This past Sunday I had the privilege of serving a local church in my area as a guest worship leader. It was a joy to be able to work with the musicians who happen to be fantastic people and are eager to serve the church with their musical gifts in corporate worship. We had a wonderful time of fellowship during rehearsal and it was clear, while we all clearly enjoyed making music, it really was about pointing people to Jesus through song and not our individual gifts and musical ability.
I was reminded, as I have been so often over the past 6-8 months, of what a privilege it is to lead God’s people in worship. Also, what a terrifying responsibility it is as well. I’ve had moments like that this year, at different events/churches/services, where I had a profound and clear and at times, terrifying realization that I am a steward of The Gospel, entrusted to share the good news through song and to lead people through the truths found in God’s Word and as much as is humanly possible, remove barriers and help people engage during corporate worship.
Leading people is not about me and at the end of the day, it’s not even about the team that I serve with, it’s about bringing to light the truth of The Gospel in song and helping people to see that Truth in the clearest way possible.
The church happens to be a really unique place for “musicians”. Only in a “church” can a spiritually immature and musically inexperienced 18- twenty-something year old be given the chance to lead (steward The Gospel, care for people’s hearts, lead a team of equally broken people) 50-1,500 people in song and the only qualifications that are required are that they sing, play guitar and are a Christian (and often times in that order). Most bands and artists would kill for 50 people at their next show, let alone 1,500. The only 18-twenty somethings I know that are playing for that many people outside of the church are signed to a major label deal. So, your worship leader and ___________ are playing for 50-1,500 people every week and the difference is that your worship leader is in charge of caring for people’s souls and ministering the Gospel through song and ___________ ‘s job is to entertain. That’s a huge responsibility and a responsibility that I don’t think many pastors consider nearly as much as they should when they hire their next “Chris Tomlin”. As worship leaders(especially young worship leaders) and musicians in the church, we can tend to confuse leading worship and entertainment and often times the two become one and we don’t even realize it.
I’ve found that a struggle common with many worship leaders and music teams (I’ve seen it in myself), is a very subtle and sometimes not so subtle sense of entitlement that gets developed from “leading” in front of 50-1,500 people every week. We hear, “you guys should make cds!”, “I went to a Hillsong Concert last night and you sound just as good!” or “You guys could be the next Passion!” We become “local Christian rockstars” in our church communities and hear encouragement from well meaning people who are genuinely trying to encourage us because they’re blessed by our ministry.
However, such praise, while encouraging, should be taken with a grain of salt. In knowing that we are not defined by the praise and criticism we receive, that can help us put it in the proper perspective and keep our motivations and hearts pure (er). Also, such aforementioned praise can often be overblown and unrealistic and can tempt worship leaders and music teams to dreams of “Christian Worship Rockstardom” (Hillsong, Bethel, Passion, Elevation, etc.), when the calling God has placed on their lives is to serve their local church communities (which is a huge honor and privilege).
Our jobs are to serve people with The Gospel and not our music dreams and personal artistic aspirations.
One of the challenges is that often times the church is the only outlet for musicians to play and use their gifts. Not every guitar/drummer/bass player has an outlet for what they do. This is one reason why it’s so important to remind people that their job, whether tech or lead vocals, is to bring people The Gospel and as much as is possible, provide a distraction-less environment for people to encounter Jesus in.
Every song selection, set-list, lighting adjustment, tech decision, venue decision that worship leaders and music team members make should be met with the question, is this going to help people see Jesus and His Word or me and my ministry?
The reality is, is that most church bands and worship leaders (99%) are not called to the type of ministry that groups like Hillsong and Passion and others like them are called to but being called to serve the local church, whether 50 or 1,500 is an amazing privilege and responsibility that we should not take lightly as worship leaders and church musicians.
We are called to be faithful, not rock stars.