Compliments are awesome.
There’s nothing quite like being told you’re doing a good job at something, particularly if it’s something that you love doing. I love it when people give compliments, not just when I’m the one who gets them (everyone does), but especially those times people can be really funny as they give them.
About six months ago I was coiling mic cables after a particularly powerful worship gathering, and someone from our congregation came up to me and said “hey man, that one song was really great, I really enjoyed it! it really fit the moment and I felt like God spoke to me during that song.” I was glad they liked it, and as is my custom, I simply said “thank you" and, since I’d been in the middle of something, started turning back to keep putting gear away. But then he just stood there. While that was apparently his only reason for coming to talk to me, he was expecting a conversation. Not having much to say other than accepting the compliment, there was suddenly this awkward pause while we both wondered what to say next. I’m wondering why he’s not going away, and he was probably wondering why I didn’t have something deep and meaningful to say (pastors, as you know, are supposed to always have something deep and inspirational to say in any moment of silence).
After a pause that was probably longer than anybody could stand, he said "I mean, not to say that the rest were bad - you did fine, really great even - but that one song, that was so great.” Another pause, as I try to digest what that meant. “But the others were good too." And he shifted from one foot to the other as he realized how this was making it weird. And then I started to feel about as awkward as a giraffe on waterskis and panicked, so I said, "well ... thanks." Again. And he abruptly turned and walked away. I kept coiling cables wondering what had just happened.
We who serve by leading worship from the front can often feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Most often, we’re not playing our own music - in that regard, we’re a bit like a glorified cover band. We can be creative as we arrange music to fit our context and our team’s particular gifting, but in the end, the melody and basic music structure needs to stay the same. Furthermore, we also know that when music is powerful, it’s ultimately because of God making Himself known through it, not just how well we played. [side note: please don’t ever use the phrase “God really showed up this time!” because it’s bad theology; God was already there, you just finally noticed what He was up to.]
So when we get compliments about the music, or when we get critiqued, it only goes so far. We can certainly figure out what we did well and where we need work in the execution of the music, or our planning, but in the end, success and failure for us need to hinge on something else. Yes, it’s important to do our best, and yes, it’s important to plan. But in the end, the successful outcome of a worship gathering is not measured by how many mistakes we made while playing, or how smooth our tone was, or how together the band was.
What matters is whether or not people were able to engage with God.
Because that is why we are there.
For all the awkwardness of the conversation, he gave me the highest compliment a worship pastor can get. At the end of our time together, if people have been able to gather as one, if they have been able to use the space we provide to speak to God and to hear from God, to sing with and to and about God, and are then sent out to live what they’ve learned for another week, then we can call it a success. Which means, if in our planning, in our leading, and in our execution, we must first keep in mind one thing: what is God doing in this time, in this place, for and through these people?
And how can we point our people towards that?