When Your Congregation Isn’t Into it

Few things are more discouraging, disheartening, and demoralizing for a worship leader than leading a congregation in half-hearted, disengaged, bored singing week after week after week. This will do strange things to a worship leader’s heart, head, and leadership. He might experience temporary times of lift-off, maybe his first Sunday back from a worship conference, or a Sunday when for no reason at all everything feels awesome, only to return to the frozen tundra the next week with a thud.

Obviously, the more anchored a worship leader is, the less susceptible he will be to the normal ebb and flow and ups and downs of leading a congregation. But even the most seasoned, refined, smooth, mature, seen-it-all worship leader will experience thoughts along these lines when looking out at a congregation with the enthusiasm level of people waiting in line at the DMV:

“Would anyone care if I just stopped this song right now?”
“Why in the world did I pick this song?”
“I must stink as a worship leader.”
“Where is the reset button?”
“What is wrong with these people?”
“Is God even here right now?”
“I need to juice this service up somehow.”
“These people will never get it.”

And some (all?) worship leaders who experience these thoughts start to respond by doing impulsive things:

Pick really intense songs the next week in hopes that those really get people going.
Interrupt the time of singing to give a mini, unplanned, spontaneous, unhelpful
sermonette.

Shout out things like “come on!” or “here we go!” or “let me hear you” or “are you not
impressed?” (OK, maybe not the last one, although I have been tempted on many
occasions to use it.)

Revert to safe, tried and true oldie goldies.
Do what worked at the conference/concert/stadium.
Close your eyes and just go for it on your own, whether or not people are with you.
Tell people what to do.

And when none of your quick fixes seem to make any long lasting change you start to get discouraged. You lower your expectations. You get stuck on the spin cycle of worship leading. You’re not really motivated to try very hard anymore. You’re not particularly excited to lead worship but you do it. And once in a while there’s a bit of take-off, but mostly you’re on the tundra, but the prospect of taking off keeps you coming back.

(Some worship leaders don’t have to do deal with this. Their congregations are ready to blast off every Sunday. These worship leaders are like the kids in school who were really good at math and could also play sports and had nice clothes and were tall and got elected class president. They have it easy now, but just wait until they grow up and lose all their hair!)

Seriously, though, I think most worship leaders on planet earth experience what I’m describing. I’m not talking about one Sunday or one song when the congregation seems out it. I’m talking about weeks, months, and years in a row of seeing very little, if any at all, outward/apparent/obvious growth and enthusiasm in corporate worship. It can suck the energy out of you, little by little, Sunday by Sunday, and before you know it you’ve given up hope.

I think there are a few things worship leaders forget.

God is working his purpose out. You might not be able to see it. Actually, you probably can’t. You have no idea what’s bubbling underneath. Your faithfulness and your perseverance as a worship leader is water to the seeds buried deep underground. You can’t see the roots that are being laid.

You can’t base everything on what you see. Yes, what you see is important. But it’s not everything. You could have months and months of services that appear, outwardly, to be stale. But God may very well be working under the surface in ways invisible to you.

Outward physical expressiveness in worship is gratifying to a worship leader, but if it’s not an outgrowth of genuine worship, it’s not honoring to God. The foundation of a house is the most important thing. But you never see it. If the foundation is solid, then you can add things on top of it that will be secure. The same principle applies to worship. Physical expressiveness and outward engagement is important but it’s not the foundation. If all you focus on from week to week is getting the congregation “into it” to your satisfaction, then you’re veering close to emotionalism and manipulation.

I’ve used this before, but I love the analogy of a worship leader acting like a tour guide at the grand canyon. Your job isn’t to dictate how people respond to the beauty they’re beholding (i.e. “open your mouth and gasp now!” or “be amazed! Turn to your children and say ‘the grand canyon is amazing!’”). Your job is to point people to the beauty they’re beholding and then get out the way.

Worship leaders will become discouraged, disheartened and demoralized when their congregation regularly looks like they’d rather watch “Cars 2” on the tour bus then look at the awesome Grand Canyon. Especially when you’ve been leading the same group around for a few years.

Take a step back. It’s not all up to you, but is there anything you can do differently? Probably. Lower your demands for how people should respond. Instead of looking for an immediate response, aim to take people deeper and farther in to the beauty of Jesus. Don’t rely on a little sermonette to do the trick. Rely on Scripture – the sword of the Spirit – to wield its power. Don’t compare your congregation to other congregations. God has placed you where he’s placed you for a reason. For his glory. And his glory will keep us motivated through all the ups and downs.

7 thoughts on “When Your Congregation Isn’t Into it

  1. Ben January 20, 2012 / 12:59 pm

    Thanks, Jamie – good encouragement for the post-Advent doldrums…

  2. JNadel January 20, 2012 / 2:41 pm

    Nice. Very encouraging. Really liked the analogy of the Grand Canyon.

  3. Chris Gambill January 22, 2012 / 11:04 pm

    Thank you so very much for this reminder. Very timely for what’s going on where I’m serving right now. The tour guide analogy is a great picture, and one that I really liked.

    • adrienne January 23, 2012 / 11:29 pm

      Thanks for reminding I’m not alone in having these thoughts and feelings. God bless you 🙂

      • Caroline February 5, 2012 / 4:32 pm

        I just had a really bad worship session this Sunday morning and what I have read here has really encouraged me. I dont know how I will face the people I know in the congregation when next I meet them (I had thought seriously about moving to China) but I now think I will survive. Thank you…

      • Jamie Brown February 5, 2012 / 4:38 pm

        Oh yes, you’ll survive, Caroline.

        And I think of moving to China about once every six Sundays. You’re not alone! Just keep on being faithful.

  4. Shauna January 28, 2013 / 11:26 am

    Really, REALLY needed this today. Big time! Thanks for helping me to put things into right and proper perspective. (:

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