Some Sundays just really work. The songs you choose are just right, the band plays well, the sound system sounds really good, you can hear each other, the congregation is engaged and enthusiastic, there is a sense of the Holy Spirit being at work, people are encountering the glory of God, and you’re actually enjoying yourself.
Some Sundays just don’t seem to work at all. The songs fall flat, it would be a stretch to call the musicians a “band”, the sound system feeds back every three minutes, you can’t hear yourself, the congregation resembles a room full of wax figures, it feels dry to you, people are distracted, and you’d rather be getting a root canal.
Most Sundays, though, are somewhere in between. They’re neither awesome nor awful, they just feel kind of average. Some songs work while some songs don’t, the band plays well enough to get by without any train wrecks, sound is coming out of the speakers, you can sort of hear yourself, some people in the congregation seem to be engaged while others look bored out of their minds, you’re trying to discern how the Holy Spirit is at work, and you’re not quite sure what to think when you get in your car to drive home. You get an email from someone who just loved it – and another email from someone who hated it. Lovely.
Worship leaders get into trouble when they expect every service to resemble the upper room at Pentecost. Three things end up happening. First, they try to do what worked last time. Second, if it doesn’t work, they force it to. And third, they get frustrated with the congregation for not responding like they think they should.
This worship leader is the boss, and when things don’t happen like he or she says they should happen, it’s someone’s fault. If only the band had played this way, if only this song had been sung, if only there were more people, if only the Pastor did this, if only people got their act together, and if only God would do what I want him to do.
And this worship leader ends up getting burned out after a couple of years (if not earlier), and either quits or goes to another church expecting it to be better there. It’s not.
It is disappointing to put a lot of work into a service, only to have it fall flat. We wonder what we could have done differently, what went wrong, and whether next week will be any better.
But the sooner we realize that we are not in control, the better off we’ll be.
Yes, our planning, preparation, and prayer are all critically important. But we’re delusional if we think that any of them qualify us to be the ones who decide how and when God is at work. We’ll either manufacture or quench a genuine move of the Holy Spirit, imposing our demand for an “awesome” service onto the congregation. It would be good for us to ask in these situations, “who do we think we are?”
God asked Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7) He goes on. And on. Job answers in chapter 42: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…”
As I walk away from a service that felt average, or really bad, wondering why it didn’t seem to go as well as a previous week, I hear God whisper in my ear: “where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”
To say that I cannot contend with the sovereignty of God is the understatement of the century. But it’s true. Who do I think I am – that I would be so powerful as to control when and how God moves, or when and how people encounter Him?
Have you ever wondered why, on the Sundays when you’re the most prepared, things seem to fall flat, while oftentimes on the Sundays you’re the least prepared things seem to go really well? Perhaps it’s because our preparation can lead to an arrogance which has us believe that we’re the ones in control.
If I’m in control of a service – then step back – it’s going to be really bad.
If God’s in control of a service – then whether or not we can see it with our eyes – it’s going to be awesome.
We cannot see or even comprehend how God is at work when we gather together. All we can do is be faithful – in our preparation and leadership – and beg him to use us for his purposes. Then, and only then, will we know the joy of leading people in worshipping God in song, in the freedom that “(God) can do all things, and no purpose of (his) can be thwarted”.