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Monday, August 12, 2013

Where Am I as a Worship Leader?

“Hezekiah encouraged all the Levites regarding the skill they displayed as they served the Lord.”
2 Chronicles 30:22 NLT

Tucked away in the books of the Chronicles are a myriad of gems and points to ponder. Chapter 30 of 2 Chronicles lists some of the reforms that Hezekiah accomplished in his 29 year reign as king. One of these was the restoration of the Festival of Unleavened Bread [Passover]. Because there weren’t enough priests who were ritually clean the celebration had to be postponed one month and even then, the Levites were more diligent than the priests. But the Levites were also diligent in another area, perhaps overlooked in today’s culture– they were diligent in their skill. This could have been the skill in which they played, or the skill in which they carried out their responsibilities, but regardless, it was done with such excellence that the King noticed it, and encouraged them in what they were doing. 

The Levites did not have “top billing” in the worship service; that was left to the priests. It might have been easy to become slack in performing a duty that might not even be noticed by anyone else but a few individuals, but they performed their duties with excellence anyway. They must have realized that they were doing this for Yahweh, and not just as a job. When a job is done well only when we think someone is watching, we reflect a poor understanding of what the job is and why we are to do it.  Let me unpack this just a little so we can better understand what the implications are.

David had reassigned responsibilities to the Levites [1 Chron 25]  looking forward to the construction of the Temple, since they would no longer be needed to carry the Tabernacle from one place to the next. Part of this reassignment was a group dedicated to the worship of God through song.  The chants were taught father to son for the life of the father, at which time the son would take over more or less when the father reached 50.   Verses 6-8 give more insight into the process:

   "Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king. Along with their     relatives—all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord—they numbered 288.  Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties."       

Notice the phrase “all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord”. This was a process that took time. They were not satisfied with half-hearted work or ability, they had to reach a level of excellence to be able to serve. Now let’s fast forward back to the time of Hezekiah, hundreds of years had passed, yet, there must have been a group throughout this entire period that remained faithful to God, teaching their children the melodies, teaching them the texts of the psalms, especially since the music was not written down and everything was passed on aurally. Discipline and excellence can stand the tests of time when tied to an eternal purpose.

The Levites demonstrated their musical skill because they had paid the price to achieve that level of skill. Natural talent may help, but skill development is work. It is hard work and it takes time. They must have had a keen sense of being in the presence of God and carrying out their responsibilities for Him and for His approval.

So what does that have to do with me?
  Too often, we have forgotten Who we are serving and why we do what we do. We allow personal convenience to dictate our schedule, rather than order our schedule around what should really be the priorities of our lives. In the case of a worship leader, this means practice, and by practice I do not mean briefly running over the music.  Practice implies: 
  [1] having a strong understanding of music fundamentals to be able to understand when one has reached a high skill level. 
  [2] Perseverance to keep on working until that level of skill is achieved.  

 Unfortunately, music is thrown together, run through a time or two and topped off with the phrase, “Well, that will have to do for Sunday.”  I praise God for some who are diligent and truly work at improving every time the opportunity arises, but for many, just getting by week to week is an established norm that refuses to broken.

The question we must ask ourselves as worship leaders is, “Am I at the same skill level in my craft as I was a year ago?” Unless we can be honest with ourselves, it is doubtful that our skill levels will ever improve.  Churches are looking for worship leaders and have the expectations that they have the “musical chops” to lead, play, sing, and direct. When someone hands a piece of music to a worship leader, the last thing anyone wants to hear is, “Sorry, I can’t read or play that.” There is no substitute for hard work. Fine tuning our skill development means that we do what it takes to get there. One of the best ways to do this is with further education. I teach in a Seminary that specializes in just those skills. We provide the technical expertise as well as biblical groundwork for a balanced, well-rounded preparation. [If this sounds like a commercial, well it could be taken that way; I am not ashamed of our program.] I am partial to ours, but would encourage all worship leaders to get what it takes to improve your craft. 

Getting more education will help, but the greatest help for life long ministry is one that is more than a narrowly focused study. One of the advantages of a program like ours at the Seminary is that it is broad based. By that I mean that the training is more than in just one area. If we knew what churches would need in 5, 10, 15 years from now, we would focus on those areas, but the reality is, no one does. Because of that, it is of upmost importance that the education one receives focus on more than what’s “hot now”.  Education needs to be more than focusing on just the areas that we like. I do not want to go to a doctor that only studied the things he thought was important. Our churches deserve better as well.

Hezekiah encouraged those who demonstrated their craft with excellence. Our job is to please a King on a much higher plain, who deserves much more than our second best. He is worthy of more than our best, our best is the least we should give. He is the One we live for, play for, sing for; He is the reason. In the words of the slogan, let’s just do it!

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