We’ve all experienced that awkward moment when someone tries to say something nice about you but you take it as an insult. You’re not quite sure how to take it, how to respond, or how to process what they’ve said.
Several years ago I was having a conversation with someone I knew fairly well, and this person attempted to encourage me about my worship leading by saying: “Jamie, the thing about your worship leading is that no one walks away from one of your services thinking to themselves ‘wow, he’s a great musician‘”.
I know what the person was trying to say. I know the heart behind it. They were trying to say that I didn’t draw attention to myself. There is no higher compliment that can be paid to a worship leader than that. The problem wasn’t with what they said or even how they said it. The problem was with my heart: I wanted my musicianship to be admired.
I didn’t want my musicianship to be admired too much, of course. But I didn’t want my musicianship to be admired too little, either. And that was what I was afraid was happening. I was afraid that people didn’t appreciate me for the musician that I am. And I’m sure you can’t relate to what I’m saying at all.
We can’t blame it on our artistic temperament. We can blame it on our sinful nature. We want to be the ones lifted high and exalted. And so we feed our desire for adoration with a sometimes-subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle attitude from the platform that basically says to the congregation “and now please admire my musicianship”. While I play this solo, while I do this postlude, while I play five instruments in one service, while I use six different tunings on one song, while I do a three-minute song introduction, while I do this song in a key that’s terrible for most voices but amazing for mine, while I sing this song that no one could ever sing along to and that’s kind of the point, or while I fill all the musical spaces instead of letting someone else.
And so on. We can get really good at doing little things to help people remember and appreciate that they’re really quite fortunate to hear us every Sunday. Lord, have mercy!
When my friend said those encouraging words to me and I took them as an insult, the Holy Spirit was putting his finger on an area of recurrent pride, that if not called out and killed, will grow into a ministry-destroying monster. It’s like those pesky weeds outside my house that never want to go away. I can either feed them or I can destroy them. There’s not really a third option.
Of course you’d never think of actually saying the words “and now please admire my musicianship” on a Sunday morning. That’s too blatantly egotistical! But those might be the very words you send without even realizing it.
Examine yourself. Simplify your leadership. You don’t need to do, in one service, all that you’re capable of doing. You don’t need to operate within the full parameters of your musical gifting every Sunday. No one needs to know how versatile you are. Is that glissando really necessary or do just want to sound awesome? Tie one hand behind your back if you need to. Whatever it takes.
May it be said of us very often: no one walks away from our services thinking “wow, what a great musician”. They walk away thinking “wow, what a great God”. We have got to decrease, my friends. For God’s sake, we must.