I am a worship leader. It’s a noble profession. Every week, I have the opportunity and distinct privilege of leading a crowd of people to lift their voices to God. People gather from every walk of life, bringing their strengths and weaknesses, their abilities and shortcomings… all for the desire to praise God for his faithfulness and love for them. Like the chief musicians who led the processional with singing in ancient days, I often get the frightening and humbling task of using music and song to tread mere inches ahead of the pack, with the hope of ushering them into an experience in worship. They are looking to me for some measure of direction, some degree of guidance—some destination where hearts are settled, fears are calmed, and where true joy is found.
This is serious business. It requires a leader to be gracious yet assertive, confident yet humble, a leader yet also a follower. If we are honest, there are times when our pride gets the best of us. There are moments when we think awful highly of our own accomplishments. When the lights are on, and the choirs and instrumentalists are clicking on all cylinders, we want to sound our best, to look our best; and if all goes well – people will notice. They don’t want a worship leader to be a consummate performing artist, polished and well-versed in entertaining the masses. But rather, they are there to be led. To be fed. And we as worship leaders are there to come along side of them, walk at their speed, sing with their song, and turn their hearts toward home. So why is it that in my occasional travels and guest leading opportunities, I hear so many people complain about their music pastors in their churches? Why is it that so many people have grown cold to the church services, because it’s turned into one big “show”? I humbly submit that we may be the ones to blame.
A church music program can often rise or fall on the convictions and practices of the leaders. If the leaders in music are there to stroke their egos, then the program will reflect that. If a worship leader sees the church as a venue to showcase his or her talent, then that’s what you will probably get—a showcase. The purpose of this article is to help us as worship leaders realize that God has given us a platform for ministry, not a stage for performing.
Now, let me clarify. Having good and appropriate performance skills as a worship leader, and to have occasional performance elements in our services is not a bad thing. As a worship leader, I would be hard pressed to step completely out of the way and resort to leading the congregation hiding in the balcony, unseen and invisible lest anyone focus on me. In fact, I am a firm believer in quality; and a well-rehearsed, professional sounding and looking group speaks volumes to the leader’s devotion and dedication to excellence and worship. But, there is a fine line, isn’t there? A stage is meant for performing. Anyone with a bizarre, basket-full of talent can perform on a stage. One look at the “stupid human tricks” segment of the Dave Letterman show should convince you that there is a stage for just about everyone and everything. But a platform is so much more..
A platform means that you have been entrusted with something precious… that you have been given a gift. A platform requires us to be stewards of other people’s gifts, not just our own. If God entrusts us with a platform, it is with fear and trembling that we should hold it. If we are called to be a worship leader, then the spotlight needs to be shut off. Or at the very least, turned around. The real spotlight is on Christ, present and alive in his congregation. A platform is a place where we can serve. A stage exists only to serve itself.
As we lead God’s people in worship through the arts, let us not forget that the place of highest calling may very well have the lowest lighting. The spotlight needs to be turned around. Only then will the God of our song shine more brightly, radiate more clearly, and resound more profoundly in the hearts of those who seek him.
Tom Grassi is Minister of Worship & Music at Christ Presbyterian Church of Nashville, TN
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