Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When Worship Becomes the God

     It's been ages... AGES... since I last posted on here.  Maybe it's because with two kids, life is crazier than ever, and maybe it's because I'm not that bright and don't really have all that much to say.  I tend to think that it's an amalgamation of both.  Busyness and lack of knowledge is definitely not a state that gives one the confidence to speak into others' lives.
     My dear friend, Jon Skaggs, asked me to write a blog on the topic of worship and I love him dearly as a friend, so I figured, "Yes!  It's for a friend, and if there's anything you're an authority on, it's how to screw up worship-haha!"  All kidding aside, I've been a full time worship pastor for over a decade in several different denominations, and I've had the privilege of leading corporate worship times for my church family and for other gatherings in the name of Jesus, and I have to tell you-it's such a complicated dynamic.
     You deal with so many aspects that it can become overwhelming, but when you boil it down, corporate worship is either about God or it's about you.  That's it!  This is a post for all my friends in ministry and all of my friends and family and those who gather weekly to worship God in whatever building you call a gathering place.  This is nothing brilliant, because, quite frankly, I lack the intelligence and clarity to say something mind blowing.  I also must admittedly come before all of you and let you know that I struggle with worship becoming imbalanced and I can make worshiping Jesus become something that turns toxic and becomes about my pride and my insecurity.


     Worship leaders live in one of the hardest tensions I've ever seen.  All eyes are on YOU, yet it's not about YOU at all.  That can get so blurred in just a matter of moments, and it can become a very prideful, ego feeding thing, BUT..... it can also be the most freeing experiences of your life.  First of all, to any worship pastors out there, I want to implore....no...I want to beg you to consider your calling.  Your calling isn't those few moments on stage when you're under the lights leading congregations of people in praise and worship...  Those moments are are a small part of who you are and who God has called you to be.  Your calling is to be a PASTOR.  Your calling is to love the ones you lead, and that manifests itself in many ways, but I have to tell you, if you call yourself a worship pastor or worship leader at a church and you tend to not give a rip about people, then I have to tell you.  Your calling is not to lead people of God.  This may sound harsh, but if you're only there to be heard and to live in the adrenaline and joy and ecstasy of those fleeting moments of performing, then you need to get out of the church setting and go on tour and share your gifts in other avenues.  You can absolutely use your gifts for the Kingdom in ways that are effective and by touring and sharing the message of God's love with others.
     Worship pastors have a different calling than just to perform.  In fact, leading worship is a very small part of what I feel called to do.  I have to tell you...There is so much joy and peace in Christ in loving His people and serving them.  When you do that....When you love the ones you lead, you'll be shocked at how more transforming and Christ-focused your times of corporate worship truly are.  I find that when I am burdened beautifully by the love for those I lead, that I tend to put more prayer into my preparation, and I put my best efforts forward because I've personally seen how God leads and loves our people.  I want my best efforts to be poured out in God's service for those He has entrusted me with the privilege of leading.
     If you are leading out of a selfish need to be heard or seen, what's happening is a ministry is focused around you as opposed to a ministry focused on God.  A good question to ask is... DO I really care about the contributions of the musicians I lead....or ... do I just care about them as a means to an end for me to be heard?  Is it their job to support me or my job to support them?  The correct answer is that we are called as worship pastors to support them-develop their gifts-equip them to serve and release them into a deeper relationship and ministry that edifies Christ alone.
     I can always tell pretty quickly if a worship leader is a pastor or simply about his own name.  Here are a few tell tale signs:
     1.  He/She leads EVERYTHING!  No matter whose on stage-this person leads every song even at the expense of using the people who are already on stage.  Why even have people up there if you're not interested in using their gifts?
     2.  The team is incapable of functioning without him/her.  When this toxic leader is unable to be there for whatever reason, the team suffers because they've never been given the chance to lead nor have they been given the proper tools to lead on their own.  A true pastor will train them to lead better without him around.  True Worship pastors train themselves out of a job!
     3.  Transitions and prayers become very shallow.  These moments of transition become very repetitive or shallow or surface because the leader lacks depth because he's not developing himself for the Kingdom, instead his time is spent on himself.
     4.  He/She is not a team player.  When the service is over, this person is the first one out the door so they can spend their time on things that are apparently more important than serving God's people.  People who work with him/her rarely have anything nice to say about this person.
     5.  They are transient!  They rarely stay in a place longer than a year because they've burned bridges and are in a constant state of unrest trying to climb a ladder that gets their name out there even more.


     This is an open comment from a guy whose trying his best to be a good worship pastor.  I have to tell you.  I've made about every mistake you can make as a worship pastor at least twice!  I admit openly that pride and ego has always been a struggle for me as has insecurity in my abilities due to very gifted musicians who I am lucky enough to call friends.  I want to start by saying, I get things wrong a lot, but I do not have a personal agenda when it comes to worship ministry.  Let me say that again.... I do NOT have a personal agenda for worship ministry.  Now, of course, I have a direction that I feel God has called me to lead our body towards, but that's never driven out of personal preference or an innate condition to tick people off.
     For some reason, music can be INCREDIBLY divisive in the church, and I'm here to say that it has no reason to be so.  I don't ask if it's "contemporary" or if it's "Traditional."  I ask:  "God is this relevant to the word You are bringing to your people?"  We sings hymns, and new songs, and funky songs, and easy songs and hard songs and songs of praise and songs of mourning, but ALL are planned and prepared with one goal in mind...How do we honor God honestly and authentically in our times of worship?  And secondly, I ask...how do these songs support the Biblical teaching and are they accurate to scripture?  And thirdly, are these songs God focused or me focused.
     That's the whole process, so before you get offended that we didn't sing your favorite song, or we didn't do enough hymns, or we only sang hymns and not enough newer songs....I want you to ask yourself... "Would I be happy singing praises to God to the song I hate most?"  I know, HATE is a strong word, but in this case, it is my experience that people use STRONG language when it comes to music.
     Because I have to be honest with you, we sing a ton of songs that I don't particularly consider my favorite tunes.  We sing them because they are dripping with Scriptural and spiritual truth and are VITAL to the Scriptures that we will be teaching on that particular weekend.  I don't pick my favorite songs, I don't pick blindly out of a hat and just throw it together.  True Worship Pastors are planning and preparing with the Holy Spirit weeks in advance to make sure that we are presenting a deep narrative of doctrine that aligns with the Word of God and has purpose to create tension or brevity in our times together.
     Good corporate worship experiences are God focused and they tell a story that creates tension that the Message and Word are used to resolve and call us to deeper obedience and deeper love and practice.  So to my dear churchgoers who gather weekly to worship...I just want to implore you...Make it about God.  Don't make it about you.

We ALL-onstage and off-have the dangerous temptation to make worship the thing we focus on instead of WHO we are actually worshiping.  Don't buy into the lie that worship is about you.  PLease understand, I am possibly the worst worship pastor to be giving you this advice because I know my own struggles with self worth and pride, but I come from sadly a place of expereince...Worship leaders need to be PASTORS first and musicians second, and the body of Christ needs to worship Jesus-not worship the WAY we worship Him.

    For the Kingdom and the King,