if your congregation changes their focus to the individual playing the solo – that’s not good.  A big red flag is clapping at the end of the solo…

How dare we steal away a moment of praise that was supposed to go to God. I mean really, who do we think we are?

Besides, we aren’t there for ourselves. We aren’t there because it’s fun to play music or because we really love shredding apart that solo. We’re there because God has given us a responsibility. A responsibility to lead others in worship. How amazing is that? To be able to say that the God of the universe has called you out to lead others in praising Him? Very cool. To do anything that distracts from that agenda seems irresponsible to me.

I’m not opposed to fast-paced songs at the beginning or end of the service to get the energy level up – this isn’t what I’m talking about. By the time the second song is over – I would argue that there should be no more solos until the end of the service. We should not impose on the intimacy between the worshiper and Christ during that time. The band knows when this moment is. If they are attentive to their congregation they just know. If you’re reading this and have never led worship, then it may be hard to understand that. But there’s a moment when people are zoned in and focused on God. That, my friends, is the fragile state we must be careful with. That is when I would discourage solos.

Does the congregation focus on you, or Christ during your solo?

It’s a matter of the heart.  Can a solo be played and worship God? Yes. Can a solo be played and distract people from God? I think Yes too. If you’re humble and actually see them as an offering to Christ and the congregation does too then go for it. But if the focus is taken away from Christ…run away.

It’s easy to convince yourself that you are playing that solo for Christ….but let’s be honest. Is that really the case? For some it probably is, for most it probably isn’t.

Furthermore, playing in a concert and a church service are completely different in my opinion. If I go to a Lincoln Brewster concert I expect to hear him go crazy on his guitar and have fun. Those are gifts God has given him. But if I go to any church on Sunday morning ready to connect with God, and the guitar player is wailing away on a long bridge….maybe I’m selfish but that doesn’t seem right to me. I’m there to worship. Not to listen to how fast you can move your fingers.

It’s not about us. It’s about God. It’s about the congregation we are there to serve. Point blank – if we do anything while we are on stage that distracts people from God, then I don’t think that’s right. Worship Leaders, I urge you not to lose sight of that.

Idk. My opinion on this continues to progress every day. And now I’m rambling.

To any of my lead guitar playing friends… I still love you. :)

What do you think??


7 thoughts on “Secrets: Guitar Solos In Worship

  1. I think you’re asking really good questions, Laura. The intersection of worship space and the stage is notoriously sketchy-we want to end up with a worship culture that utilizes sound and lighting to create an atmosphere for worship, but it’s so easy to focus on the ‘worship show.’ I’ve got some good resources and reflections for you to look at on this topic, I just don’t have time to get them together right now. I’ll get them to you soon.

  2. Great topic. Good points. My main instruction when I’m training a new sound tech is “remember it’s a worship service, not a concert.” The same advice should probably hold true for worship leaders and guitar players. Of course, that’s open to interpretation and may or may not apply to solos. Couple of thoughts off the top of my head. I think we need to be careful about rules like no guitar solos after the second song. When I was reviewing Christian music I’d sometimes make the distinction between worship and praise. The guitar player can be praising God through the solo, even if the congregation (not the audience) doesn’t necessarily “worship” at the time. Ultimately, it’s all about glorifying God. He can be glorified through the solo, and through the congregation’s reaction to the solo. If that’s not happening, then it’s a problem.

  3. As a worship leader that is also a lead guitarist, I believe solos on any instrument can be intergal to worship. The warning signal here is that the soloists name was shouted out in worship. BIG red flag to me. Players drawing attention to themselves through a solo is performance, not worship.

    Paul Baloche has a great post about worship leaders walking a fine line between servant and performer:

  4. I agree! There’s no black and white on this topic, there’s definitely a lot of gray. Solos can enhance the worship service or they can tarnish it. It’s all a matter of when they are played (and with what mindset) Each service can be entirely different too. I think it’s the responsibility of the worship leaders to be attentive to knowing.

  5. Hi, very interesting topic and I like how you question things…I really do…I have some research to do then I’ll reply. Take care!

  6. I agree that praise that belongs to God should not “at all” be stolen away from him (see Isaiah 42: 8 and Nahum 1:2) and it’s not just based on my opinion but the Bible really helps us to see where the direction of our worship should go….

    Music has for a very long time had an important role in worshiping and praising God that is certainly undeniable. But it was and should be in it’s proper place. If we think about Jesus’ entire earthly ministry even with songs of praise and music that occurred during his time the main focus was not the music ( there are no indications that Jesus or his apostles performed solos as part of the ministry), but rather 1. Teaching us the truth about God (John 18:37) 2. Maintaining perfect integrity, providing a model for us to follow (1Peter 2:21 ) and 3. sacrificing his life to set us free from sin and death (Matthew 20:28) .

    Considering he left us with a model to follow the answers lie in the scriptures and what we learn there. At Matthew 28: 19 and 20 he instructed his followers to “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded YOU. And, look! I am with YOU all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”
    2 Timothy 3:16 states “All scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” So a lot of focus is on teaching and the only way to teach is to be properly taught. Do individuals leave not only feeling encouraged but having learned something scriptually or do they leave feeling excited as if entertained at a music concert?

    If the solo is drawing a lot of attention to the individual, (you mentioned some individuals yelling out the guitarist name), the rhythm of the music and their talents, I think you raise some very valid questions. Not only can it distract from the teaching and purpose of being there but it can unintentionally draw undo attention to oneself and we really have to be careful not to do that. Proverbs 16:19 states “ Better is it to be lowly in spirit with the meek ones than to divide spoil with the self-exalted ones.” Psalms 138:6 King James Version “Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly ones: but the proud he knoweth afar off”.
    So does music has its part in worship sure, a couple examples, Matthew 14:26, Psalms 69:30, but was it intended to be the main focus? The Bible shows us otherwise.

    Take care and have a great day!

  7. Hey Laura – I truly enjoyed this post and you made me think because I, like you, have been on stage and it’s totally different being in the audience. You see things you didn’t see before and get to experience them in a different light. I will admit I have yelled out the lead guitarists’ name, your name as vocalist :) (although you might not have heard me), the drummer’s name, lead vocalists name – because you guys are just awesome and I never really thought about it. But you’re right in the sense that during the versus and chorus we are so in tune with God and our hands are raised, eyes are closed and then we stop and focus on the solo or cool thing happening. But, I think that’s ok as long as we’re having the awesome worship with God that we are. If we weren’t raising our hands to God, crying during the songs and feeling the connections with God then I would agree – maybe something is wrong. But I can’t tell you how many people are struck by the connections we have with God during the music. I think those of us who cheer you guys on (usually the youth but I can’t help but get carried away myself) are doing so to make you know we are so thankful for what the band is doing. If a preacher doesn’t get good comments (ie AMENS) and no one lets them know he’s doing a good job he might think he’s not reaching the audience. So we show our support throughout the service. It’s like a pep rally in a way for God. Each song is building us up before the sermon. But I do think that if your not careful as a band you might get into the flow of assuming every song has to have a solo and that’s not necessary. The breaks were meant to give the vocalists (and congregation) a chance to catch their breath without going non-stop so I think it’s probably needed, but doesn’t have to turn into a show each time. I agree with Simon that I wouldn’t set any hard/fast rules about when you can do them, but if you work on it during practice you can get a feel for which songs could be more dramatic than others. I don’t know how you can eliminate the break and if you don’t eliminate the break how can you control a guitarists or drummer or …. LOL I’m just kidding, but as musicians you can really get into it and it’s hard to control yourself when the congregation is cheering you on. I’m not sure how to end other just saying you’ve made me think….. and certainly worth discussing.

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