Where’s the Passion?

danceIn 2 Samuel 6, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought back into Jerusalem, David “danced… with all his might”. Take that description literally and just imagine how David looked. Undignified enough to draw the mocking of his wife Michal – but not nearly undignified enough for David to think about pulling back.

In Mark 14, a woman pours perfume on Jesus’ head. This perfume is expensive (worth “…more than year’s wages…). She didn’t hold any back (“she broke the jar…”). She drew the mocking of those around her (“they rebuked her harshly”). But Jesus was honored enough to say “she has done a beautiful thing to me”.

When I stand in front of a congregation to lead them in worship, do I resemble David or Michal? Am I worshipping “before the Lord” or too worried about my dignify? Am I willing to become “even more undignified” or do I look upon such behavior as worthy of contempt?

When I leave a service on Sunday morning, can I look back and say that I “broke the jar” – giving my all to worship Jesus? Did it cost me anything? Or did I hold back for fear of rebuke or for fear of giving up too much? Do I resemble Mary, whose worship was “beautiful” to Jesus, or the people who look upon such extravagant worship with suspicion?

Where’s the passion when I lead worship?

God deserves my whole-hearted, enthusiastic, God-glorifying, genuine, and even full-bodied singing.

The congregation is served by my example of a David-like abandon and Luke 14-like devotion.

I become a more effective worship leader when my passion for the glory of God is contagious and spreads into the congregation.

Where is your passion on Sunday morning?

If your passion is the music, it will show. You’ll contribute to a music ministry that exists to perform and a congregation that exists to hear and critique music.

If your passion is perfection you’ll contribute to a music ministry that exists to impress and a congregation that exists to applaud.

But if your passion is the glory of God, you’ll contribute to a music ministry and congregation for whom God’s glory is the goal and delight.

It’s not enough to be a good musician. Break your jar every Sunday, worship with all your might, and do it all “before the Lord”.

Ten Questions for My Worship Team – Pt. 1

growthThis past Monday night the worship team that I have the privilege and joy to lead at my church gathered for our October “tune-up night”. We typically begin at 7:30pm with pizza, drinks, and snacks, and then around 7:45 move into a time of extended and unhurried singing and prayer. After that, I’ll share some thoughts either on the practicalities or principles of worship leading, and then we’ll close by praying for our ministry together. We’ll wrap up by 9:15 and people will hang out for a while afterwards.

We started these meetings about three or four years ago and they have made a tremendous difference to our effectiveness as a worship team. It’s taken me a while to figure out how best to lead them, what night to have them on, what time they should be, what room to have them in, and how to structure them – and I’m sure they’ll keep evolving – but overall, they’ve been crucial to our growth and maturity as worship leaders.

I’ve learned that only the worship team that worships together is able to lead worship together.

For this reason, I expect every member of the worship team to make these “tune-up nights” a priority. Occasionally, because of work or family commitments, sickness, or travel, people have to miss them, but if someone is committed to serving on the worship team, their regular attendance is the primary way of displaying this commitment.

Last night, after our time of singing and prayer, I asked each member of the worship to share how and when they came to The Falls Church, when they joined the worship team, and why. It was great to hear from everyone, and I expressed my genuine appreciation for their humility and passion for God’s glory, and my gratefulness for the health of this worship team. I meant it! Then I said I wanted to challenge everyone – and I meant that too.

If we’re not intentional about growing in our gifts, dealing with our pride, and prioritizing God’s glory, we will just spin our wheels as a worship team over this coming year, and slowly lose effectiveness. We’ll go through the motions when we lead worship, our services will feel the same, the songs will feel the same, our tune-up nights will feel the same, we’ll eventually burn out, and our worship team will become unhealthy. I don’t want to see that happen, so I posed ten questions for everyone to seriously consider. If a particular question made someone uncomfortable – that’s fantastic. If not, that’s fine too.

Here are the ten questions I asked the team (this is taken from a summary I emailed to the worship team afterwards):

Do I see myself as a worship leader – or backup to Jamie?
I am not interested in leading worship with musical back-up, but with a team of worship leaders. Each member of this worship team should think of him or herself as a worship leader. This will radically change the dynamic of our team and the services in which we lead. Our priority and passion must be, along with the congregation, magnifying and encountering the greatness of God. If you’re on this team just to play music, you’re in the wrong place.

Do I sing?
This is a direct, but loving, challenge for every instrumentalist, every sound engineer, and every lyric operator on the worship team – particularly the men. If you’re consistently not singing, you’re inadvertently sending two messages: First, singing is for girls. Secondly, what we’re singing isn’t important. Shame on us if we’re sending any of those messages. We need to be sending a message, loud and clear, that we are here to proclaim and celebrate the glory of God in Jesus Christ, and that what we’re singing about has changed our lives.

I know it’s hard to sing and play an instrument at the same time. There may be times, during a particular section of a song, when you have to stop singing in order to concentrate. I understand. But try to grow in this area, however incrementally. If it means we are a little less “tight” musically for a time, I’m happy with that.

Ultimately, don’t sing because I’m making you sing. Sing because “(God) has done marvelous things!” (Psalm 98:1)

Are there physical expressions of worship encouraged in scripture that I do not display? Why?
I first heard this question phrased this way by Bob Kauflin in his seminar at the 2008 Worship God conference titled “Praising God with the Psalmist.” It’s a good and necessary question to ask. We don’t want to elevate physical expressiveness to the point where it either becomes an idol or a gauge of whether or not someone is worshipping – since we know God is first and foremost concerned with the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). But we also don’t want to ignore the overwhelming biblical support of expressiveness as being normal, appropriate and healthy as if it doesn’t matter to us at all. It does. Each one of us needs to grow in this area. If we don’t, neither will the congregation we serve.

(For your own personal study, here are some helpful scripture references dealing with different physical expressions of worship.)

  • Clapping: Psalm 47:1, Psalm 98:9, Isaiah 55:12
  • Lifting hands: Nehemiah 8:6, Psalm 28:2, Psalm 63:4, Psalm 134:2, Psalm 141:2, Lamentations 3:41, 1 Timothy 2:8
  • Dancing: 2 Samuel 6:14, Psalm 30:11, Psalm 149:3, Psalm 150:4, Ecclesiastes 3:4
  • Kneeling/bowing: Genesis 24:26, 48, 52, Nehemiah 8:6, 2 Chronicles 20:18, Psalm 5:7, Psalm 22:27, Psalm 66:4, Psalm 72:11, Psalm 95:6, Matthew 2:11, Revelation 5:8
  • Lying prostrate: 1 Kings 18:39
  • Shouting: Joshua 6:20, 2 Samuel 6:15, Ezra 3:11, Psalm 20:5, Psalm 27:6, Psalm 33:1, Psalm 33:3, Psalm 42:4, Psalm 47:1, Psalm 66:1, Psalm 71:23, Psalm 81:1, Psalm 126:2, Psalm 126:5, Psalm 132:9, Isaiah 12:6, Matthew 21:9
  • Smiling: Psalm 34:5
  • Jumping: Acts 3:8

Do I base my value as a person on how often I’m scheduled on the team?
If you’re not scheduled to sing over a four week period, do you feel crushed? If you’re scheduled to play an instrument every weekend, do you feel puffed up and validated? If the answer is “yes” or even “sort of” to either of those questions, it might be a sign that your understanding of who you are is frighteningly tied to how often you’re asked to serve on the worship team. Read through Ephesians 2 where Paul tells us how we were once “dead in (our) trespasses and sins”, “children of wrath”, “without God”, and “strangers”, – “but God… rich in mercy… lavished his grace on us.”

Our identity and value has nothing to do with how often we’re asked to serve. It has everything to do with how God gave us Jesus Christ who bore our sins, died our death, and raised us to life, and sealed us with his Spirit.

Am I comfortable (and faithful in) attending services of The Falls Church at which I am not scheduled to be on the team?
When members of a worship team begin to think that they belong on the worship team to the point that they are uncomfortable not being scheduled – or to the point that they won’t attend services unless they are – the worship team ceases to exist to serve the congregation and begins to exist for its members’ personal gratification. A worship team will only remain as humble, Christ-centered, and congregation-focused as its members.

I’ll post the last five questions tomorrow.

What They See is What You’ll Get

CongregationThey just stand there looking disinterested, disengaged, and unaffected by what they’re singing. Their bodies are stiff and their faces are stoic, betraying no emotion, no joy, and no life. Their eyes are glued to the lyrics in front of them as if they’re in a trance. The men don’t even sing. They all look uncomfortable. They look like they would rather be somewhere else. To call them “reserved” would be an understatement. They suck the energy out of the room.

And they call themselves the worship team!

It’s an interesting phenomenon for worship leaders to grab hold of: what they see is what you get.

Disinterested worship team = disinterested congregation.

Male instrumentalists not singing = men in the congregation not singing.

Zero expressiveness on the platform = zero expressiveness in the pews.

Worship leaders shouldn’t be surprised to look out and see a disinterested congregation if that’s what’s being modeled for them.

I am increasingly persuaded that this is the case: a congregation will not go beyond what they see modeled from up front.

A few months ago, I led worship for an evening session of the Anglican Church in North America’s inaugural assembly. To say that it was a challenging setting in which to lead would be an incredible understatement. We were in a crowded tent with low ceilings in the middle of summer in Texas. Five industrial-sized air conditioners lined the entire back wall going at full-blast (imagine the noise). The screens which were there to project the lyrics could hardly be seen. For many of the attendees this would be the first time they had ever heard a worship team or sung anything outside of a hymnal. The sight of drums on the platform could cause some to go into convulsions. The sight of an electric guitar could cause them to fall into a coma. During our sound-check people were plugging the ears and telling the sound engineers to “turn it down!” We had zero rehearsal. I had never played with half of the worship team before.

This was going to be interesting.

7:00pm rolled around and I welcomed the people – trying to read their faces and gauge whether or not they would even sing a single word once the songs started. We stood to sing and started off with Chris Tomlin’s “Holy is the Lord” – hoping that it would be a “new” song that most people would know.

The song began “We stand and lift our hands for the joy of the Lord is our strength.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw my electric guitarist and bass guitarist with their hands lifted in worship, singing to the Lord. Then I looked out at this group of Anglicans, who, five minutes earlier had been plugging their ears and looking a bit uncomfortable. I saw them, hundreds of them, with their hands lifted in worship, singing at the top of their lungs.

What they saw on the platform – I saw replicated in the congregation.

You can stand in the back of a room during a worship service and see this phenomenon displayed. Look at the worship team and then look at the congregation. They match!

A lot of instrumentalists and singers on worship teams don’t consider themselves “worship leaders”. They see that as the job of one person, and their job is to provide musical back-up to that person as he or she “leads worship”. That mindset leads to worship teams who just stand on a platform, with their faces buried in their music, offering no real leadership to the congregation. My goal is to cultivate members of the worship team who see their role as being a worship leader alongside me. Their musical responsibility is secondary to their primary responsibility of leading the congregation in encountering the greatness of God. When this priority is made clear, the dynamic on your worship team and in your services will change.

Look in the mirror the next time you lead worship. What do you see?

Video Clip – Physical Expressiveness Being Modeled

I came across this video a few years ago of the flautist Pedro Eustache playing an instrumental version of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” at a conference at The Church on the Way in California. He’s obviously a very talented musician (he switches between four different types of woodwind instruments in this video), but the thing that stands out the most to me is his example of physical expressiveness.

Towards the end of the video, around the 4:50 mark, as the song comes to a close, look at how Pedro models physical expressiveness – and the effect it has on the congregation.

You can’t understand a word coming out of his mouth – but you know what he’s saying. His body is sending a clear message: he is caught up in the glory of God.

May we send the same message with our bodies as we stand before our congregations this Sunday.

Physical Expressiveness in the Context of a Formal Church

worshipteam1At the recent worship conference hosted by Sovereign Grace Ministries, Bob Kauflin taught a seminar on the importance on physical expressiveness in corporate worship titled “Let the People Be Glad: Corporate Worship and Expressiveness”. It was a biblical, balanced, challenging, and important message. You can download the message here and I suggest that you do!

Recently on his blog Worship Matters, Bob posted on “The Passionate Preaching of John Piper” to provide an example of the kind of expressiveness worship leaders should seek to model. A reader left a comment on that post and said:

I attend a very non-expressive church with traditional/formal music where physical expression would seem out of place to a lot/most people. I’ve held back much of the physical praise my heart has desired to show out of fear and am just now realizing how much the fear of man has hindered my worship to God. The question I have to wrestle through now is how do I worship God with my whole being as I long to do, yet also be aware and sensitive to the body of Christ that I worship with? There is a balance of edification and focus on God and I’m seeking to find it in my specific context!”

Having been born and raised in the Episcopal/Anglican church, I know how this reader feels. I’d like to suggest how a person who attends a church where physical expression in worship is not the norm could respond.

First, humility.

In John Piper’s recent sermon, “Greatness, Humility, Servanthood”, he explains why humility is of the utmost importance to Christians:

Every good thing in the Christian life grows in the soil of humility. Without humility, every virtue and every grace withers. That’s why Calvin said humility is first, second, and third in the Christian faith. And he could have said fourth, fifth, sixth, and more. It is pervasively effective.”

It’s frighteningly easy for me to become proud when, as someone who is comfortable with physical expressiveness in corporate worship, I am in a room full of people who are not. Within a matter of seconds I can size them up to be spiritually dry, uninterested, hard-hearted, and stubborn. I immediately consider myself more “worshipful” than them, and allow arrogance to fester in my heart.

When presented with this scenario – being in a worship service with people who are not physically expressive – my first, second, and third priority needs to be humility. Only in that soil will a love for them grow. Once I love them, I won’t be afraid of them, and my desire will be to serve them.

Second, priority.

In 2 Samuel 6:5-23, When David danced in the streets as the Ark of the Covenant was brought back into Jerusalem, his wife not only “despised him in her heart” (verse 16), but she mocked him to his face saying “how the King of Israel honored himself today… as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” (verse 20). David’s reply is astounding. “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord – and I will make merry before the Lord. I will make myself more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes” (verse 22a).

There are, at least, two important things for me to learn from what David says to Michal.

My physical expressiveness should be “before the Lord”. People might look at me strangely. I may become known as “that person who always lifts his hands”. It doesn’t matter. It is “before the Lord”.

Am I willing to become “more contemptible than this”? This is a reputation-shattering statement – and that’s the point. My own glory is meaningless when I am caught up in the glory of God. May my own glory – as pitiful as it is – matter less and less and less – so that I might be free to even dance “with all [my] might” (verse 14b).

Third, sensitivity.

If I’m attending a Sovereign Grace worship conference, I can lift my hands, dance, shout, and clap, (maybe even do it all at the same time!) and most likely no one will notice. Physical expressiveness is the norm, so I’m probably more likely to stand out if I’m sitting down with my arms folded.

However, if I’m attending an 8:30am service at a traditional church and I start lifting my hands, dancing, shouting, and clapping during the opening him, I could not only disrupt the service, but I could distract those around me. Sensitivity is key, and sensitivity is a form of wisdom. Since “the Lord gives wisdom” (Proverbs 2:6), ask him to show you what to do.

Only you, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can discern at what point your physical expressiveness crosses the line between heartfelt, God-centered expressiveness and heartfelt, God-centered, carried away-ness.

I would suggest that, to start with, you would only go one step beyond where the congregation is. If there is zero physical expressiveness happening, start with your countenance. Then the next week, maybe lift a hand or two. Slowly, you’ll get more comfortable and bold with being expressive in that environment, the people around you will not be distracted by your eagerness and all-at-once approach, and you may be surprised that others start feeling more free to express themselves in similar ways because you have broken the ice.

Fourth, patience.

It’s highly unlikely that your church will change overnight from one in which physical expressiveness is not the norm to one in which it is. It’s probably even unlikely that it will change drastically in a year. I’ve been at my church for five years and we still have a long way to go. But, thanks be to God, we have grown in this area.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:4 that “love is patient…” Love your congregation by being patient with them.

Finally, boldness.

When Sunday morning rolls around, the opening hymn starts, and no one around you is displaying even the slightest hint of physical expressiveness except for when they sneeze, lifting one hand or clapping on one measure will take a tremendous amount of courage. Be encouraged by 2 Timothy 1:7, that: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”.

Those are three of the things you’ll need the most in that moment. The power to express yourself physically when no one else is, the love to look at those around you not with arrogance but with humility, and the self-control to know how to be sensitive.

Martyn Minns was my pastor for many years when I was in high school and college, and now he’s my bishop. I’ve always respected and admired his ability to model physical expressiveness in the context of a more formal church. He isn’t afraid to move his body, lift his hands, and bang on his tambourine. He faces his fair share of criticism for it – but God uses his example to change the climate in churches.

MartynExampleThis picture of him from the late 1980’s shows what I’m talking about. There he is, as the new pastor of a church in downtown New York City, front and center, with his hands lifted in worship. And there’s his bishop behind him, looking at him like he has three heads.

I love it.

Those of us who stand in the congregation or stand in leadership at a church where physical expressiveness is not the norm are there for a reason. Sunday by Sunday, God will use our humble example for his glory.

Do You “Worship” When You’re Not “Leading Worship”?

judgeLast week I enjoyed some great time off with my wife, visiting family in central and south Florida, and on Saturday night we went to a service at the church where my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins are members.

It’s always refreshing for me to visit other churches – not having to pick the songs, not knowing what’s coming next, learning things, getting ideas, feeling what it’s like to be a visitor, etc.

It can also be a challenge for me to visit other churches – trying to not be critical, fighting pride, not comparing ways I think I could do a better job or ways I would do a worse job, etc.

I thought the worship leader and worship team did a great job at the service we attended. They were prepared, engaged, expressive, skillful, and tasteful. I had the joy of meeting the worship leader after the service and he was a kind and humble guy.

But going into the service, I had no idea what to expect. What if the worship team was unprepared, disengaged, made up of really weak musicians, and played really loud? What if the songs were poorly chosen? What if the worship leader had a lot of ticks? What if no one in my family sang along or was comfortable with being physically expressive?

As I drove to church with these questions on my mind, God reminded me that none of the questions mattered. Only one thing mattered: he is unceasingly and unconditionally worthy of worship – whether the band is good or the band is bad. Whether the songs are great or the songs are horrible. Whether the worship leader is experienced and skilled or inexperienced and riddled with ticks. He deserves my worship. God is not interested in picky worshipers who will only do so when all their preferences are catered to. Rather, these are the “…kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his worshippers must worship him in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23b, 24)

My guess is that all of us who have a role in leading corporate worship in our home churches could always grow in this area. It’s not a good sign if, when you’re not the one leading worship or visiting another church, you become Simon Cowell. “I would have done that differently.” “This is a dumb song.” “Why is that guy leading worship?” “I can’t hear the bass.” Fill in your own critical statement here.

It’s also not a good sign when you’re engaged in singing and worshipping God with passion and conviction when you’re up front – but then doing the exact opposite when you’re not.

God calls that pride – and he is clear on what pride will bring about. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2) “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) “‘Scoffer’ is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.” (Proverbs 21:24)

You and I will be fighting pride until the day we’re in heaven. Until then, it’s a good idea for us to pray for God to be making us humble, and making us worshipers who will worship him in Spirit and truth.

It was an incredibly freeing experience for me to turn off my critiquing, put aside my silly “what-if’s”, fix my eyes of the worthiness and glory of God, and sing to him from the congregation. Hopefully, by God’s grace, I’ll be a more humble and genuine worship leader because of it.

Handling Awkward Moments – Clapping After a Song

Yesterday morning we began our service with the hymn “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven” (verse 1, 2, 3, and 5) as the first song of the opening set. The worship team played well on the song, and the congregation seemed to be engaged as we all sang. When the song ended, we had a brief “awkward moment” when a small number of people scattered around started clapping/applauding, without it catching on more widely in the congregation.

You’ve probably experienced this in your own setting, when a song ends and a few people start clapping, the rest of the congregation doesn’t know what to do, and it ends up just fizzling out. It’s hard to know quite what to do.

I think there are a few ways you can handle this.

Yesterday, I encouraged it and pointed it in the right direction. When I heard the clapping start and could tell it was sputtering, I went ahead and said “Let’s do that – let’s offer our applause to our everlasting King”. Then as we clapped I spoke over it saying things like “Lord, we do applaud your greatness” or “we praise you this morning, merciful God”. This (I hope) helped (1) encourage a biblical expression of praise, and (2) focus people on the fact that our clapping was directed to God, not just “filler”.

Other times, it’s more appropriate to just let it go. I’ve been in settings when we’ve finished up a song and a few people started clapping, but I didn’t feel it was necessary to encourage everyone to respond in that way. I suppose it might be awkward and/or a bit bumpy for a few moments, but there’s no need for me to rush in and try to smooth it over. Let it go and transition into whatever is next.

Now and then, with care, worship leaders might need to gently discourage it, particularly if it has become a mindless, perfunctory reflex after every song. I wouldn’t suggest you try to stop the clapping once it has already started, but instead try to discourage it preemptively. Perhaps you could say something like “we’re going to sing this verse once more, and then let’s be silent before God for a few moments”. Try to be sensitive to whether or not there are ways your congregation is responding on auto-pilot, and then gently wake them up. When we clap it should be intentional and God-focused. If it’s not, we’re better off not doing it.

The best way to handle the awkward moments when there’s a nervous sputtering of clapping is to make sure we’re helping the congregation think biblically about clapping. It’s not for the band, it’s not “filler” to give the guitarist time to move his or her capo, and it’s not something we have to do after every song. If you don’t clap we won’t look down on you. Your salvation doesn’t depend upon your clapping. We won’t excessively focus on it. But it is an expression of praise commanded in scripture (Psalm 47:1), and therefore it’s perfectly appropriate and should be encouraged.