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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.”

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