Confessions of a Retired Worship Leader

Ever had an argument with your spouse then had to go on a platform with the task of focusing a couple of thousand people to sing how great God is? If you haven’t, trust me… it feels weird to say the least! My mind is pondering, “Should I just confess in front of the whole congregation that I had an argument so I don’t feel fake, or would that make for an awkward moment?” “Should I ever bring my personal life into work?” “Aren’t worship leaders supposed to be humble and lead people to a place of transparency and honest reflection?” “How can I do that if I just had a rotten argument and feel like crap?” Oh my tortured soul! Do you see how difficult it is to live with myself?

Every single person who is employed in a church has had moments where they don’t want to be there. I have been in the predicament where the band is rehearsed, the congregation are singing full of emotion and all I can think of is, “I should just say I am sorry – I am an idiot, I’ll buy some flowers on the way home, maybe I can make dinner.” Everyone in the audience is oblivious to my distracted mind and afterwards even compliment how my leading helped them focus on God – which only makes me feel even more of a phony.

On the other hand, I have at times allowed the worship ceremony to become so super spiritual, that I didn’t allow any room for plain old humanity. It must get pretty old for God listening to me sing ‘holy holy’ for the millionth time while I continue to dissimulate. I can almost hear God saying, “Ah…thanks for the groovy song, but what the blazes are you doing with your marriage?”

Modern worship culture has inadvertently provided a way for me to engage with God compartmentally. An outward expression wrapped in a medium I understand can give me the sense that all is well and distract me from the parts of my life that are broken. Without the balance of a close relationship, I suspect God cares less about hearing, ‘You are holy” from me and others and is more interested in an honest conversation that is not rangebound by words on a screen.

The irony is God asks us to come closer, listen and converse. For some of us singing at God loudly is a safer option than contemplative silence. It is not often when a large group of evangelicals share silence together. A slight diversion for a minute – It reminds me of my grandmother, she was a big operatic singer. She would sing instructions at me like, “go to bed!” It was so loud and I could never understand why she didn’t just talk to me normally – and people wonder why I am weird! Ok….back to the story!

Where you put your money is often where you have your heart. A significant part of church funds are put towards the execution of a Sunday service. Many people don’t think to ask the question as to what it takes to pull off a service financially and in people power. It is a really good question. It prompts me to contemplate what could be done with resources like that if directed somewhere else. From a completely pragmatic point of view, I can’t help but be influenced by my current employment at World Vision, it informs how I see others less fortunate. Others could certainly use more of our generosity right now. Less smoke haze and lights could mean more funds to the Horn of Africa, where a child is dying in a mothers arms as I write this blog – rest assured, it bothers me everyday and I am painfully aware of my own wealth and what I do with it (a topic for another blog!).

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t! The church met the challenge put forward by teenage Gen X’s to become more contemporary, now the challenge has been put forward by Gen Y’s for the church to find its historical roots in exchange for modernism. I had an interesting conversation with a friend who is an author and knee deep in cultural studies in preparation for a new book. He noted that Gen Y have a similar attitude as baby boomers to the modern worship culture. Both generations feel drawn to contemplation, ceremony & tradition and are moving away from ‘contemporary worship’. It begs the question as to what church might look like in 20 years. I am convinced it will be radically different, possibly nothing like what we know church to be today – for some that will be an unsettling prospect, for others it will be a relief. I guess a good question to ask is, “do we really need all that technology to worship together?”

So what do we do…? I don’t know what else to do but raise the topic with the hope that the discussion will help us evaluate whether the bullet train we are on is going in the right direction. There are many modes of transport that carry us towards God. I for one am happy to ride a pushbike so I can enjoy creation along the way.

7 thoughts on “Confessions of a Retired Worship Leader

  1. Brilliant,

    I laughed at 'thanks for the groovy song, but whats going on with your marriage'

    Thanks Jay, I am going to share.

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  2. “do we really need all that technology to worship together?”

    I feel that question is related to, “do we really need big church buildings to worship together?”

    Not being sarcastic here, just exploring the issue. 🙂

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  3. Good question…I am not sure what the solution is but I reckon the challenge of the big questions shouldn't distract us from having explorative conversations. Change will happen with or without us. Humility will help guide us.

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  4. And so without a clear answer we live in the uneasy tension between the two extremes. How do we raise our children in this place? Understanding that there are people over the world who don't even have access to clean water, but also wanting them to engage in their world even if it is in middle class Australia. I have no answers… Great blog.

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  5. Hey Helen…I have thought endlessly about this and it bothers me no end. This is how I have landed…We are programmed to solve and resolve, the masses will avoid tension at all costs. That is the problem with the idea of perfectionism and middle class expectations. What has become my mantra is, “don't resolve the tension, learn to live in it.” If you choose to live in the tension, when the time comes it will serve you well and you will make the best decision possible.
    Not everything is meant to be resolved, we are meant to feel the tension…that is how 'holy discontent' comes about and creates people of substance.

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  6. Ahhh but the “tension” is so uncomfortable! Ha!
    I think your blog gives language to what is going on in the hearts of so many. Language to something so many of us aren't gifted to articulate.
    For so long we have run from the uncomfortable, the “wilderness experiences” of our lives, whilst missing the opportunity to draw near to God, to find intimacy with Him as we see beauty in the unexpected. Oh what we miss when we run to fix everything.
    Thanks for this, so good for my soul 🙂

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