I’ve seen a few articles floating around the Facebook feed this morning that are critical of worship pastors and how the church simply doesn’t sing anymore because it’s too loud, or the songs are unfamiliar, or in a key that’s unsingable for congregations.
Naturally, I read every one of them because I’m a glutton for punishment. Not surprisingly, all of the articles basically said the same thing, just in their own way.
I’ve been leading worship since 2001. When I started, I knew nothing. I was twenty-five, greeeeeeeen in leadership, I couldn’t play any instruments very well, I only had a basic understanding of how to read music, and did I say I was green? Skill-wise, all I had going for me was my voice, my ears, and good memorization. And the Lord was gracious (still is).
In the intervening years since then, I’ve faced up with every issue these articles mention. I’ve taken the constructive criticisms of others. I’ve taken the harsh, mean-spirited criticisms as well. I’ve read articles like the ones I read this morning, and I’ve read articles that take the opposing positions. I’ve been hesitant to really write about the “worship wars” because I’m not contributing to a fight that shouldn’t be happening.
For every person who has told me it’s too loud, I’ve had just as many ask me to turn it up. For every person who has complained about too many new songs, I’ve had just as many suggest that our song library is kind of stale. And likewise, for every complaint about shallow lyrics, I’ve even had people wish the songs were simpler, easier to remember.
Fifteen years of experience has told me that people are fickle in their personal tastes. You can’t make everyone happy, so stop trying. Strive to please the Lord first before you give ear to the concerns of your congregation. Not everyone who complains will necessarily be the voice of the Lord. For that matter, not everyone who complains will necessarily be the voice of a Christian. I don’t know how many worship leaders will read this, but here are my suggestions for building a worship ministry that leads and doesn’t perform.
- First, there can be no room for ego. Before you let someone on to the worship team, you need to know that their identity isn’t hanging on being a vocalist or a guitar soloist or whatever. Egos ruin everything eventually. It’s not a concert, it’s a ministry, so the praise team rock star phenomenon needs to be avoided like the plague.
- Second, get worshipers. I’ve observed a lot of worship teams that were musically talented, but not very emotive in their expression as they worship. Or they’re great musicians and singers, but they don’t really have a healthy devotional life with the Lord. When you’re leading people, you’ve got to already be doing what you hope they will do.
- Third, know the Word. Some of the best worship leaders I’ve known and worshiped with are good theologians. Why is this so important? Because not every song written for worship is faithful to the Word. Songs don’t need to be doctrinal treatise, but they do need to say things about God that are faithful to what the Bible has already revealed. During the week, people don’t recite sermons as they work, they whistle, they sing. Give them something to sing that reinforces the Word. As a worship leader, your role in choosing songs is just as formative as the Senior Pastor’s work in crafting a sermon.
- Forth, know your people. You can’t just be a singing face that they meet every Sunday. You’ve got to get into the lives of your church family. Have them in your home. Have them in your prayers. This is easier in smaller churches. In a church the size of mine, it gets harder but not impossible. I have to find ways to insert myself. I lead a men’s group. I lead a life group. I go on mission trips. I find places to help where there are different people than my worship team. The more your congregation knows you personally, the more inclined they will feel to follow your leadership. Find ways to do that.
- Finally, although it should go without saying, be a worshiper yourself. Cultivate a devotional life. Befriend the Holy Spirit within. Talk with him regularly. Make confession a part of your regular discipline, along with fasting and prayer. The bottom line is that if you are slacking, so is your ministry.
I’m not saying that these five things will make everything perfect, but I will say without doubt that if you aren’t doing these five things, you’re probably heading for discouragement down the road. Happy New Year, and I hope your worship of our Lord, Jesus Christ, increases in 2016.