Thursday, September 06, 2012

Is Your Music Department a Warzone?

In light of several posts by several friends who are full or part time worship ministers at their church, I post the following thoughts and sincerely request your feedback on the matter.

Leading worship is hard. There’s a tightrope to be walked between worship and performance. Many, many, many people fall head first from this tightrope into the valley of performance; it’s an easy thing to do. Worshippers make it even easier by subconsciously worshipping the music and sometimes even the leader themselves. It’s a big issue and I’ve found it very difficult to address. Everybody wants to “be in the band”. It’s always difficult to discern why. Many will argue that they are “gifted” in this area, but playing an instrument/singing is not listed in the Bible as a spiritual gift. And there’s not much Biblical support to argue that your “talents” should be used; especially when your “talent” in a particular area is questionable. This leaves the decision of whether or not you’re talented and whether or not your heart is in the right place to the worship leader. The bigger the church, the harder it becomes.

I’ve always battled with distractions in worship. Is what I’m doing a distraction from people worshipping? Some may call it immature to be distracted in worship. And to be sure, it is. But it’s still a fact. When a person takes the stage who is not gifted or talented in the particular area where they’re trying to publically take part, it can keep an entire congregation from worshipping or even being open to the spirit. It takes an incredibly mature “audience” to get past the distractions of a bad musician or speaker.

So what is a worship leader to do? It’s clear that many believe that anybody who wants to participate on stage musically should be given the opportunity. I’m still amazed at some of the flack I took for not putting certain “musicians” on stage. Sometimes people even suggested that we simply put them on stage and turn their mic or instrument down. What exactly is the point of that? Wouldn’t it be more pastoral to try to point that person in the direction of their actual spiritual gift or talent? For me this argument becomes almost child-like. This isn’t a school play or a Christmas pageant. This is, I believe, a spiritual calling and anointment to lead worship. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known truly spirit filled worship leaders who could not play an instrument; leaders whom I’ve literally advised to lead worship WITHOUT playing their instrument simply because their instrument was getting in the way of their leading. So I certainly believe that God may anoint somebody to lead worship though they may not be musically talented. After all, music isn’t worship and worship isn’t music. Music is only a tool and one of many ways to worship. Still, if you’re going to take the stage under the premise that you are, in fact, a musician, then shouldn’t there be somebody there who has the spiritual authority to say, “this isn’t your area”?

I’d like to contend that for many churches and worship leaders, they actually need to put their instruments in their cases for a while and truly learn how to worship; how to cry out to God; how to give him the praise that is due him. I believe that in most of the situations I’ve encountered as a worship leader and even as a congregant, “singing songs” doesn’t necessarily reflect worship of any kind. It may be called that in the bulletin, but people aren’t worshipping their creator, they’re just singing. This, btw, has nothing to do with old or new styles of worship but has more to do with the spiritual maturity of the leaders (including the pastor/preacher) and the congregation. Matt Redmond’s pastor famously asked Matt not to lead worship through song for several months in an attempt to teach his congregation about true worship. Many know that from that time came the song, “Heart of Worship” which, ironically, has become a focus of worship for some rather than the confession it was meant to be. Again, I contend that most churches need to go through the process of putting down the instruments, the hymnals, and the projectors, and learning how to praise and worship the creator without the crutch of music. Good luck with that, btw. Though most pastors and congregants would not admit it, Sunday morning has become Christian theatre. And most aren’t open to theatre that does not include a concert. It’s going to take a lot of courage for leaders to take on the task of teaching their congregation to worship. And it’s going to take an openness that they too may not truly be worshipping. Again, good luck with all that.

I once heard somebody describe the music department of a church as a “warzone”. And it was. Nobody had the maturity to teach those involved the true meaning of worship. I can’t tell you how many worship leaders I’ve seen let go quite literally because of their “style” (shaking head). We’ve completely lost the plot when it comes to worship. For some congregations I question whether there’s anybody present who EVER understood the plot to begin with. I have to admit, when I hear that a worship leader was let go because his “style didn’t fit ours”, my immediate thought is; that we’re talking about an incredibly immature congregation; at least in the area of worship.

To those trying to lead through this, my prayers and hopes are with you. And for all of us, I pray that we will get past the music and focus our efforts on worshipping the maker.