“What COULD be…” or “It’s a family affair….”

The doorbell rings.  Good the last of the expected guests has arrived.  All of my friends and a few guests are here.  There’s a lot of positive energy in the room because we all love to get together as often as we can.  Mostly it’s once a week, but on the rare occasion we get to squeeze in an extra day.

As I look around the two rooms we are spread out in little groups of people.  I see some people simply chatting about events in their lives.  I see a few praying for each other.  I even see one or two who seem a little upset.  These are being cared for by those who have a special gift for comforting people.

Conversation seems to wind down a little and we all sense it’s time to gather in the main room.  As we do Jamie starts singing a favorite song of ours.  We all join in and pretty soon the house is filled with beautiful harmonies.  Our hearts are bursting with joy and love for God and each other.  This song winds down and Steve opens his mouth and sings a song that, apparently, he had just written.  We are inspired by the words and the melody.  After a repetition or two of the chorus we all joined in.  It’s electrifying.

By the time we sing a song or two most of us are sitting.  Jim stood and shares with us what he thinks might be an encouraging message for us all.  Jim’s like that.  He seems to have a gift of bringing a message that is always encouraging.  Before he finishes, Lacey stands up and shares what is on her heart; something she believes God wants us to hear.  But the interruption is seamless and seems orchestrated (although it issn’t).  Her message blends with Jim’s perfectly.

As Lacey finishes speaking, Ron stands and begins speaking.  He speaks for about 15 minutes.  As he speaks we ask questions and compare scripture.  By the time he finishes, we know that we have a better view of who we are and who God is.  We have been taught well.

We all settle into a peaceful quiet.  The meal is ready so we all make our way to the tables where a feast is setup.  As with all of our meals together there was is much joy and conversation.  This is the highlight of our gatherings.  Our main topic of conversation is twofold:  What Jesus has done for us on the cross and His return.  Then we’ll have a bigger and better feast with Him!  It’s always exciting and inspiring to remind each other about that.

After the meal there are still some who need some encouragement and one person who is sick and needs prayer.  Those among us who are especially gifted in these areas take care for them while the rest of us say our farewells.  We remind each other that our brother who established our little fellowship is coming to visit in a few weeks.  It has been a year since we last saw him so we are looking forward to it.  He has some concerns he wanted to speak to us about.

We hug each other and say our goodbyes.

Until next time.

(1st Corinthians 14)

“Christian Idol…” or “Who am I to judge…”

As I sit in my seat the “hopefuls” parade before me singing their song and hoping they get chosen.  I feel like Simon Cowell.

I have a task to do.  The result will be a team of musicians and singers with the right voice and style for the service I am putting together.  The goal?  Quality, maturity, spirituality, with a view to produce the best experience for the “audience” or, rather, congregation.  OR, more spiritually speaking..to have the best team to lead people into a powerful worshp experience… OR, rather, to usher the church into the presence of God.

My motives are pure.  Well, as pure as our motives, as humans, can get.

Now, with perspective, I look back at the people who I have said “no” to.  I hear myself saying “I’m sorry.  It’s a no, but maybe you can join the choir” or “I’m sorry, it would be great if you can go get training and then try again.”  Ouch!  The unintended message being, “I’m sorry, you’re not good enough..” or “I’m sorry, you’re not hip enough…”

Say what?!  What have I done?

I’m sorry, Sally, (name changed to protect…) for giving you the message that your desire to use your voice for ministry in the church is not quite good enough.  That, at least, it’s not good enough for people to hear.  Just blend in with everyone else.  It was never my intention to hurt you.  It was only my intention to bring “quality” to the ministry.

I’m reminded of, Deanna, (again, name changed) who had a beautiful heart for the Lord and ministry, sang as if she were in God’s prescence, and loved people.  She was “cut” from the worship team because her voice quality just wasn’t up to par.  She WAS asked by another worship leader on various occasions to sing on the team ONLY because when she sang praise it inspired people like no other person on the team.

I’m reminded of Paul saying “sing to each other in psalms and spiritual songs…” and “everyone bring a song, a teaching, a prophecy…”

I wonder if I would have allowed some of the people Paul was talking about to actually do that!

How much did I miss out on?  How many messages did I squash by not allowing voices to be heard.

More importantly, what was God thinking.

“I Want to be a Clone…”

I’m sitting in an arena with five thousand other fellow “worship leaders” or wanna be “worship leaders”.  Looking around me I see men and women with sincere hearts searching for direction, instruction, and camaraderie.  I also see about 10 percent of them with shaved heads.  About 50 percent had the spiked hair look.  Actually most of us looked pretty much like….”worship leaders.”  Or more accurately like our “favorite” famous worship leader.

As the “worship” bands and leaders took stage and left, great music was on display.  Great shouts of praise were on everyone’s lips.  I have to say God would have to be pleased with hearts that are lifted to him in those times.

As the teaching seminars progressed I was struck with a thought…”Wait, I’m being taught to be the next Chris Tomlin or Lincoln Brewster…to write songs like them…to “lead” like them…”  I begin to feel like I was in a foreign land.  Have you seen Surrogates?  The moment Bruce Willis walks out of his house to see a world of pretty people robots kinda describes the feeling…I guess.

As “worship leaders” we are all taught the same things.  Scripture is part of it.  This, of course, is necessary but not more so than any other believer.  What I am speaking about is all of the “worship leading” principles, techniques, “rules of engagement”.  I’ve been to many seminars and read dozens of worship leading books and have gone through reams of notes.  Sincere and honest christians teaching from a little scripture, experience, and much tradition.  Jesus teaching on “leaven” comes to mind here.

I leave you with this…

Remember these lyric by Steve Taylor (some of you are saying, “Who???”  Ask anyone 45 and older!)

I’d gone through so much other stuff
That walking down the aisle was tough
But now I know it’s not enough
I want to be a clone

I asked the Lord into my heart
They said that was the way to start
But now you’ve got to play the part
I want to be a clone

Be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight
Cloneliness is next to Godliness, right?
I’m grateful that they show the way
‘Cause I could never know the way
To serve him on my own
I want to be a clone

They told me that I’d fall away
Unless I followed what they say
Who needs the Bible anyway?
I want to be a clone

Their language it was new to me
But Christianese got through to me
Now I can speak it fluently
I want to be a clone

Be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight
Cloneliness is next to Godliness, right?
I’m grateful that they show the way
‘Cause I could never know the way
To serve him on my own
I want to be a clone

Send in the clones

Ah, I kind of wanted to tell my friends and people about it, you know?

What?
You’re still a babe
You have to grow
Give it twenty years or so
‘Cause if you want to be one of his
Got to act like one of us

Be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight
Cloneliness is next to Godliness, right?
I’m grateful that they show the way
‘Cause I could never know the way
To serve him on my own
I want to be a clone

So now I see the whole design
My church is an assembly line
The parts are there, I’m feeling fine
I want to be a clone

I’ve learned enough to stay afloat
But not so much I rock the boat
I’m glad they shoved it down my throat
I want to be a clone

Everybody must get cloned

And the answer is…

Define worship leader for me.

Go Ahead, give it a try.  Where do you start?  The real question is “where SHOULD you start?”

This was my challenge a few years ago.  Mind you I have had this question in the back (and sometimes in the front) of my mind for the last 20 years.  But I have allowed the insipid answers I had to satisfy me.  That is until a few years ago.  I wanted to be honest with myself and with God, so I went to the only source that the answer should come from: The new testament.  (By the way, I am attempting to stay away from the typical capitalizations that we use.  Why should pastor be capitalized or the bible for that matter.)  Anyway..

In my survey of how the church started and functioned in the bible, there was not one shred of evidence of this type of role or function. There are many functions defined clearly.  As in teacher, elder, apostle, but none for song leader, or worship leader.  There is no evidence there was any kind of role responsible in any way for congregational music.  Instead you find that when the church met everyone had the responsibility of bringing a song for everyone to sing.  They sang to each other without the “leading” of any one person.

Well, my search ended there.  What the heck did I think I was doing?  “Leading worship?”  What was this animal that we have created?

Here’s the problem.  Apart from any kind of biblical guidance on what a worship leader is and how this role should function we are left with making it up as go along.  Oh, we have examples over the years that we could follow.  We can imitate those we see that have been “successful”.  But at the end of the day it’s a random choice of techniques that give a pragmatic, practical, successful result.  What is that result?  We say it is to “get people to worship”.  Or we might say “usher the people into the prescence of God.”

Really?  This thinking (my thinking for the past 20 years) could not stand up to scrutiny anymore.  I had to face the fact that what I was doing had no basis in biblical christianity at all.  I was on my own to decide what works and what doesn’t work in bringing the audience to the emotional state I (or the pastor) wanted them in.  Do I want them excited at the beginning of the service?  I would play a fast, hard pumping song.  Do I want them to “worship”, I slow it down.  Where do I get these techniques?  Go to any concert of any type, christian or non-christian, and you will see these techniques.  Those musicians out there who have had to build a set list know what I’m talking about.  The song order is not random.  It’s carefully constructed to produce the desired emotional response in our listeners.

Can you say manipulation?

You disagree.  Cool.  Please disagree.  Check it out.  Let’s have an honest and open discussion about it.  That’s what this forum is about.

So, ask yourself, “Why do I do the things I do?”  Where will you find your answers?

Your answers may surprise you.

“Well that sucked..” or “The Worship Leader didn’t do his job…”

It’s the early days of contemporary christian music.  My thoughts as a young man centered aroud this question; “Where is the balance between performance and praise music.”  Well, I think I finally have the answer!  THERE IS NO BALANCE!  They are mutually exclusive.  Here are a few snapshots of my experiences in worship leading.

It’s Sunday morning.  Crowd is singing.  Worship team is “leading”.  Band is rocking.  When the “performance” is finally over and we walk back stage these words leave the worship pastor’s mouth….”Well they were dead…”

Hmmmm….

Years later, another church, band is rocking, sound is pumping through the 6 figure sound system, concert lights are flashing.  The pastor takes the stage after his opening band warms up the crowd and gives an inspired message.  At the end of the service the post-show review from the pastor  is “Way to go, you really got them going.”

Hmmmm…

After the “show” on Sunday morning, our kid guitar player is signing autographs…

Hmmmm…

Upon my return from vacation one of my “fans” tells me; “Jim (name changed) did a good job but I like it when you lead way better!”

Hmmmm…

See something wrong with this picture?  For years, in the deep recesses of my mind, I’ve had an uneasy feeling about all of this.  It wasn’t until I decided to open my mind (did the Holy Spirit open it?) to the possibility that I was WAY off on this worship leading thing.  That’s when I decided to search the bible for traces of what my role and function is in the church.

Uhhhh…. I couldn’t find ONE TRACE of my “Worship Leader” role or function.  Now I kinda knew this before, but I overlooked it, citing cultural changes, etc.  Now it is my  understanding that I (and we) are sadly mistaken in this area.  We are speaking where God is silent.  I fear that we took a left turn years ago when God took a right!

God, being gracious, will always bless sincere hearts.  A rebellious, errant, son is still a son.  But how much of God are missing out on because we follow traditions as opposed to the Holy Spirit in this area.  I believe we are so conditioned by our “American Idol” culture that we can’t even read the bible with a clear head.

At this point I’m in detox from the whole thing and I’m loving it.

More to come!

Hey Everyone!

If you found me you must have been searching for something about worship leading.  Well, here you go.  The thoughts here may surprise some, anger others, and, maybe, inspire most.  The inspiration part would be a bonus, but to be honest, I just want to share the thoughts and experiences I have had in the 30 years I’ve been “doing” worship.

So, all comments are welcome.  It would be fun for me to hear what you have to say!

Talk to you soon!