A Simple Question

No observations, judgments, or commentaries. I dig the huge stadium productions and huge guitar rigs (mmmm) just as much as the intimate acoustic sets. Just a simple question that I think may be a good thing to ask ourselves every so often. And this question has to do with the heart, not how any one individual chooses to express that heart.

There’s a fine line between giving our absolute best performance to God, and between living out our repressed musician fantasies because we couldn’t hack it anywhere else but on the much more forgiving worship stage. Are we flirting with that line?


32 thoughts on “A Simple Question

  1. Great question that everybody on a worship team should ask themselves at some point. If the answer is anything but to bring glory to God, and help facilitate the worship of God, then it’s probably time for a break.

  2. I think most musicians walk this line…. its how the output is. If the congregation is more in “wow, did you hear the guitarist today?” then we need to step back. I save my “Rock Star” moments for band PRACTICE, so its out of my system and I can chill easier during the performance.
    I believe we have to let that out, because keeping it in is what burns people out, makes them jealous etc….

    There is also a theory of “play skillfully unto the Lord” from the Psalms. If you are a killer guitarist and can honestly jam to the Lord for the sake of jamming without it coming back to make you look good: more power to you.

    Its about learning what it takes to keep yourself in check 🙂

  3. Yep, that’s part of the reason I’m on break from playing worship stuff! Not that my intentions were purely evil, but bad intentions were getting mixed in with good intentions and I need to step back and sort them out. I’ve figured out I need to play more outside of the church so when I do play worship stuff, it’s a volunteer things, on the side. Not my main thing. I think that will help.

  4. Just a quick note. I call this “the Lincoln Brewster complex”. If you went to the Doctor, for some unnamed illness, and he said I have the knowledge/ talent/ gifts to make you better but I’m only gonna give you Tylenol. Wouldn’t you want him using all his knowledge and gifts to make you better? Why does musicianship/ talent/ gifts have to be any different? Mr. Brewster, as you all know, can flat tear it up, but it’s for a purpose and it’s a gift from God. It’s not to lift himself up but to bring us with him on his journey to Worship. It’s all in how you portray yourself. Are you above, looking down or are you using your talents to help others see the Glory!

    p.s. cool blog!

  5. Playing professionally in the secular world never crossed my mind ( maybe while asleep ). I’m trying to get another “outside of church” jam group together for just this reason — to tamp down the desire to crankit, bend it, squeal it etc. during worship team time.

    Not much call for that in our venue and really no time for it at practice. I do envy those that have a worship band of kindred spirits — meaning some commonality of musical background which allows you to kick out the jams spontaneously ( and not have one playing a hymn while the other is playing Dire Straits or Brewster ).

    I played Brewster’s Give Him Praise from his latest CD for our team recently. Got weird looks 🙂 Love ’em anyway.

    Check out that song here – click “Listen”

    Norm Stockton’s bass groove is as cool as Lincoln’s guitar, but you may not hear it on that clip.

  6. Karl – I AM a Rock Star. And Jesus is my Roadie. He makes sure I have everything I need.

    The church I go to is a “Church in the Box”, meaning that we rent a local high school theater and truck in all our equipment every Sunday. We have a “Set up/Tear Down” team that does all this work. I was trying to recruit new people to join the SUTD team and I used this pitch, “Wouldn’t it be cool? Just imagine, you could be a roadie for God!”

    Seriously and firstly though, I love performing. I have actually been labelled as a Rock Star at my church. So, in a sense, I am guilty of being a performer when I play for worship. Some songs just need a ripping solo. Ok?

    Secondly, I have never tried to make it in the “real world” musically speaking. I learned to play guitar when I was 13 because there was no one else in my high school group at church to lead our worship time. As I got older, I ended up working with the high school group and still led worship. One Sunday morning, The worship leader’s wife fell down a flight of stairs and died while getting ready for church. The pastor asked me to “fill in”. I ended up playing, then leading the worship team at that church for the next ten years. I guess you could say that I’ve been involved in providing music for worship for almost 30 years now. (yikes!) To me, playing music in the worship band IS the real world.

    Thirdly, I don’t find the worship stage a forgiving one in the least. I demand the most out of myself, and expect the others I’m playing with to be prepared and professional. Don’t get me wrong – I, more often than not, miss that mark. Ever sing, “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise”? I think that quite literally means that if we bring forth something that was easy and without effort, then we should think twice about our sacrifice of praise. I truly believe in my heart that our efforts need to cost us something.

    Fourthly, Some of the best feedback I’ve received from people after a service has been on days when I thought I played my worst. Maybe they’re just being nice. I don’t know. But it always teaches me humility when that happens.

    Karl, I really enjoyed your blog a while back about the concept of the band getting to worship when they play. The honest truth is, that it’s our job to help the congregation in their time of worship. It was put to my once – we are like the prompters during a play, giving lines to the performers when they need them. In our case, the performers are the congregation and the audience is God. Thus bringing that big question – Are we there to perform? Are we there to entertain? I think the answer sometimes is yes. I think that something we often don’t think about is how an non-Christian might feel on any given Sunday. I personally feel that the music should be enjoyable to whomever walks in and hears it. Now come on – let’s be honest, a great majority of Christian worship music is exactly that – Christian worship music. But how great and glorious it is when a non-believer comes in, hears music that they can relate to, hears a message that changes their life, and decides to believe in Jesus as their Saviour? That is the greatest worship of all.

    So maybe that’s the next question – When we provide worship, is it only for believers? Or is it something that a non-believer can enjoy as well? Should it only be for believers?

    I think that scripturally, we don’t have a lot to go on. David certainly wrote about it – but spoke about instruments that were commonplace to, well, common man. I don’t recall reading anything about there being detailed and specific guidelines to how or what we play musically speaking.

    What David did talk about is the heart.

    Create in me a clean heart, Oh God. And renew a steadfast Spirit within me. Take me not away from thy presence, O Lord, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation. And renew a right spirit within me.

    Now that’s worship.

  7. I agree. As I’ve gotten older, I find myself too lazy to move gear unless it’s for the right reasons (worshiping, serving, fellowship, encouraging others). I was talking with a worship pastor last year and told me that, at a conference, a bunch of worship guys were complaining about the lack of good guitar players in their church. My question is how good do you have to be to play in church? I sometimes feel like there is a drive to have the best technical players up there (even if you need to recruit from outside the church) but this can lead to jealousy/competition/hurt feelings in the church. It bums me out to hear stuff like this guy is better than this guy or get calls asking me what do I know about this new guy who popped up on the latest schedule…

    Lincoln not only rips on guitar but has a tremendous heart. I read an interview where he talked about taking a personal interest in your worship team members and not just asking them when they can play. I think he mentioned at a conference last year that they didn’t allow someone who was very technically proficient on their worship team because of a bad attitude.

  8. A few different philosophies are represented here.

    I don’t believe we’re a cuing system. I believe we’re there to host a language that will teach us all how to express as much as we can to God, and in so doing, making him the center by being able to express my full spectrum of emotions and reactions to God, not just the guys at the bar, dojo, or wherever it may be.

    Our music is to host that language. Not to distract from it, not to run over it, not to make it minimal.

  9. Yeah, I’m sure that this wasn’t exactly what was meant but I do believe we do more than give a cue to the congregation about what to sing or how to sing it. Maybe for a lot of people this is what it will be, but I think the goal is ultimately to create worshipers, or people who recognize the need to do this daily, in their personal lives…

  10. Very interesting article. I’ve never really thought about it like that because our church is VERY guitar driven anyway. Not that every service is a concert, but we can’t find a steady keyboardist (or any other instrument) so we usually go with two guitars, bass and drums.

    As far as the skill level goes, we’re blessed with very good playas.

    We are there to help the congregation worship. If you’re doing anything that distracts from that, then that’s the wrong thing.


  11. Great discussion. I wasn’t been able to jump in earlier (ever have those days where the 15 minute errand turns into 5 hours?…and no, unfortunately it wasn’t at a guitar shop…hehe), so I can’t respond individually.

    But I do want to point out that my original post was intended as something that I know I need to ask myself honestly periodically. And by honestly, I mean not just saying, ‘What a horrible thought…that can’t possibly be me’, but really digging into my heart to look for the truth.

    Secondly, it said nothing about big or small productions or big or small bands. Just our own heart. It seems that (myself included), us worship musicians tend to take anything that points out the ‘rockstar-ism’ in worship music to be against the big guitar solo, drum solo, loud volumes, and stadium worship concerts. And I have seen and been involved with plenty of big productions who’s focus was in the wrong place. And unfortunately, I’ve been involved with some big productions with my focus in the wrong place, too. But……I have also seen and been involved with some huge productions that had amazing focus, and that were extremely humble; while the next day, it’d be the guy playing his acoustic in the parking lot at an impromptu worship session that had the rockstar heart. (And that guy has been me more than a few times, I hate to admit.)

    So, both a humble heart and a rockstar heart can both be expressed in both the big stuff and the small stuff. The point is, ‘Where is my heart?’ And I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a fallible human who loves watching Coldplay rock for thousands of people…nothing wrong with that. But each time I step on stage for a ‘worship’ session…not a Christian gig, outreach gig, secular gig, coffee shop jam…that’s different; but a ‘worship’ time, I have to check my heart to make sure there’s not some small piece wanting to use the stage as my outlet for the fact that it’d be great to be Coldplay. 🙂

  12. Something that helps me alot with the simplex is…

    When I get up, walk on the stage and strum my first overdriven chord and the feelings gush inside–

    i look to the other players. The guys I play with play for the Lord yes, but show up more for the Christian/Musician companionship. We play well together, as a group. I’m not the band, but a part.

    So with these guys, when I start feeling like a Rock star, or when I want to squeal a solo— I am not rocking the audience so much as i am trying to fit the other 4 guys’ groove.

    It keeps you humble if you have an overall humble group.

    speaking of— next week a couple members are on vacation. I’m now the default acoustic rhythm. Not too much rock star in an acoustic as compared to a LesP.

    I’ll pretend to be Paul Baloche (cuz he rocks compared to Tomlin 🙂 )

  13. Good point Rhoy. ( just read your post ). I think we 2nd-guess ourselves a bit too much. I’m always asking my wife how it sounded, did the people sing, did that new song “work” etc etc etc. It’s good to question your motives, and that thought is present just about every time I lead our team in prayer before a rehearsal or set. But too much of it can rob you of joy. Maybe we need to keep King David’s approach in mind.

    2 Samuel 6:13-16 (New International Version)

    13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

  14. i would hope everyone here is beyond the self absorption thats so prevelant in the music buisness . i was sucked into it for so long but playing for my church now is my way of giving back to the one that blessed me with my musical talent in the first place ! i thank the lord every day for gifts hes given me and when i get that pang of ego on stage i smile and laugh at my self inside . humbled in his presence ill never go back to its all about me thank the lord and you karl for helping keep us grounded yes !!!!!

  15. good point Larry , everytime i get ready to rip a stand out lead im listening to the acoustics , the keys and bass and the melody is screaming please enhance this tune .then it comes from my heart and layers beautifully ( most of the time ) . i never could feel improv without a good band to play with .!

  16. It is a good question to ask and it checks our motives. The heart is what it is all about and i guess most people here would agree that i/you are happiest worshipping when I/you are playing. This normally means enjoying worship as I am using a my gift in worship, actually two gifts – music and leading. When my focus is on God I can do both well as he has gifted me to – and the result is that I enjoy worship, that people are led to worship and ultimatley that God is glorified.

    It all goes pear shapped as soon as a thought like “I wonder what i look like up hear” or “How sincere must i look when I sing that bit full on with my face screwed up…”. If we were to bare to the world some of our thoughts that we have during worship I am sure some of them would truely make us shrivel into a ball and disappear into the floor with shame… This is the battle of being a sinner serving God. He uses the foolish to confound the wise – he delights in using the weak and broken to show himself to others – he has choosen us!!

    The way we serve in music ultimatley reflects our walk with him. I have found the best i can do is just try really hard to do the best with what he has given me, and when that happens he is lifted up. it all sounds good in theory… It is really a challenge to my walk more than my musical skills.

  17. Great points, guys! Humility is key. I think the thing for me is, that I need to look really deep and find the prideful motivations I didn’t even know were there. Because of course to think we’re ‘beyond pride’ and that we’ve ‘already overcome that’ is…well, you know what’s I’m going to say. 😉

    Cam made a great point: “If we were to bare to the world some of our thoughts that we have during worship I am sure some of them would truely make us shrivel into a ball and disappear into the floor with shame… This is the battle of being a sinner serving God.”

    Are we going to try to be rockstars sometimes? Yes. We’re dumb humans serving God because for some odd reason He wants to use us. But the fact that we will mess up, is why I feel this ‘simple question’ is good to hit ourselves with every now and again.

  18. My own train of thought that’s stemming from all this: I don’t believe the enjoyment of self is wrong if it’s rooted in where the self came from. Humis, the etymological root of humility, is to be earthed and grounded, recognizing our position in the world. We can deeply enjoy who we are and what we’re doing.

    I think many of us are thinking together in concert here. Pun completely intended!

  19. To be sure, I wholeheartedly agree that we do need to recognize our own humanity in all of this…this means not only checking our hearts to make sure we’re in the right place, but also being honest and real before God…not like we can fool him anyway, even if we can fool everyone else…

    And that’s exactly why regular self-assessment is crucial…good stuff, guys!

  20. Hey Rhoy –
    Oddly enough, that passage in Mark was exactly what our pastor taught on yesterday. Cool.

    It really is a very personal thing. I should be asking myself regularly where my heart is. No one can judge that except ourselves and God. I attended a church once where they felt it their job to judge where my heart was… that was rather unpleasant.

    On a different and somewhat related topic – Something interesting happened to me this last Sunday. I wasn’t playing so I had the pleasure of being in the congregation. I found myself critiquing the band. Talent-wise, they did fine. But I caught myself saying to myself, “I would have played that differently…” and, “he’s playing the rhythm wrong”, and “I can’t hear the violin in the mix.” All this instead of actually worshiping. I felt like I cheated myself out of good worship. More importantly I felt like I cheated God out of the worship that I owed Him.

    This is not the first time I’ve done this. Yet, I can’t seem to let it go. When I hear something that bothers my ear, I am totally drawn to it and it pulls me out of worship. But this is also why I feel it is so important to put out my best when I am playing – I don’t want to be the cause of pulling somebody out of worship.

    Do you all ever have this problem?


  21. Tom, I do. I tell those voices, “Ok guys, I know I’m not going to get rid of you, but I’m going to worship. I know you’re not going away, so clammer on, but you’re going to have to do it while I’m worshipping. Hopefully you decide to worship, too.”

  22. Oh yeah, that happens to me. Sometimes it happens when I’m playing with the band. We have stage volume issues with no resolution on the immediate horizon, but for me it’s mainly our cajon player. He does his best, but I listened to full drum kits behind me for too many years. If he drops down to just emphasizing the 2 and 4 beats for me, it becomes an extremly simple ( boring for him ) rhythm. If he does what comes naturally I don’t detect the 2 and 4 from him at all, which puts the timekeeping burden on my guitar as far as I’m concerned. Which means the guitar amp is going back to church.

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