Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Too Transparent?

Everybody makes mistakes, and those of us who lead worship are no different.

And one of the most common mistakes we make is a mistake of transparency.

Listen up...the "authenticity" movement didn't start a few years ago, okay? Since mankind began expressing his adoration of God through art, there have countless people who have sloughed off pretense and carried themselves in honest, abrasive honesty for all the world to see.

And for some reason, worship leaders just can't seem to get over this authenticity thing.

What's the mistake, you say?


I've done it and I've seen it done more times than I care to share. Leading the worship you need is simply this - rather than approach our service to the congregation as a truly pastoral position, we foolishly project our own personal spiritual needs onto the crowd and try to lead them to a place that, in all honesty, we're trying to get to.

I see college students do it when they kick off worship service with minor key introduction and soft-whisper like prayers that teeter on the brink of sobbing.

I see old worship leaders do it when they work the whole set to an emotional climax by picking songs that do more musically than they do lyrically.

I've done it...there have been days when I've been planning a songlist and I am fired up and excited and I feel like a rock star and I picked songs that were way too much for my crowd. Guess what? It didn't go well.

There have been times where I've called a change to the team right before we go on because there is some need inside of me that I'm trying to fill with that spontaneous act.

And sadly, too many times where I've distinctly felt God's leading to take the service in a different direction, I've ignored it; because I was enjoying worship just fine. I didn't need anything different, so I didn't take us there.

Look, there's a place for brokeness and emotion and spontaneity - but we've got to realize that our job is almost always that of a waiter who serves a meal to a customer. It's our job to bring out what the chef has prepared...not to sit at the table with the patrons and make sure we get to eat with them and make all the menu choices.

We've got to nourish our faith so that we come to our service as instrument of God's work - not a manipulator who's so weak in his or her spiritual diet that the crowd is forced to spectate as their leader gets a fix onstage.

Anybody seen this?
Anybody done this?


Lance said...

Too needy, too self-centered... yes.

I guess the root would be that we don't believe God can meet our needs if we (and while we) serve Him by loving and focusing on others. This is (like you said) not new.

Too authentic/transparent... no.

I don't think there is such a thing as being too real. Projecting your needs onto others is more about putting yourself first than it is about authenticity.

Let nothing be done out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.

Preachers do that too... all the time. (not me... uh... other preachers)

Robert Conn said...

I agree Lance. I've seen those OTHER guys do it all the time too!

Seriously, don 't you just love it when you try to replicate your own passions within others and it fails right in front of your face? You can preach word for word from any number of great sermons and chances are it will flop! You can cover songs perfectly and chances are it will flop. Why? Because the context is missing. The God-appointed time with the God-appointed Spirit may not be there like it was during that first sermon or first song. Seldom, if ever, have I adopted someone else's passion as my own. Rather, I've discovered what my passions were.

We try too hard to recreate moments... The Creator runs the moments, not us. Why is every CD today a Live version? Why do we Tivo everything? It's kind of like what Bono said... We're stuck in a moment, however, it's not that we can't get out of it... (we don't WANT to get out of it).

Johnny! said...

Very insightful post, Todd.

IMO the root is that worship today is highly individualistic. This is an era in which people have "worship time" alone in the car or in their room, listening to CDs or watching videos. In an odd sort of way it's kinda like a Medieval priest holding a private Mass in his own chapel.

It's only natural that this would be brought into the corporate worship by everyone, including the leader. I've played many services in which the leader encourages each congregant to do whatever they want, to make their seat their own sanctuary, etc. It's inevitable that he would do the same.

That you're considering both what each particular service is designed to do on the macro level and what God may be leading you to change is very, very heartening.

Lance said...


are you saying that highly individualistic worship and personal worship times are the same thing?

If you are... then I would disagree. Authentic times of personal worship should enhance and inform our ability to worship corporately. It should teach us to submit and serve the needs of the body.

I suspect that many people don't have private worship times and are trying to make the corporate time "their own". This robs everyone.

However, there are times (like a call to personal as opposed to corporate change) that my seat is a one on one time with God. Isn't that how God deals with people when he is dealing with personal change?

What we don't see enough of is a church realizing that God is calling us to corporate change as well.

good talk, son... good talk.

Johnny! said...

Lance, I'm saying that people often import the mindset and behaviors of their private prayer time into the corporate service, and that often the leadership caters to their doing so.

I have what's probably a very different concept of what the corporate service is about than most of y'all. Personal change isn't even on the radar for me in terms of the Lord's Day worship.

Robert Conn said...

"Personal change isn't even on the radar for me in terms of the Lord's Day worship"

Please explain Johnny... Not sure I'm getting it.

Johnny! said...

While certainly both Word and Sacrament have an enormous transformative effect on each of us personally, it is precisely an effect and not the point.

Lance said...

I don't think we disagree. I agree that personal change is more an effect than the point of corporate worship. However, Jesus did call people to personal change, Paul did, Peter did, James did, Stephen did...

Heck, the whole form of epistle is to lift up Christ and then to get really specific as to how we can change our lives to match up with the character of Christ. These letters were meant to be read out loud to the churches... and Paul insisted on corporate and personal change - sometimes very forcefully.

Johnny! said...

Hey, add Johnny to the list of people calling for personal change. I'll even write an epistle about it. I won't make my worship leading about it though, to bring the discussion back around.

Robert Conn said...

Oh, I thought you were saying that you did not want/expect to be changed personally when you lead worship. And that would have just been crazy right?

Lance said...

Then, Johnny, you and I are on the same team.

Paul James said...

Maybe we're making the worship leader role bigger than it should be. At the end of the day you're not responsible for whether or not ANYBODY worshiped, except for you.

If you played the same 5 songs week after week and people complained that "they can't worship" -- that is their sin, not yours, unless you fail to worship.

Maybe I'm way off, but I think there is a great need for personal responsibility in the Church instead of expecting the worship leader to lead me into worship, the preacher to read the Bible for me and for the youth director to raise my kids.

Robert Conn said...

Paul, I agree with your last statement. Lord knows how we've screwed up with the whole "let's do everything for you" model.

However, aren't we called to worship corporately? Surely we were not called to corporate worship so that we can be concerned solely about our own personal worship. It sounds a little too paradoxical for me.

Paul James said...

Can corporate worship suffer *because* the worship leader is worshiping God?

Is it possible to selfishly worship God? Can I worship God and ignore my brother? I would argue that it's not possible.

I think individual worship of God is a prerequisite to corporate worship.