Standing In The Gap Of The Real And Perceived
Victoria Osteen’s little faux pax recently made waves in the Christian worship community. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she was inarticulately saying something basically sound. Actually, while I’m sure I agree in part with many, including one particular blogger named Hardin Crowder, on Victoria Osteen’s statement, I actually have some disagreement with him on what constitutes good worship, mainly because I think his definition of successful corporate worship needs some clarification.
There’s only one reason for humans to exist, and that is to worship God, even by our mere existence testifying to His majesty. In turn, there’s only one reason for a worship leader to exist, and that is to encourage others to worship by setting an atmosphere of worship, providing a vehicle for worship, and in doing so, removing all obstacles to worship to the best of his or her ability. That’s it, folks. Anything outside of that is a distraction. Anything outside of that is blasphemy. Anything outside of that is evil. Clear enough?
Let’s take a passage from Mr. Crowder’s blog post on Victoria Osteen:
“If people are singing sincere praises to God then worship was good. It shouldn’t matter whether we enjoyed the songs, the singing, the worship leader, the praise band, or the style of music. Honestly, worship shouldn’t be defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on whether or not you got something out of it. Worship isn’t about you.”
“People?” What people? The drummer? The pastor and his wife? The worship leader? Her friends and family?
Is Mr. Crowder correct? Not necessarily. After all, if none of the subjective, material ingredients comprising a worship service matter at all, why have any of them? Why make any choices to serve as those ingredients, if none of them should have any effect on the quality or accessibility of congregational worship?
I’ll tell you why. It’s not about those things, per se, but those things chosen poorly or executed poorly can poison a good worship opportunity. A mature worship leader succeeds when his heart for worship manages the available resources well, setting aflame the congregation’s heart for worship. Period.
It’s a creative endeavor. It requires multiple parties lifting God up in concert (that is, together). Of course it matters if “you” got something out of it. It also matters if I do, the worship leader does, and the lady behind me does. It matters just as much as it matters that when a married couple has sex, they both “get” something out of it, but by focusing on their spouse’s needs, not their own. We should be pleased in worship, but we should get that pleasure from focusing on God’s love for us, and His ability to deliver it, instead of focusing on our personal needs in a particular setting.
And yea, I guess we’re all supposed to be able to worship God while being smothered with a pillow over a cauldron of boiling oil with our hair on fire in the middle of a tornado, but shouldn’t we hope to have better conditions in a worship service?
To be sure, we certainly have them, at least here in the United States, for the moment. And individually, we should strive for worship in all circumstances. But isn’t that easier to do when you can hear the voice and words of the worship leader clearly? Isn’t worship easier when the backup singers are on pitch? If the drums don’t overwhelm the keyboard? If the words on the screen match what the leader is singing? If the worship band members aren’t vying for position behind the scenes? If the worship leader is paying attention to where the Spirit is moving, and where it is not? If 95% of the congregation is standing there politely, waiting for the worship leader to get a clue and move on five minutes ago, who is responsible for that?
I’ll tell you who’s responsible: either the worship leader, or, in the long term, the one who put the worship leader in that position. There is no way to get around it: without fail, any organization is always a direct reflection of the management. The worship leader should be quick to recognize what invites worship and what discourages it, and have the fortitude to make decisions concerning those factors, because as worshippers, we all individually and corporately should offer God our best, whatever that is.
Those examples given above are distractions to worship, just as musicians overplaying their instrument or doing endless, indiscriminate vocal coloraturas and other kinds of vamping are. Such conditions provide unnecessary temptation for even the most sincere worshippers to pay attention to the worship leaders, and not the God being worshiped.
Even so, while worship leaders and teams should strive for technical and presentational excellence, those are secondary concerns, really. The primary determinant for successful worship is a humble heart. Not everyone is equally skilled, or equally gifted for leading worship. And some who should sing their hearts out and dance wildly in the congregation are nonetheless unsuited for leading worship, because even though their heart is right on, they haven’t the proper skills or gifts for others to follow.
But all things being equal, and assuming a modicum of talent and skill is available, the heart is what matters. A heart for worship, indeed, overcomes a multitude of other problems. But a heart for worship isn’t just an enthusiastic performance. A heart for worship submits our desire to perform to our sensitivity to the move of the Spirit, that sense of where the worship is going, and going there with it, regardless of what the original plan was. A heart for worship causes its bearer to disappear in worship, but not alone, not unconscious of the congregation being lead.
A heart of worship is a sharing heart, one which makes room for others to give their best offering of praise to God. It never operates out of fear or ego. It is not afraid pass the baton, exchange duties, switch roles, step back, or even step out altogether to let others assume center stage, understanding that when worship is the focus, the spotlight is always on Jesus, so there is nothing to lose by sharing. A heart of worship wants to see others develop and share the fullness of their gifts and calling, even at the expense of attention to itself.
When a heart of worship leads, it understands that everyone in front of the congregation during worship is a worship leader, and so everyone leading worship should be a growing Christian, and active pursuit of that relationship should be evident in their general demeanor and lifestyle. Mind you, not perfection— pursuit. A heart of worship will choose to incorporate a modest gift with a humble heart over a towering talent with a haughty heart every single time. To a heart of worship, mercenaries and glory hounds need not even apply.
A heart of worship recognizes that pride and a sense of entitlement are the greatest threats to worship. It addresses, and where necessary, removes those threats as swiftly as grace will allow. A heart of worship never lets anyone’s ego hold the integrity and joy of the worship team hostage, because the price of ego is too costly to worship to allow pride to stand unmet or unchallenged. To others and even themselves, there will be moments when the leader must say, literally or figuratively, “Get behind me, Satan!” Even in the Kingdom, power abhors a vacuum, and if the leader won’t fill it, someone else usually less fit to lead will. But exercising that power is not for the fearful, needy or faint of heart. That is why a worship leader’s first instrument should always be humility, and on it, a worship leader strives to be a virtuoso, which ironically, often means doing less, not more.
This is why instrumentation is so arbitrary to a heart of worship. Because when a heart of worship is combined with God’s calling to lead, worship can be lead a capella, with a pair of spoons if necessary, or with a full orchestra when appropriate and available. When a heart of worship is available, no particular instrument or combination of instruments is indispensable, because the heart is there.
Effective worship leaders understand that in successful worship, the heart is the canvas, the music (for purposes of this discussion) is the medium, the members of the Body are the artists, the leaders are mere facilitators, and the audience is God, and God alone. Because a heart of worship has only one object of worship; worship of any other leads to sickness and death in one degree or another.
But we have been taught a more excellent way. Let us run after it. Let us rest in it. Let us pass that heart down to younger generations, because the day will come for them as well, when a heart for worship is all they have, if they have it at all.
When the body is spent, and the kids don’t call anymore, and everything smells of mothballs, what keeps this married couple together and in love? It’s not the sex, folks. It’s the heart. So let us cultivate it now, a heart of worship for our Bridegroom.