listen friends, i promise that i tried….i tried for several days now to keep my mouth shut in response to these blogs and articles about the assertion that NO ONE sings (worships) in church anymore. and, guess why?
well, according to Why They Don’t Sing Anymore, and this one called Are We Headed For A Crash?, it’s because the worship leader and the worship ministry are too performative/showy/up-front/rock-star-ish/and whatever other distractive adjective you can think of.
for whatever reason, in my 20 years of leading worship in various different contexts – mainline churches, pentecostal and charismatic churches, evangelical churches, university chapel services, black churches, rural white churches, asian american churches, affluent white suburban churches, mega churches, multi-ethnic/cultural churches, worship conferences, funeral services, wedding ceremonies – i’ve found that people tend to feel the freedom and power to lay claim over the musical elements more readily than other aspects of the service. we all feel a particular ownership, authority, and confidence as to what music we believe resonates with the soul, and thus with everyone else. i guess as someone who has the opportunity to both preach/speak and lead worship on a regular basis, i’m particularly keen to the imbalance of “feedback” worship pastors/leaders receive from sunday to sunday versus the preacher or “word-bearer.” as someone who has served in so many different contexts, reading these broad stroked critiques on a topic as huge as musical worship, but offered through such a narrow and particular ethnic/traditional lens are hard to receive and take seriously.
so, here are my quick thoughts on how we can move forward (on a topic of conversation i could’ve sworn was SO 2003), but i digress:
1) i’d love to read more blogs and thoughts on the failings of musical worship from folks who actually serve and lead churches and teams in this capacity on a week to week basis.
2) i’d love to read disclaimers on the front end of these blogs/articles that begin with something like: *these observations are meant for ______church and _____church, of which i have personally attended. i also acknowledge that the lens from which i make these critiques come through a particular ethnic, socio-economic, ecclesial tradition, and cultural lens. in other words, just state the obvious. and, don’t generalize.
3) there are thousands of churches. thank the lord?? i mean….THOUSANDS. there are many traditions that represent those churches as well. if classical hymns, or organs, or string quartets, or chorales, or rock bands, or indy/folky groups, or shouting, or dancing, or gospel choirs are what enable and move you to worship, then GO FIND THAT! you need to worship. we were all created to worship. there’s nothing worse than staying unhappy where we’re at and murmuring about how we can’t seem to open our mouths to utter a sound of praise. perhaps, even more importantly, we need to sincerely ask ourselves these questions: could the act of redirecting my inability to participate onto someone else or some ideal have anything to do with me? is it really someone else’s fault as to why i can’t offer god some praise?
4) most worship leaders work hard. being creatively wired by nature, worship leaders are usually also sensitive people who don’t try to annoy or distract the congregation on purpose or intentionally. have you ever gone up to them and said “thank you” as you would to the preacher? did you know that many worship leaders don’t get paid as much as other pastors or staff? did you know that there’s a required class on homiletics (preaching/public speaking/oration) in seminary that basically teach the substantive and the performative elements of preaching, but there’s usually no classes on leading musical worship? did you know that most churches hire worship leaders for their musical skill more than their pastoral skill? did you know that in many churches, the worship leader is not considered a pastor? did you know that most worship leader positions don’t require a seminary degree or ministerial credentialing?
we sure do expect a lot out of them given this reality…
5) worship ought to be your response to who god is and all that god has done in your life DESPITE your circumstances and who’s in front of you or behind you, who’s chasing you down or who’s affirming you, in death and in life, in fullness and in the margins! the psalms are a great example of this. when we become a people who know what it is to be desperate for the presence, the hand and the face of God, no amount of distraction will keep us from praising and opening our mouths to sing! worshipers know this – it’s in spirit and in truth!
in the end, i wonder if we’re too comfortable. we have too many options. many of us aren’t desperate enough in life to know that the culmination of our worship doesn’t happen on sundays…it can’t just happen on sundays, because life happens everyday.
i thank god for the people who offer their time and lives to this ministry of music, in every context – who serve week after week, put themselves out there, mess up their lyrics, play a wrong note, voice cracking, serving while sick – all while hoping and praying that god will touch somebody through their offering and gift of music. for the naysayers, critique all you want, but know that for the worshiper, those words will fall on deaf ears unless you bear that burden week after week alongside us. ~ selah