Hello, my name is Daniel, and the last few weeks of my life I’ve been living with this…tension. Not overwhelming tension. Not even a harmful tension. Just the kind of tension that begins to gnaw away at your sense of comfort. A tension that has been telling me that something isn’t sitting well within me – a tension that I’ve been acquainted with before. Allow me to explain.
A couple of days ago, I returned from a pretty large gathering of ministers and leaders in one of the premier events for my affiliated denomination – a three day conference focusing on the missional outreach of the church. I left this gathering with a new arsenal of ideas and inspirations, and even more, I left encouraged about the ones upon whom the call of spreading the Good News of Jesus has been placed. It’s a great community of believers serving a great God.
Like many Christian events, each morning and evening were bookended by worship services filled with music and teaching. The praise experience, in particular was dazzling. Talented musicians and vocalists lined the stage, and with flawless execution they played and sang their hearts out to beloved worship songs, hymns, and everything in between. The lights pulsed and blinked with precision, shining through perfectly balanced levels of smoky haze and putting an exclamation mark on particularly spirited sections of song or lyric. We, the gathered, were enveloped in a pleasing ambiance of worship.
We stood, clapped, and raised hands to about 15 minutes of worship music and then – just as it had been planned, the moment was over. It was time to move on to the pre-message video and eventually the evening’s speaker. The tech crews and musicians did what they were asked to do, but in my heart, something was missing. I felt guilty for even feeling it. And honestly, as a worship pastor, I’d done the same “stuff” many times before. The worship formula for me has been essentially the same since I accepted the call to ministry 7 years ago: find good truth-filled songs, sing three or four of them during a service, and then turn things over to the preaching pastor. So why did I feel so…uncomfortable? The service that night was not much different than what I’d normally do if I were up there. Still, that tension in my heart began to bubble over.
After the service was over, a pastor friend and I were reflecting on the night, when I asked him what he thought about the praise time. To my surprise, he revealed to me that he, too, was feeling a tension – even a spirit of cynicism during the service. Then he said something that broke my heart: “You know, I felt they had some really good musicians, but no leaders.” I’m not sure if he knew, or even knows now just how much those words pierced my heart. There is a distinct difference between a singer of worship songs and worship pastor, and for the first time, I wasn’t sure which of the two I’d been all this time.
I don’t know if I can remember how many times I’ve planned a worship service with the stated objectives of: fitting a sermon theme, finding the right balance of choruses to hymns, and finding the right keys for that week’s music set. After those objectives were accomplished, I and the praise team would practice them later that week, and play them on Sunday. Lather, rinse, repeat. Some weeks, our congregation would respond with a wall of singing that would literally shake the platform; other weeks it felt like we were singing to 750 stone pillars. It was amazing how my fervor for leading the next week seemed to rely solely on how our praise set was received the week before. What I do know, is that our congregation does seem, for the most part, to enjoy the music. At least that’s what many of them have told me.
But even now I’m sitting and thinking about how I felt a few nights ago. It’s the reason I’m choosing to begin writing my thoughts out for others to read.
Sometimes All too often, music is not enough. On occasion, the music can speak on its own. But that night, I wanted to be led. I needed to be led. I wanted someone to look up from their iPad for just a few moments, and in an unrehearsed moment of vulnerability, share unscripted praise, or a prayer – or a scripture. Something. Anything to connect our hearts with God before the drums began and the lights began to spin and flash. And now I understand where I’ve often fallen so short as a worship pastor. Those people in our church that I love so dearly want more than just a catchy song. Sometimes they just want to be led. A worship pastor needs to be so close to God as to discern when to go off the rehearsed script and be obedient to the leading of the spirit.
Shouting into the microphone “Let’s sing!”, or “Who’s ready to worship?” just isn’t enough. I want to be better, because God deserves better, and His Church deserves better. The most effective leaders are often the most dedicated followers. God, may I learn to follow You – because there are many following me and I’ve not always known where I’m going.