Saturday, September 1, 2012

In Which I Confess: There Is No "They"

I've had a little space in my head to think today. There was no specific purpose or aim in my thinking, just space. I've learned that if I give my head / soul / heart (whatever it is ) a little room, it always finds its way. Right where it needs to be.

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.

But...

(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.)

But...

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.

Come singing.

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. 

11 comments:

annie said...

Beth, we are attending at the moment, two different churches. We usually go to one on Saturday night and another on Sunday morning. I like the preaching at the Saturday night church. The music is okay but it really does feel more like I am watching a show rather than worshiping. At the other church on Sunday morning, the music calls me to worship but the preaching leaves a lot to be desired.

I could never quite figure out my problem with the Saturday night church until you wrote this post. I almost wish I could find a way to share it with them...

Donia said...

Beth, I have zero musical talent, so I think you may be talking to me! My mom visited PCC with me recently and brought up the same issue. She enjoyed the worship team, but commented that very few around her were noticably participating. I reminded her that the congregation comes from a diverse background and some, like me, would be embarassed for others to hear our wretched "singing". Her quesion was how and if contemporary churches find the balance between dynamic, engaging worship leading and church entertainment.

Beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...

@Donia - that's part of the mindset I think we have to look at. I'm sure your singing isn't "wretched". Maybe you wouldn't want to be on the platform singing in a microphone, but why can't any and all shout and sing without some sort of qualifier on their voice quality or ability? Is that what we've created by putting a band up front? I think your mom's question is excellent. That's the one I'm asking.

April said...

To me it's about surrender. That 20 minutes sometimes I feel like is just my time with God and that time is in a sense serenaded by the band. Many times it feels I am one with the entire congregation. From my vantage point things are rockin'. I can assure you I am fully engaged people around me are singing and it is a beautiful thing.
I think it's important that you don't care that this feels different or maybe that you need permission to worship this way. It's important to me that my children feel the same. We come in surrendered and ready to worship.

Fell Swoop said...

Thanks Beth. I've been greatly challenged and convicted in the last year+ on how much the way we approach the band affects our corporate worship. And there have certainly been plenty of times where I've seen people in the congregation worshipping more sincerely than anyone on stage. Those people were in effect leading ME in worship!

I've also learned that with every small increase in attention/value given to the "band" and all the production that goes with it, the dangers seem to increase exponentially: danger of the production or its members stealing glory, reverence, devotion or worth from the One who commands these to be exclusively His.

These are not guaranteed to happen, but I think we would do well to flee from temptation when possible. :-)

See you in the morning!
-Jonathan

Anonymous said...

Beth,
Ever since I started attending PCC, I have struggled with this very issue. I have been to many churches and have found it hard to really connect at PCC at times. I finally was able to put my finger on a few things that really stir me. I feel MOVED by music at PCC...but not LED. I often feel a deadness in the crowd on sundays that deeply bothers me. In my opinion there is an absence/disconnect/not enough knowledge about THE HOLY SPIRIT in this church. The HOLY SPIRIT is sent to be here with us to LEAD us and help us connect with God. I dont feel like the Holy Spirit is present often at PCC. I dont think its ABSENT...I just feel like there is some sort of BLOCK or disconnect that keeps Him from showing up. This is what will HEAL your congregation here on Earth and the holy spirit is also the LIGHT and the TRUTH...and reveals the TRUTH...so I wonder if inviting HIM into your services and perhaps the TRUTH will be brought to light about this issue you are dealing with.

Laurie Cutter said...

Excellent words. We're all a part of worship, no matter where we sit or stand!

Fell Swoop said...

Anonymous: that's a pretty loaded charge to assert, and i hope you searched your own heart thoroughly before bringing such an accusation against the leadership team of an entire church. And I hope that YOU invited the Holy Spirit to come when you visited. And I hope your comments were intended with much more humility than came through in your language. Finally, I hope you do find a congregation where you sense the spirit of the Lord and are able to hear His instruction in your heart.

I am a friend of pcc but I live out of town, so I say these things as an "outsider."

Anonymous said...

Beth,

It has become a production to so very many of us at PCC. It is a show. When you "audition" every member of "the band" and if you are not perfect, you are told you are not "good enough" to praise our Lord from this STAGE, is this true worship? I think not and as for clapping after each and every song, who are we clapping for??? I believe it would be the band and the performance!

So as you tell people to "fully engage in worship", start with yourself.

And as for Fell Swoop, go ahead, I'm, ready for your putdown.

Beth said...

All helpful comments here; to anonymous #1, I think I heard your heart. Thanks for those good words. Anonymous #2, sounds like there are some powerful feelings behind your comments. I am open to talking through the issues you raise face to face, and I think it would be helpful to the church. And to me! I hope you'll contact me via the office (804-598-1174) or my email to get together (beth {at} pccwired {dot} net.