April 20, 2010

Responding to Greatness

What does it mean to lead worship? How is it different than performing?

I was confronted with questions like this tonight at a meeting, and they're good questions. I also did a terrible job of answering them on the spot, which is sort of sad since I should be able to talk about this stuff easily - it's sort of my job. Now, obviously on some level it depends on how you define the various words in question, particularly "worship" and "perform" but lots of people think they're very clear about what those words mean and think everyone else agrees with them. So it's worth exploring the questions if just to finally agree on what the words mean.

We started thinking about this in youth group recently: what is worship? What does it mean to worship someone or something? The definition we came to was this: to worship is to acknowledge something's greatness and to respond to it. It's a great definition because it's both simple and concise. It's also modestly disturbing because it means we could potentially be worshipping a lot of things that maybe don't deserve it.

Worship is in the attitude and behaviors of a person. As someone whose job it is to lead others in worship, I have to start right at the beginning and say that my job is, by definition, impossible if I think that leading means it is my sole responsibility if someone does or does not worship God. When it comes down to it, a person cannot be forced or even coerced into worship; they have to respond freely for themselves. If they were coerced, it's not worship. If they were forced, it's still not worship. Now, I can be very distracting in many ways (I can make it all about me, which distracts, I can be really bad at what I do, I can make too many changes, I can keep everything too the same ... the list is long), but it will always come down to a decision, a choice of behavior made by the individual.

Performance, in Christian circles, is often thought of as the polar opposite, the Joker to worship's Batman. Performance is, in this vein of thinking, trying to get others to acknowlege MY greatness and respond. And by that definition, I have no problem saying that I'd prefer never to perform again. If all we're on about is ourselves, then we've missed the point of the gospel entirely. And yet it's a constant temptation; I want others to say "wow, Chris, you're so great because that service rocked my world" or "Chris, you make my life complete when you sing every sunday." Nobody's ever actually said those things, really, but I'd be lying if I said I'd never wished they would. I'm weak that way. But it's important that I catch that before it goes too far; it's one thing to desire excellence, it's quite another to be excellent for the purposese of being acknowledged. The compliments that help me the most?
Them: "Chris, I can't believe I met God like that today, He talked with me today and it was awesome!"
Me: "Sweet. What did you think of the band?"
Them: "What band?"
It's really not about us, it's about God's glory, it's about acknowledging how incredible God has been and continues to be in our lives and then responding accordingly. But I'm glad God asks us to be a part of it.

But let's take it a little farther because there is still the issue that performers are among us, and often enough, we're the ones guilty of trying to call attention to ourselves. The grace of it all? It is still possible to worship God in a place where those who say they're leading are actually performing. See, others can HELP you worship, but they cannot worship FOR you. It used to be, back in the day, that the priests were to be the representative of the people, to present the sacrifice of the people to God for them, but when Jesus came that changed. Now, we are to present ourselves as transformed by the gospel as a spiritual act of worship, we are to be imitators of God, we are to love others as we love ourselves ... we are to love God with all of our beings. Worship happens corporately, but only because lots of individuals agree together about He who is being worshipped. So when I'm in a place where others are trying to call attention to themselves, it might be harder, but I still need to acknowledge God and then respond; it's still on ME to be in a place of worship, even in spite of others.

As a worship pastor (or more properly, a creative arts pastor, one who strives to lead others in worship through artistic endeavors), it is both a humbling responsibility and a frustrating exercise. On the one hand, everything I do is to be an example for others to follow, and yet it does not guarentee that they will ever truly worship. Flip it around, and I can be doing my absolute worst and others may still worship God simply because they love Him so much that nothing I do can distract them. Sometimes I get frustrated because it makes me feel sort of redundant, but then I remember, God still wants me here, God still wants my help leading others.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Wow, Chris. This is a beautiful post. Our church is in a time of transition in the area of music/worship leader, and I hope and pray that whoever we end up with approaches their job with this same perspective and humble mentality. I just wish I'd had the opportunity to be a part of a crowd that you were leading in worship!