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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Worship Leaders

I'm sure you've heard the term, "worship leader". That would be the guy (or girl) who stands in front of the church on Sunday (or Saturday or ...) and leads us in worship, right? Oh, but they're much more than that. They take us into the presence of God. They mold our feelings to make us feel warmly toward God (which some equate with "love God"). Now, of course, these worship leaders vary in approach. Some think that a bunch of 7-11's (the same 7 words sung 11 times) do the best job, and others want to use "loud clashing cymbals" and "joyful noise" to get you stirred up. But they have the same goal in mind. To get you to feel right toward God. But I wonder ...

Why is it that in growing numbers the "worship leader" is the best musician we can find? Not a theologian. Not a pastor. A musical talent. Why? It makes me wonder if we know what worship is.

Worship is not a cool, well-executed concert by a hot band singing "Christian lyrics". Or, at least, somewhat "Christian lyrics". It is not a warm feeling toward God. Worship is not even that musical portion of the church service that is led by "worship leaders". What is worship? Worship is the response of the believer to what God says and is. It is the response of the whole believer -- body, soul, spirit ... mind, will, emotions. Thus, self-sacrifice is "your reasonable service of worship" (Rom 12:1). And worship includes all facets of your being to all facets of God's being. Thus, worship apart from God's Word is severely anemic ... since what God says is a key component of why we worship. Worship -- "assigning worth-ship" -- of God is only possible through Christ (Rev 5:9-10). It is our response to God. We "lift Him up", not making Him higher, but making sure everyone can see the glory we've seen. Worship's fundamental purpose is the same fundamental purpose that all of life should have -- to glorify God. (This should put a serious crimp in the "performance" aspect of what passes these days for "worship services" in many churches. It is to glorify God, not your really impressive singing and playing skills.) Worship is about God at the center, not about us.

"So, you're saying that music has nothing to do with worship?" I can hear some ask, and the question might be from either side of the aisle. Some don't want that raucous racket in their church and others are arguing that style doesn't matter. I would have to disagree ... with both. I'm not saying music doesn't matter. I'm saying the opposite -- everything matters. Worship isn't what happens before the pastor preaches. In fact, worship without the preaching is incomplete worship. We know the preacher will need the Holy Spirit to guide his preaching, but the Holy Spirit will also need to guide the music ... and the offering and the announcements and ... everything. Worship is not about performance, but it is offering my best to God for His glory.

Worship is fundamentally our response to God. That is, we're at the bottom; He's at the top. Questions like "Does this glorify God?" and "Does this focus us on Him?" are key ... in all of worship (which we now realize is not the singing portion of a church service). Second to these types of question with God in clear focus are the "Does this focus others on God?" Not "Look at me! I'm a singer!" No, it's pastors and teachers and worship leaders and each and every member of the congregation pointing heads and hearts toward God. And it only starts on Sunday. It's an all-week affair. At least, real worship is.


Bob said...

i remember a friend of mine once said that true worship is a sacrificed life.
when we work do we worship God?, when we love others, are we worshiping god? when we trust God in the midst of trials, are we worshiping God? when we are being good husbands and wives, are we Worshiping God? the whole worship leader stuff today is just more theater and entertainment. God is worshiped thru our lives when we totally depend upon Him for all things. thank you Jesus.

Craig said...

(Disclaimer, I play guitar at a couple of different churches leading worship)

One of my biggest disappointment with the current worship music is that it is becoming it's own thing. Back in the day, the hymn writers would take their lyrics to the pastors/theologians to make sure they were doctrinally correct. Nowadays, not so much. Case in point "Days of Elijah" (or as I like to call it horribly muddles theology set to a catchy tune). The writer of the song literally sat down between services threw together some "Biblical" imagery then trotted out and led it at the next service. I'd like to think that if there had been someone who had looked over the lyrics they would have either edited it (IMO not possible) or killed it. Instead we have to suffer through that Facebook video of some military folks singing it on a regular basis.

To be fair, I think that there is some good stuff out there, and there is some stuff that isn't bad for listening but not suited for corporate worship.

Every worship leader I've worked with has intentionally tried to be very aware of the proper focus of worship and to maintain a God focus rather than focus on themselves. But there are plenty who don't.

Stan said...

I agree. You might appreciate this interesting article I saw last week.

Marshall Art said...

Though I get the point regarding what worship is, or should be, I must confess my own penchant to wanting to "perform". Though I haven't had the opportunity to play guitar and would like to, it would likely manifest then as well. But when I was in the choir, I definitely enjoyed the feedback. Even better, if I had a chance to solo and got feedback. The thing is, I hope that while I "perform", that I am at least helping others to want to be there (as most of us have those times when we'd rather be elsewhere).

I don't think it is shocking to admit that bad performances are unwelcome. Why wouldn't they be? I don't mean those who are encouraged to step up and have no chance at doing a good job, like when the little kids are up front. I'm referring to the Barney Fife's that think who think they're nailing it, but really aren't. I wouldn't want to discourage them from praising God in song. But I wouldn't necessarily encourage them, either. Yeah, it's kinda snobbish, but it's merely a natural thing to feel that way.

My point really is about my own shortcomings with trying to keep my head right while I sing. I go in with the intention of praising God, but easily and quickly get to concerning myself with that feedback. Not proud of it, but I really don't want to hit a sour one.

I have the same problem when I've done readings. I think of doing it like an the passage or whatever is a script. When I was an elder, the duty rotated amongst us. One of our number clearly had stage fright and stuttered and stammered her way through. I felt bad for both her AND the congregation. But people can't hear the gospel if it isn't expressed clearly.

The same dynamic exists with the pastor as well. I think Stan does a great job with this blog. It is a ministry just as if he was speaking from the pulpit. But if he was saying these fine words in a mumble or monotone, the message would not be relayed as well. People would snore.

Delivery and performance does matter, I believe. Really can't get around the "show time" feel completely, either as a speaker/musician/singer or as one of those who is in the pews.

Finally (and isn't it about time?), I do resemble that old guy that bristles at the contemporary music. I haven't really heard any that I like. Years ago a friend turned me on to some Christian music tape he had. I listened and couldn't get into any of it. Most of it seems so forced. Unfortunately, my job prevents me from attending the service with the standards. But if it must be contemporary music, I'd much prefer the Doobie Brothers' "Jesus Is Just Alright With Me", Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky" or even ZZ Top's "Jesus Just Left Chicago". Can you imagine a congregation joining in on that one?

Stan said...

I know what you mean about the penchant for performance. There are times that I catch myself in the congregation thinking, "I wonder if my singing sounds good to the people in front of me." I hate that. "The force is strong with this one." It is a product of a fallen nature.

Giving God a quality product, so to speak, is important. Not being a distraction to others (either by making a mess of it or by hogging all the attention with "my awesome solo" or whatever) is important. We just tend to insert too much "me" into everything we do, and when that "everything" includes calling attention to the Most High, it's really bad.