So thoughts have been tumbling in my head. This evening, I've turned my attention to my job; vocational ministry means that Saturday night calls for preparation for what comes early every Sunday morning. Which is to say, church.
Tomorrow's music lineup is appealing to me; some of my closest friends will be making music with me on the stage. I am looking forward to it; there was magic in the music for us in rehearsal earlier this week, and I know that will translate to a great time of singing and playing tomorrow, one that will be especially fulfilling for me as a musician.
Running through the songs and lyrics and order and transitions and all that in my head, a thought slipped in. It was a reminder, really; it was myself making note of something I've said from my position of leadership for years.
"God has equipped us to worship through music because often, they can't. We do it because they can't. We are called to lead the way."
Now, that statement is a loose paraphrase of something I heard Bill Hybels (pastor of Willow Creek Community Church) say six or seven years ago. Hybels spoke directly to artists and used these words to encourage us to strive for excellence, to keep creating, to pursue art. I believe that his goal was to inspire the artistically gifted folks to live fully into the truth of their calling, to create.
I adopted that phrase and have used some version of it for the past six years I have been in leadership of the creative arts team at my church. These were the words I've used many times prior to a church service, in an effort to inspire a team of musicians to worship freely, to play and sing without fear of making mistakes or forgetting words. I've challenged our teams to lead the way by singing and playing and worshiping with all their hearts, freely, with a holy confidence that comes from knowing that they are called and equipped by God. I've encourage us all to demonstrate our worship before the congregation, in the belief that our demonstration will encourage participation.
But tonight, something caught in my throat when this phrase snuck into my head, unbidden. In the space that I've allowed myself today, some other thoughts have been swirling around.
Thoughts about what I see from the platform as we sing and play every Sunday, as I look out into the crowd at faces of people from this community who are striving to learn more about God and the church and community and life. I see many faces that represent stories I know, pain I have heard, prayers we have offered together. I see our community.
(Let me preface the following by saying that I know full well that people worship in their own way. Just because someone isn't jumping around, singing loudly or raising their hands do not mean that they are not having an authentic experience of connection with God. I know that is often happening; I know it is not my place to judge.)
I have to say this, with no small amount of fear and trepidation:
I think the majority of people are simply watching.
And I feel conviction. I have a part in this.
I think this mentality that we (on the platform) have to lead in worship because others "can't" is missing the mark. There is some truth, in that not everybody is called to skillfully play an instrument or sing. But this idea that we have to lead because of some deficiency has, I think, contributed to creating a deficiency.
There is no "they".
There is only "we".
I will play the chords on the piano; I will sing. I have practiced and prepared.
But you, who sit in the seats, are just as well-equipped as I am to worship. We are declaring truth about God; we are singing gratitude and seeking mercy. We are clapping, together, to the rhythm of grace.
Or at least we should be. Because I just wonder: if you are a believer, if you have declared that you are a follower of Jesus, and you come to watch the musicians worship tomorrow morning, what kind of experience is that? Of what value is watching others worship? Even if you pass no judgement; even if you are appreciative, thankful, love the band and love the songs - does worship simply become 20 minutes of pleasure? Like listening to the radio? Or watching a Youtube video?
At the risk of sounding very pompous, preachy and pedantic, I humbly ask you: if you're going to church tomorrow - whether here where I live or anywhere else - walk in prepared to fully engage in worship. Whether it's your favorite song or the one you hate; whether it's the singer that annoys you or the one you really like. Regardless of what or who, engage. Participate.
Bring your voice and your hands to the community of people around you.
We have one hour every week to come together, to experience something as a group of like-minded people that our souls long for.
Let's make it count.
Your thoughts, comments, and ideas are welcome in the comments below. I am learning, daily, about this life to which I am called. God often refines us best through one another.