I thought about calling this: “Worship leaders and their worshippers,” but that’s just over the top (I hope). But I do want to say from the onset that what you’re about to read might make you mad, and if it does, I’m glad! Well, not really, but I’d be glad if your mad made you muse a bit about what the heck we’re doing and calling it worship. This sort of approach I’m taking is called, “provocative,” which is something “intended to arouse a strong reaction.” Sometimes we have to be provoked into changing our thinking. I’m not trying to start a fight, but I am interested in igniting a fire!
Recently I was asked to speak to a group of precious and sincere worship leaders, and the approach I took was to ask them a set of questions (intending to provoke them too). Here’s the gist of the conversation…
- What does God want – I mean the big things? What are his main commands? [Answer: The Great Commandment – “love God and love people.”] Great. What else? [The Great Commission – “make disciples.”] Awsome!
- For now, let’s focus on the second one. In your worship leading, how do you personally “make disciples”? [We’re training successors, people who can do what we do. There’s no success with a successor.] I like the spirit of that! Right on. But…
- How about other than future worship leaders? Is there any way that, in your worship leading you’re making disciples of anyone/everyone in the church? It’s really good to be reproducing yourself and making other worship leaders, but even better if we can make other worshippers, don’t you think? [We make disciples who are worshipping disciples.] That’s fantastic phrase, “worshipping disciples.” I like it.
- So, how do you that (make worshipping disciples)? [We provide an opportunity, an environment for them to worship.]
- (This is where I start to provoke a little.) Is that (worship) actually happening? I mean are they actually worshipping on Sundays (to the potential they could)? Or is it possible that on Sundays you’re doing all the work, keeping them mesmerized with you and your musical ability, so that instead of worshipping, they’re really just observing and enjoying watching you worship (at best) or (at worst) just watching you play music? [No answer, mostly because I didn’t give them time to respond lest the fruit from the continental breakfast we just had would end up hitting me on the head. So I quickly moved on…]
- OK, is the extent of your discipleship on the Sunday event to get them to do something on Sunday only? (No, we want them to go home and be worshippers there and everywhere they go!] Now we’re talkin’! (I sensed that my provocation was working.)
- Great. But what percentage of them in your church do you think take it home and actually develop a lifestyle of worship to God? [Again, no time to answer. It’s obviously unanswerable. Plus, we don’t want to start labeling people – “worshipper/non-worshipper.”]
- Is the job of the worship leader to bring people into an experience that they have to wait until next Sunday to have again? [Of course not!] Then would it be accurate to say that we should be trying to lead them in such a way that they experience God and have the best chance of experiencing him in that way during the week? [Sure.]
- In other words, what are we doing that’s reproducible (i.e. that everyone can do)? Is our increasingly performance-oriented music/worship experience helping people go home with it or not? [Well...] Is it possible that we’re actually dissuading them from a life of praise when each week we try to top the previous week’s production? [Hey, I’m not trying to do that at all!] OK, good for you and all of us who have good hearts and pure motives in our ministries. I may be overstating it a bit in order to get us to think about what we’re doing. But let’s move on…
- Are we “making disciples and teaching them to do everything he commanded”? If he commanded us to worship (a case could definitely be made for it), then how are we teaching others to obey that command? Is it possible that in our quest for excellence that we are actually impeding their ability to obey his command to be worshippers? I wonder if we’re raising a generation of Christians for whom worship is an event, which requires a particular time and place and the inspiration of music; and a generation of worship leaders whose method diminishes rather than increases Christians chance of becoming worshipping disciples. (Now I’ve done it. I sound like any number of annoying self-absorbed spiritual experts that I’ve heard. I really don’t want to take that tone. I’m no expert in anything. I’m just throwing out there some opinions of mine, with which, of course, anyone is welcome to disagree. Let’s take it to a little more practical level…
- OK, so if we’re not doing a great job of making “worshipping disciples” on Sundays, what could we do differently in order to improve our “performance” (so to speak)? Does “less music and more musing” strike a chord (pun intended)? How about this one, “Less production, more participation” – strike another? (Now I’m pretty much on my own, and doing all the talking. Not because I’m so good at it, or because they’re necessarily buying what I’m selling. I think they’re just too gracious to say what they’re thinking.)
- Who are your favorite worship leaders? [They named a bunch of people, some of which I even recognized – well, a few. And I said…] Yeah, those guys and gals are amazingly gifted. I love the music of (I mentioned one)… But most of them are on enormous stages in massive buildings in front of immense crowds. And I assume that they are doing what God is asking them to do. But most of us will never serve in that sort of context, right? So, my question is, why are we trying to do what they do? Why do we go to their conferences and learn from someone whose assignment is totally different than ours? Learning their songs is one thing, but emulating their model might not be the best way for us to make disciples. What do you think? [Again, they’re processing whether or not I’m dissing their spiritual heroes. And honestly, I’m not, I just have a great desire to see us do a better job of actually connecting with the people we’re leading, and helping them become worshipping disciples. And I don’t think that the elevated stage from which those very talented (and anointed) men and women is the best way to accomplish that.]
- Speaking of stages… What do you think of my proposal that we “come down off the stage” so we are more accessible to our disciples. (I put “come off the stage” in quotes, because for some it is entirely achievable to actually set up on the floor, especially in the church with fewer numbers. In some cases I actually think it’s a great idea because it puts us on the same level as everyone else and makes us part of the action. I’ve even led worship from the floor with my back to the congregation in order to make that point that I’m just one of the worshippers helping other worshippers worship. But for some, the size or configuration of the building and the numbers of people are such that, in order to be seen (which may or may not actually be important) they have to be on a stage. But mostly when I say “come off the stage,” I’m just talking about an attitude, an approach to “leading” people in worship that’s more accessible and reproducible.
- Speaking of “leading worship,” keep in mind, there isn’t much in the Bible about such a role (except for some examples in Chronicles about David’s and Hezekiah’s times when they set up a team of worshippers to lead the nation). I’m not saying we don’t need them at all. It’s nice when someone starts the songs. But if we’re going to do it, let’s put the worship of God “on the bottom shelf” so that everyone can access it and even take it home.
- OK, to cool off a bit, let’s talk about sports. Everybody loves football (or some other similar sport). A football team practices all week for the big game on the weekend. They practice, then they play. The big event for the fans is the game, and they don’t care about the practices, they want to see their team beat up on the other team – at the game. So, in our church context, what’s the game and what is the practice – the worship service or the week following? Do we practice all week for the main event? Is the worship service the big game or is it the practice for the game? If it’s the game, then the other six days is warming up, tuning up for Sunday? But if Sunday is the practice, then the rest of the week is what we’re practicing for. What’s the main event – is it Sunday or Monday through Saturday? This could really affect how we do “church” on Sunday. So which is it? [Silence at first, but then someone said, “Of course Sunday is the practice for real life on the other days.”] Right on!
- Then let me ask what’s the downside of making the Sunday service the game? [Someone said, “They might think that going to church is all God requires.”] Do you think you have people in your church with that notion? [Yeah, for sure.] Yeah, I went on to say that if people think that the service is the game, then they might make the assumption that by the end of the service, the game has been played, and they can rest from spiritual responsibility for the rest of the week! [Yep, that would be bad.]
By the way, I went on to say, this doesn’t just have repercussions for the worship leader, but also for the pastor and the entire leadership team. I know that as a pastor, I worked hard all week to make the Sunday service as engaging as possible, and that’s not a bad thing. But it seems to me that the more glitz and glamour that we bring to the Sunday service (the alleged main event); the more likely it is that our members will assume that they’ve done their Christian responsibility for the week. We’ve learned about God with a snappy sermon and we’ve worshipped him with groovy music, “see you next week” for our next performance of the Jesus Show. (I was on a role now, and couldn’t stop. I went on to say…) The more our worship leaders are rock stars and our pastors channel Amway rally speakers/stand up comics, the less we’re making what we do achievable for our just plain-folk friends in the pews. (Now I’d gone and done it. I thought everyone was going to get up at once and leave. I think it was the fact that they’d paid for the seminar, and they definitely hadn’t gotten their money’s worth – not by a long shot! And since they were still in their seats I went on to ask, albeit rhetorically… )
- Shouldn’t we be more like pace setters than super stars? In marathons, many of the racers have a pace setter run with them for a while to keep them on track with the pace they should be running at any given leg of the race. If the pace setter just flat out sprints at the beginning or the middle of the race, he does no favors for the racer. His pace makes the race unachievable for him. He can’t keep that pace for the rest of the race without killing himself. I wonder if our rock star church leaders unintentionally make the Christian life that they model from their super star stage unachievable. Shouldn’t we rather be facilitators of spirituality, making life in Jesus more accessible and attainable to our friends? Isn’t that more an expression of love for God and love for people and a more effective method of disciple-making? There’s no real command in the Bible per se of which I’m aware to “lead worship” or “have music in church” or “develop worship teams.” In a circuitous way, it could be said that we do those things in order to love God, love people and make disciples. But mightn’t it be more loving to God and man if we made worship of God more accessible?
- (I don’t know how many “by the way’s” I’ve already used up, but here’s another…) By the way, I’m not saying that in our attempt to put the worship experience on a lower shelf so people can take it home with them that we need to make it somehow unattractive or do it shoddily. Most of what we do in the church is ministry by attraction (thus the need for better music, better oratory, better lighting, more parking, nicer greeters…). You can probably tell that I take issue with that approach. But I’m certainly not saying that we should do a mediocre job of things in order to make our point that this is reproducible and achievable for our members to do at home. The attractional model isn’t solved by doing things unattractively. I’ve found that simple is more likely to have the courage to follow suit. I don’t do any favors for people I hope to influence toward a friendship with Jesus if I demonstrate it in something other than the least circuitous way possible.
There’s no silver bullet to this. We each have to find our own way of “leading worship” in such a way as to influence others to love God and people and become worshipping disciples! [Everyone said, “Amen!” and “Let’s go eat lunch!”]