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Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Lead Worshiper" or "Worship Leader"

Many times when we think of “worship leaders” the image of someone on stage with a guitar and microphone are the first things that come to mind.  Consciously or unconsciously this image becomes a model from which we measure what we or others do as worship is led. I would like to refocus and rethink some issues that I pray will have life-changing implications. Just as a biblical understanding of worship can change how we approach a Sunday worship service, so a biblical understanding of what God desires can help remold our thinking about leading worship. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome:

    I plead and beg you by God’s mercies, to present yourselves as a pure and holy sacrifice to God, which is the rational thing to do when you think of all that God has done. Don’t allow the culture of this age to mold you into its way of thinking and reasoning, but allow God’s Word and way transform how you think and act, for this is pleasing to God. {Rom. 12:1-2, my paraphrase}

Paul was writing to a group of believers who needed to know how to grow in their faith in the midst of a pagan culture that was cruel, carnal and careless. More perhaps than in any other time in recent history, the Church today needs to hear the Apostle’s words. We need a change of character brought about through changing how we think. We live in a society that lusts for entertainment, self gratification, and self indulgence and has successfully projected its philosophy into the Church itself, and unfortunately, this influence has spread into some of the very leadership of Christ’s body.

Satan has been so successful in this implementation because he uses partial truth. He promotes a pastoral leadership style that is “my way or the highway,” taking the prophetic role of the pastor and divorcing it from the servant leader model that Jesus gave. He promotes those leading worship to model themselves after “other professional entertainers” that know how to manipulate the crowds for maximum response, rather than be the transparent bridge and facilitator that reveals only Jesus. Satan’s model for leadership promotes ambition for power,  prestige and the measuring of greatness as having the largest crowds at concerts and sales of recordings, and a “serve me” mentality, while Scripture teaches that greatness comes from serving others. Time and space limit the study here, but Scripture presents the leadership model of Jesus as one who taught with authority and served the other disciples. Biblical worship leadership is not based on how excited the crowd gets, or how loud the music and singing are, but how transparently Jesus is seen and magnified.
I praise God for many pastors and worship leaders who have not succumbed, but there exists the temptation to assume that power and prestige come from position. True power comes not from a position one might have, but from the Spirit of God lived through the life and character of that person. The power that leadership affords is not a power to do what we desire, but the power to do what is right, being what we should be and doing what we should do. Biblical leadership is not dependent on how many people “jump when we say ‘frog,’” but how much of the very nature and character of Christ is evident in how we relate with one another. True prestige is being approved by God.

Over and over Paul encourages this development of character through the surrender of our will:
    ✞ In 1 Corinthians 13, though we are articulate in various languages, and know everything about everything, and do not relate to one another in the love of Christ, we are nothing.
    ✞ In 2 Corinthians 12, God tells Paul that in difficulty His grace is sufficient and that it is not through our greatness, but weakness that God’s power is revealed.
    ✞ In Galatians 4:19, Paul relates that he is like a mother in labor until “Christ is formed in you.”
    ✞ In Ephesians 1:4, before the foundations of the world we were chosen to be holy and blameless in His sight.
    ✞ In 2:8-10, we are saved by grace through faith for God’s purposes.
    ✞ In Philippians 1:6, we understand that God’s work in our character is a process that He himself is working on.
    ✞ In Philippians 2:5-11, we are called to let the attitude that was in Christ be ours.
    ✞ In Philippians 4:8-10, Paul gives us the beginnings of how to reshape the pattern of our thoughts.
    ✞  In 1 Thessalonians 1:5-12, Paul reminds them that he didn’t come trying to impress them with fancy words, but with love lived out for their benefit.
    ✞ In 1 Timothy 3, as Paul shares qualifications for church leaders, his emphasis is on their character; make no mistake, correct doctrine is important and Paul covers that throughout the letter, but sometimes we pass up the other, relegating it only to those times when we ordain a pastor or deacon. Godly character is required of leadership.
    ✞ In 2 Timothy 2:14-15, Paul urges the young leader not to argue about words, but to live in a way that is approved by God, both by what you do and say.
    ✞ Again in Titus, Paul links right doctrine with right living.

Please pardon these generalizations; I am not trying to say that this is the only thing taught in these remarkable letters from Paul. I am saying that we may be guilty of passing by some of their truth. We must have right doctrine, but as Paul reminded us in 1 Corinthians, right doctrine in and of itself is not enough. As leaders, God has called us to relate with people reflecting His nature and character, not just talk at them.

As leaders we must be careful to avoid equating knowledge of God’s Word with the practice of God’s Word. Knowing that we should respond in love in not the same as actually doing it. As we put Scriptural principles into real life, they will reflect the nature and character of Christ as we relate to one another. This process takes time and requires a constant willingness to allow God’s Spirit to work on the rough edges of lives, our thought patterns and personalities.

Just because we are in a position of leadership does not mean that we are always right. One example that reminds me of the transformation of character is that of the apostle John. As a young man following Christ, he was named one of the “Sons of Thunder,” ready to call down disaster on anyone not in line with what they were doing. Jesus rebuked him and James, and continued showing them what He was all about and what was really important. By the end of John’s life, he was known as the “disciple of love,” as he admonished the Christians in his last 3 letters time and time again to “love one another.” What might have happened in the time between the “Son of Thunder” and the “disciple of love” we may not know for sure, but there are a few things that are known. Jesus continued to live out His life as a servant leader, though He was Lord of the universe. In addition, the road to the cross and resurrection left indelible marks on the young disciple that never left his memory. As his experiences of life grew in number, so did his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s prompting for change and learning how to respond in love.

One of the leader’s greatest dangers is the belief that one has arrived at a point where change is not necessary. I have heard it countless times through the years in statements like: “that’s just the way I am...”, “that’s just not me...” and “I tried that and it didn’t work...” I have seen these individuals go from one place of service to the next, always blaming someone else for failures. Is it possible that God had led them to that difficult place to help smooth out some of the rough spots in their character, but rather than be willing to change, they just kept on running to the next place, convinced that if they were somewhere else that things would be better? God is more interested in our character development than our convenience, He is more committed to forming Christ’s nature and character in our lives, than leading us to a place with “no problems.” We dare not fall into the trap of “entitlement,” where we tell God that after all we have given up to follow Him, He owes us a good place to serve; that after all the sacrifices our family has had to make, we deserve only the best. Such a line of reasoning is not from the Holy Spirit of God.

In the years that God has allowed me to minister, I have seen scores of promising leaders go down in the flames of their own pride and stubbornness. Many others just give up the ministry after having been burned too many times or burned out in the process. Still others in their carelessness, disregarded little lusts in their lives and home and families were destroyed. With all the love of Christ possible, with tears of grief over so many that have fallen by the way, I am asking, pleading for all of us to stop and take account. There should be regular periods of checkups in our lives as well as accountability to others. Each year there must be a deepening of the relationship as well as depth of knowledge. As long as we have clay feet, this will be a struggle, but a struggle well worth the effort.  In this way we can become, as I read once, “Lead Worshipers,” not just “Worship Leaders.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ten Challenges Facing Worship Leader Training

Top Ten lists are popular, perhaps because of curiosity or conciseness, but here’s one more that centers around the challenges facing the training of worship leaders. Comments and suggestions are  welcome. Despite the fact they are listed in a specific order, I’m not trying to say which is the greatest or least; it is simply a listing.

1. Need to embrace multi-generational worship –  The biblical model of worship is one of unity in diversity, not segregation based on likes and dislikes. The Body of Christ consists of many members, all with a God-called function. The foundation of the local body of believers must be deeper than collective personal tastes, it must be rooted in the common purpose of carrying out the mission of our Lord. Those involved in worship and worship training must be at the forefront of bringing the Body together, not pushing to fragment it.

2. “It’s all about me” Mentality – The Body of Christ finds itself buried in a self-absorbed culture. Virtually everything around us is designed for “our convenience” or to “have it our way.” What might have been a goal for a previous generation has become a right that they are entitled to have and demand. This sense of entitlement is seen in the challenge of multi-generational worship. Training worship leaders must address attitudes that would demand of worship what they would demand of a hamburger. The truth is, “it’s not all about me, it’s all about God.”

3. Need that overwhelms supply –
Simply put, there appears to be more churches looking for leaders in worship than the number of leaders available. The need seems great enough that churches will look for almost anyone who can do it, whether or not they have formal training. This could be rooted in many causes besides just great need. For example, there still exists a perception that formal training “ruins” someone for the local church. Some church leadership may fear that formal training makes the candidate out of touch with the average member. Such attitudes were based from those who attempted to convert the musical mission of the congregation to a music appreciation class, rather than use the training to enhance biblical worship. The “need that overwhelms supply” could also be a result of churches not willing to search for a qualified candidate and a willingness to settle for whoever comes along. Both of these issues must be addressed in formal training. Worship is worth the effort to have someone leading who truly understands, practices and helps train others in biblical worship. The central focus of training will involve studies outside the direct use in the local church, however those studies should never become the end in themselves, but the means to biblical purposes.

4. Lack of understanding of what biblical worship is – If I were to choose one among the rest as the one I would stress to be a focus in the local church as well as those leading, this would be it. Confusion reigns as to what worship is and what the Bible teaches. Classes for new converts need to include this in the material. Many times I hear students parrot back to me that they understand that “worship is not the music,” however  when it comes to applying or analyzing actual practice, the understanding is not really demonstrated.  Leadership cannot take others where they have not been, nor can they lead and train others without the clarity of the objective. As worship leaders are trained, information must become life practice; biblical worship must become more than the answers on an exam, but the essential practice of the leader.

5. Entertainment/performance  mentality – If there is a clear understanding of what worship is and who the central focus is, clarifying the difference between worship and entertainment is simplified.  Entertainment or performance is geared toward audience approval, many times preplanned with those things that manipulate the listeners for effect.  In worship, the focus is not on the “performer” or the congregation, but on God and God alone. The message should be in a format that is understandable, [not repeating the error of  the church in medieval times which had services in Latin, even though the congregation could not understanding what was going on],  but God must remain the central focus. Worship leadership must lean on the work and moving of the Holy Spirit and not on attempts to manipulate through other means.  Part of the formal training of worship leadership is training in the performance arts, since there is a need to learn how to become an effective communicator of the message through the medium given. However, if those involved shift their understanding that their true audience is God, those things “performed” become sacrifices of praise rendered to the only One who is worthy to receive them.

6. Enrollment driven curricula – Obviously schools are dependent on student enrollment for survival, so there exists a constant pressure to maintain, and even increase enrollment. Schools that only depend on reputations of past accomplishments or become careless about recruitment, may find themselves in difficult circumstances over a period of time. One way to attract new students is making available a curricula that appeals to the individual likes of prospective students. Flexibility in classes and class delivery systems is no longer a luxury, but necessity in a tight economy and a “have it your way” culture.  As important as these things are, there are some potential dangers that exist in following these ideas without restrictions. Allowing students to only take the courses they believe they need or might need might increase enrollment, but amounts to the patient taking the medicine he or she thinks will help, without consulting those who are trained to prescribe it.  How many people would choose to go to a medical doctor who took only the classes he or she wanted to take? There must be a standard developed by those who know the needs and the field.  In the world of education, accrediting agencies aid some in this way, but the school has the final say whether or not they will choose to submit to accepted standards.  There are few substitutes for hard work and discipline, and many seeking training in worship leadership seek the easiest and quickest way. Perhaps that is one reason that worship training conferences have become big business. Conferences that serve for inspiration have become the bestowers of certificates that imply “the training you need for leading worship” all in just three days, something similar. How much more effective it would be for these conferences to be the catalysts to promote further preparation, rather than pretend to be its culmination? Another danger in pushing the enrollment envelope is reflected in the recent fiasco of the Toyota car company: the drive to produce more and more without maintaining the quality and quality checks of the end product. All the boasting of being the number one car maker was converted into the humiliating spectacle apologizing for lowered standards just to keep the numbers up.
7. “If you build it, they will come” mentality – The growth of the mega-churches has spawned the blind copying of methods and strategies, many times without proper analysis whether or not such methods or strategies were appropriate or not. For every church that successfully changed and grew, there seem to be more stories of how a rush to adopt something new was the cause of division and broken ministry. What these groups seemed to be saying was, “if only we just _____, then they will come.” While there are significant factors that reflect a healthy church, there are no “quick fixes” that bypass the individual members becoming spiritual healthy believers who are actively involved in helping others become that way. Training must include how to become healthy believers that can mentor others.
8. Understanding the limits of technology– Our dependence on technology is a given. What only seemed to be a dream only a few years ago, now is commonplace. Our faith and expectation seem to follow technological trends, sometimes more than our faith in our Creator. While our training must include these technologies, it must never bypass how to survive without it. The student needs to be able to function “unplugged,” as well as online.

9. Fundamental change in the understanding of the nature of the church – House churches and cell groups are increasingly becoming part of who and what churches are, apart from the more traditional building, pews, sound equipment, etc. What adjustments and tools are needed to train leadership for a the group that may only fit in someone’s living room? Worship leader training must include how to train other leaders for situations other than just praise team or choral formats. No one knows what will happen in the future, so the best preparation must include a well-rounded balance so that the leader has the tool belt full and be as prepared as possible.

10. The desire to “lead worship” is greater than the desire “to worship” – Perhaps the second greatest danger is deceptively silent, and involves our desire to “lead worship” to slowly replace our desire “to worship.” I am not saying that those who lead worship are not worshiping; I’m saying that there is a danger when the joy of leading and the thrill of the congregational response becomes greater than our personal seeking of the Lord in private worship.  As we train worship leaders, or perhaps a better term, “lead worshipers”, the development of healthy personal spiritual disciplines is a must.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How Did We Get Where We Are and Where Are We Going?

In the past several months I have been asked what I thought about the state of church music and where things are going. [I am in debt to Dr. Harry Eskew and his wonderful text, Sing with Understanding, for so much of my experience in the area. Much of what I would like to share come from that text and I would encourage those interested to make it a personal library “must have.”] In terms of where we are in music and worship in our churches today, the following outline might serve as a map much like you would find in a shopping mall that reads “you are here.”

The simplest way to see where we are is to start with imagining the “song of the church through the ages” as though it were a big river, birthed from the Old Testament Psalms, New Testament canticles surrounding the birth of Christ, and the pauline fragments. As the river continued to run, other smaller streams began to enter, such as the Greek hymnody of the Early Church. For several hundred years their hymnody centered on the transcendence and awesomeness of God. As the Christianity grew, so grew centers of liturgical tradition, predominately Greek, in Constantinople and Alexandria, and Latin, predominately in Rome.

During the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome, the church became the repository for all knowledge and the arts. The Arian heresy arose in the 4th and 5th centuries, was based in claiming that Christ was not divine, but gained wide spread acceptance because their doctrinal principles were put to catchy melodies and became very popular. Ambrose of Milan  added another feeder stream by writing hymns to combat the heresies, until the Church fathers met to deal with the situation. The result was to prohibit all singing from the congregation and leave it solely to the priests. During the following centuries the song of the church was restricted to the few, not the masses.

The growth of church music centered around chant and related melodies until 1517 and Martin Luther began the new wave of thought: the allowing of the congregation to sing and sing in a language they understood. He encouraged the use of hymns as well as Scriptural texts for worship. The coldness of the liturgy was again challenged with the rise of pietism [17th-18th centuries] and the need for personal emotional expression in the hymns used in worship. Out of the developments came Bach and the contributions he made in church music. Each one of these added tributaries to the ever-widening river.

Meanwhile back in England, the influence of Calvin in Geneva was most dominate mostly likely due to the political ties of the monarchs involved. Unaccompanied unison psalm singing was the only music allowed in non-catholic services. Many of the tunes from the Genevan Psalter of 1563 were adapted and used in English Psalters for the next 100 years until a Baptist pastor named Benjamin Keach read where Jesus “sang a hymn” after the Lord’s Supper. Supported by scriptural direction, he wrote a hymn for his church that was to be sung after communion. This started a major controversy between the General Baptist [psalms only] and Particular Baptists [hymns allowed], even though the former believed in general atonement and the later were   Calvinistic. The controversy raged on until hymn singing eventually became part of both groups traditions.  Psalms and hymns joined the ranks of those streams adding themselves to the river of praise.

One person’s hymn texts that played an important role in the general acceptance of hymn singing was Isaac Watts. The genius and simplicity of expression help spread acceptance across the board with most groups.  Many other ministers followed his style of writing. Later the Wesleys added greater dimensions to hymnody through their over 6000 texts and the compilation of rousing Methodist’s tunes. [And Can It Be, etc.] The Welch added a rich heritage of hymnody through folk-like melodies and John Newton, William Cowper produced their “Olney Hymns” in England.

Two substreams came as an outgrowth of the above, each contributing to the whole: the Evangelical Tradition [i.e. Havergal, “Take my life and let it be,”] and the Churchly Stream and the rise of the Oxford movement, which was an attempt by the Anglican church to recapture the Greek and Latin hymns and a link to the past, since their abrupt birth after the King broke away from the Catholic church.

At first, the United States had very little contributions of their own to the larger river; William Billings, being the first American composer. The development of American hymnody was dependent on several influences: psalmody, German chorale tunes, and the rise of American folk tunes. These folk tunes basically came for two sources, the shaped note tradition that evolved out of the Great Revivals of the 1840's and the Spirituals that came from the slave songs.  Lowell Mason led the attempt to reform congregational song by following music that was “scientifically composed,” that is that followed the European model, not that of the singing schools of the South.

It was during this last half of the 19th Century that there was a rise of denominationalism, each with its own traditions and each with its own contributions to the main stream of worship and praise.  The rise of Gospel hymnody was due in large part to the birth of the Sunday School movement as well as the early revival teams, such as Moody-Sankey, who popularized the genre until it was common place. Though many of the songs were conceived for “revival use” and not for Sunday worship, they soon found their place in the larger stream. Gospel songs continued through the Stamps-Baxter quartets and more modern versions of music like the Gaithers.

In 1950, an Anglican minister attempting to reach the youth of his day set the music of the Anglican service to the current musical style, but began what we know today as the contemporary worship movement. This was fed in large part to the Jesus’ movement in the US in the 1970's, and continued to develop until the genre came into its on commercially in the 1980s and 1990's. Certainly an oversimplification, but this is only a tracing outline a best.

Throughout history, virtually in every case when an new stream entered the river, their was turmoil, confusion, and conflict, but eventually the new tributaries would leave their mark with only the more lasting contributions lasting in the larger stream. Conflict and controversy has been a part of the music and worship world from the beginning. It has never been easy and sometimes it has been very ugly.

So if we were to describe “where we are now,” I would have to say that we are obviously in a little stream that it trying to mix with the larger river.  To be able to navigate correctly we need to keep in mind some very important things:
        1. The tributary is not the main stream, only a part of it. Much conflict arises when a group confuses its contribution as the whole, instead of just part. The larger stream is the one that will be around for the longest. We must look for those things that are of true lasting quality, rather than follow the temptation of chasing passing fads. As long as we are standing in the tributary, what we see may not be the entire story, but only a part.
        2. People will misunderstand. The tendency is to gravitate to the style that we personally like the best, however, this is to focus on the part and not the whole. We must help them see the larger picture of how it fits together in the context of worship.
        We have failed to teach where we come from. And so we are like the Israelites coming out of exile whose children had failed to learn Hebrew, we have grown up generations who have not known Joseph.
        3. Many times the controversy surrounding a new stream that was entering was calmed when the quality of the new genre was raised to higher standards. [i.e. Watts’ hymns help lay to rest the psalms/hymns controversy] The Getty/Townend material has been a great help in this regard, with deep theological text, without resorting to useless repetitions.
        4. Biblical worship demands that we be inclusive, and not given to entitlement. Biblical worship demands that we center our focus on Christ and His work, not our preferences. Biblical worship is not entertainment driven.
        5. I think we need to keep anchored in the river, not the various streams that may arise and not confuse one for the other.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Amplified Lord’s Prayer

Our [personal, yet not individualistic; we are members of Your Body]  
Father [a relationship of love, protection, provider, a model]

who is in heaven [cosmic oversight of all creation, and eternity]

hallowed [separate, holy, completely apart from that which is created]

be Your name, [the ways we attempt to explain who You are and the ways You explain Yourself]

Your kingdom come [the full extent of Your reign, rule and dominion come to fruition]

Your will be done [the consummation of Your plan and purpose be completed]

on earth [that Your plan and purposes for eternity be completed here were we live and breathe]

as it is in heaven. [may it be completed here in its fullness in the same way it is there, already]

Give us this day
[we recognize that all we need comes from You and recognize our total dependence on You.]

our daily bread
[our constant physical, emotional, and spiritual needs]

and forgive us our debts
[blot out the penalty and end result of our sin]

as we forgive our debtors [blot out our sin as we also release to God our desire for justice against those who sin against us]

Lead us not into temptation
[don’t leave us to our lower nature that seeks to separate us from Your fellowship]

but deliver us from evil [but redirect us from getting sidetracked along the way]

For Yours is the kingdom [Because You are Lord of lords and King of kings, Ruler over all]

the power [there is no greater power and authority]

and glory
[there is no greater reflection of beauty, greatness and holiness]

forever. [ever, throughout eternity]

Amen. [So be it so, and in faith so it is already

Monday, July 12, 2010

Worship and Culture...

•    The “American Idol” worshiper: Performing in church is fun; having everyone applaud after they sing makes them feel good and helps them sell their CDs.
•    The “American Idol” listener: Always in the judges’ seat to see if they measure up to the professionals; bases most of what they hear on whether or not they like it.
•    The “Multitasking” worshiper: Listening to sermon, texting on phone, and talking to those around them.
•    The “Facebook” worshiper: worship is the place to catch up on the latest and see friends.

May God help us realize:
•    that worship centers itself in God and entertainment is measured by how much pleasure it brings the listener.
•    that worship is not about me, but Him.
•    that worship demands our full focus.
•    that priority fellowship is first with the Father.
•    that culture must be subject to worship, and not the other way around.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Avoiding the Extremes

There is a tendency in worship to push to the extremes: studying the elements and structure and defining worship in relationship to a strict adherence to these, or struggling free of a bondage to set form and coming to God and worshiping Him any way we desire or in whatever way comes to our hearts and minds.  Both of these extremes of worship are problematic.
Psalm 50 is a wonderful reminder of what can happen when we just maintain structure and loose the real meaning of worship:
    7 "Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
           O Israel, and I will testify against you:
           I am God, your God.           
     8 I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices
           or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.
     9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
           or of goats from your pens,

     10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
           and the cattle on a thousand hills.
     11 I know every bird in the mountains,
           and the creatures of the field are mine.
     12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
           for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
     13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
           or drink the blood of goats?
     14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
           fulfill your vows to the Most High,

     15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
           I will deliver you, and you will honor me.
[bold emphasis, mine]

Here, the people were worshiping, and obviously following the prescribed laws for offering their sacrifices, that is, their worship. However, it seems to be implied that the motive was to supply a need that God had. As we listen to God’s comments, we understand that God has no needs. So, why offer sacrifices? Sacrifices are important for at least three reasons: [1] they are a recognition of sin and the need of forgiveness, [2] they are a means to show gratitude for what God has done, [3] they are a means of being obedient to what God has commanded.  Though the context for this psalm are from the Old Testament, we could substitute the word “worship” for sacrifice and see a present application for us today. When we offer true thanks in worship, we are recognizing that God is our Provider, our Protector, and our Sustainer.

True worship is not a matter of checking off a list of things to do: [1] attend service, [2] closed eyes to pray, [3] gave the dollar, [4] sang, [5] clapped at the right time, [6] listened to entire sermon, [7] shook hands with 3 people, etc...  Some people as so obsessed with doing certain things that they miss why they are there in the first place. The psalm is right on target.

To draw a parallel to current worship practices, the psalm could have said:
    “I do not rebuke you for your songs, offerings, prayers and sermons; but that in and of itself is not enough. It is not the mere act of showing up for a worship service, singing, or preaching that I am looking for, it is a clean and thankful heart! When you show true gratitude for how I work in your life you bring honor to me.”
The other extreme involves those who desire to shed the chains of any liturgical function and desire the freedom to worship God anyway that they might see fit, — out with any “mindless habits,” everything must be fresh and new! As good as this might sound, there are dangers here as well.  Review a part of the story of Uzziah, a king who had restored the worship of Jehovah and was instrumental in bringing the nation back to God:

    16 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. 18 They confronted him and said, "It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the LORD God."
     19 Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD's temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. 20 When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the LORD had afflicted him.
     21 King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house  —leprous, and excluded from the temple of the LORD. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.
[2 Chronicles 26:16-21]

Without trying to over simplify the situation, there were several issues that were wrong, not the least of which was the burning of incense was strictly forbidden except for the priests, and even then only under specific directions. [1Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: " 'Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.' " Leviticus 10:1-3]

It was the mercy of God that the King wasn’t killed. Besides offering incense in direct disobedience, it is necessary to go back and look into the motivations behind the actions. No doubt the King thought he was above the law, being “God’s anointed.” But rather being above the law, he was to be the example and model for keeping it. Pride can sneak up on someone even before they realize it and plant the seeds of twisted thinking, thinking that because of a position that might be held, God’s commands don’t apply in those specific circumstances. Both of the examples, the sons of Aaron and Uzziah, also show that it really does matter to God how we worship, not just who we worship.

What does this mean for me?
1. Repeated rituals that loose their meaning really loose their function as well. Sacrifices were to remind the people that God was their Provider, that they needed to restore the broken relationship with God, that there was always to be an outflow of gratitude toward the goodness of God. We need to heed the direct command in Psalm 100:4: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” We thank God for what He has done and praise Him for who He is.
2. God is holy. Because He is holy, we must come to God on His terms, not ours. Our responsibility is not to dream up new and creative ways to approach God as much as it is to discover what His Word says we must do. We must be students of the Word in regard to worship. We must be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only,” as James says.