Since quitting my career as a worship pastor about a year and a half ago, all my musical endeavors have been outside of worship music, and all my worship service leading has been in a home setting. It’s been super nice to keep musicianship and giving God praise separate for the time being. My mindset for all worship leading in a home or small context has been, “How can we worship in the simplest, least distracting and least selfish way possible?” Which has led to the worship taking precedence, and the music’s only purpose being to support the melody so that we can sing together. Oddly enough, as is often the case, that simplicity has actually taken more musical skill than any guitar solo I’ve ever played. It’s just that the skill is mental and comes prior to the actual worship leading.
So when it came time last weekend to lead worship in a production setting for a retreat that I had committed to a year and a half ago, it was an interesting experience to try to balance making the music just the backdrop for the worship, with standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people. And sure, we always say the music is just the backdrop, but then we go on to spend so much time getting all the stops and beats right and the band tight, that we rehearse right on through prayer time. And then we throw in a 1 minute intro and a 30 second guitar solo, leaving only a couple minutes for lyrics we tried to make so artsy that they’re barely recognizable as God-centered. And then we judge how many people gave God glory with how loud the applause was after our big concert ending, rather than asking folks afterwards if they felt God was the center. Honestly? I’m tired of all that and I think we’re bordering on blasphemy.
It was a very difficult balance to walk, and I’m pretty sure I screwed up more than a few times, and not just in playing the wrong chords…which also happened. A few of my observations…and yes, we’re back to the beloved/hated bullet posts:
- I tried very hard not to use prayer as a “transition tool.” And you know what? The world did not implode in the five seconds it took me to put down my electric and grab my acoustic.
- We rehearsed up to the point where the song wouldn’t fall apart, and no further. After that, it was worship only. Incredibly freeing. I could actually worship. I’m not sure Capitol Records would’ve signed us, but then trying to land a record deal shouldn’t really be the point of worship, should it.
- I definitely took too many guitar solos. The tone got to me and I self-indulged a few times. Failure. And I could feel from the folks singing that they really just wanted to sing to God more.
- The mic shocked my every time I put my lips on it. Made things more interesting.
- Over 150 people came up to me and said that worship was pretty good, but would have been much better had the delay been with a Timeline instead of my Echo Park. Nope. That didn’t happen.
- We did lots of accapella. Pretty much overshadowed all the times we were playing with the full band.
- I played with my Matchless because it didn’t sell yet, and it was wonderful. I know that you shouldn’t need a multiple thousands of dollars amp to worship…not in the slightest. Yet at times I felt that you do. Yikes, I’ve got a long way to go.
- The musician in me is a transition fiend. I like flow and beautiful sounds. So I had to force myself to allow song choices to not flow if the theological content called for it. Meaning we jumped keys and tempos and styles and had abrupt changes so that we could do only songs that glorified God implicitly. And oddly enough, though I felt the clunky transitions, as soon as we started in singing the God-centered lyrics, the clunkiness was immediately overshadowed.
- In choosing songs, I realized that there are a lot of modern worship songs that I’m not sure we would even classify as ‘worshiping of God’ were they not done by ‘worship bands.’ There are many, many songs, and even hymns, focused on us and our feelings almost exclusively. Are our feelings bad to focus on? No. Is it bad that sometimes we miss entire worship services because none of the songs have the intent of glorifying God? Yes.
- You know what mattered most to everyone? Not our impeccable musicianship. That we treated the sound guy nice.
- Oh yes, and our musicianship was far from impeccable.
It was a great experience to try to lead worship in a God-honoring way, or a way that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. It’s a mental shift of course, but a mental shift that isn’t worth anything if not accompanied by some tangible changes. There were also a lot of failures, and there’s a long way to go. I still feel as if it might have been better if we just chanted some psalms. But the journey is on, and this is where I document it. Take it as you will, but at the very least, let’s remember that worship is not a platform for our musical skills or even our feelings. It should be about God, and if anything seems like it might not be, scrap it.