Friday, March 18, 2016

Worship Leaders, Step Back and Remember: You Are Expendable

In an age of self-promoting, hipster-ridden, people-pleasing Sunday morning concerts, complete with light shows and multi-media graphics, it is an odd thing to suggest that the Instrumental Worship Leader ought to be a simple medium by which people can follow along in song—one who is not actually needed in order to realize worship in a church. In other words, the man leading the music is expendable. He is a servant at the service of another—a Master who has already left instructions about what acceptable worship looks like.

In case you missed Part 5, find it here: You Are A Type Of Pastor

Nothing new is needed in order to incite people to worship, indeed there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9). Nothing particularly creative is needed in order to interest people towards God, indeed only God can draw people to Himself (John 6:44). Dear friends and fellow musicians in God’s church, we are servants of God with gifts to use for the edification of the church and there are times that we will be unappreciated, criticized, and even replaced by fickle churches who want something that stimulates them more.

We have to realize that while we can try and maintain a legitimate repertoire of old and new hymns and songs, we will not make everyone happy and in fact we should not be trying, per se, to make everyone happy; rather, we should be trying to encourage and exhort everyone to a higher view of God that is rooted in a deep knowledge of Scripture. This should be the goal of the entire pastoral staff, ultimately. As much as it pertains to us—the musicians—we must be ever so careful to play music that naturally complements the words we sing, rather than chanting phrases that complements our jam sessions. We must be diligent to teach our churches why we sing and why we sing together.

With all of that said, we need to remember that if we are really sold out for being a faithful minister of music for the glory of God, then there could be consequences. For millennia, faithful men of God in preaching and teaching roles have been ousted for remaining unmoved in their conviction to preach the true Gospel, not skipping over such topics like the wrath of God, the sovereignty of God, the exclusivity of Christ, etc.

We remember people like Jonathan Edwards who was voted out of his church after 23 years of faithful ministry because he maintained that only those who professed the Christian faith should be allowed to take communion. He was right and yet he was still voted out by a majority of about 90% (!). The controversy at that time was massive. His careful concern to not desecrate the Lord’s Table was looked down upon with great disdain even though the Apostle Paul warned that eating the bread and drinking the wine in an unworthy manner would be eating and drinking judgment on oneself (1 Cor 11:27–29).

If Jonathan Edwards could be forced to step down due to his biblical position and conviction of the reverence of God in the church through the Lord’s Table, then we must also realize that there is a real possibility that we, as modern church musicians (and oh how shifty is our taste in music), will be asked to step down because we maintain a biblical conviction to draw lines at songs and bands that we feel are insufficient expressions of worship and reverence to God, be it in the lyrics, or in the music itself.

You may be replaced because you simply aren’t drawing the crowds that other churches are. You may be replaced because enough people in the church have voiced their opinion on what “better worship” looks like, thus concerning the church leadership as to whether or not they are about to lose some of their congregants.

No matter what, we must be patient with people and help them see why it is we sing what we sing and why it is we sound different than the church down the street and why it matters. We do not come to church to be get entertained, but to give expression in our worship with singing as our worship is really seen in our life that walks according to the Spirit rather than according to the flesh (Gal 5; Rom 8).

I have found that this is a very, very difficult thing to get across to a church unless the entire church leadership is on board with a united stance on the theology of worship. Where no official position is held, then anything is subject to change based on the loudest, or most convincing critic. Of course, with criticism always comes the threat of people leaving, so the church leaders are faced with a seemingly difficult situation as they either let the congregant go, or the Instrumental Worship Leader go if enough people voice their complaints. To be sure, these situations do not have to be difficult if the leaders all have a conviction on what biblical worship is as well as have a conviction on what the biblical use of music is. Notice how I separated those two topics. While they do overlap, they are not synonymous terms. Furthermore, if the church leadership does not actively teach the theology of worship and music, then the church will be more apt to complain.

No matter the umbrella of leadership that you find yourself in, you have to be willing to be traded out for the next newest thing when the time comes. Wherever you are serving you are serving as unto the Lord and not as people-pleasers for eye-service as Paul told the Ephesians (6:5–7).

You can only do so much in your position as you are not primarily responsible for leading the church. When there comes a point that your conviction of biblical worship differs significantly from the leaders in the church, then it will probably result in you moving on, rather than them. God is sovereign over these things and will always work together everything for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).

I remember when I was sat down by our church leadership with the concern that worship was at the lowest point ever, people were complaining, people were leaving, and the quality of the music was not very good anymore. I received this list in a few seconds and needless to say it was very bothersome to me, but not for what you might think.

I was mostly bothered that our leadership was actually moved by the fact that people were leaving over matters of musical taste and then considering that to be indicative of a ministry problem. This gets right back to how important it is to define worship. It is one’s adoration and obedience to Christ in their life, not their preference in church music.

Our church at that time had seen a massive decline in our band size because of graduating college seniors who made up the bulk. This practically changed overnight in the spring and we suddenly sounded a lot different. Well, people hear the sudden difference and realize it is not going to change anytime soon and grow complacent, thus becoming critical. This really requires a tactful, teacher-spirit on the part of the leadership to help people understand how the composition of the band has no bearing on the acceptability of one’s song sung to God while encouraging them to be patient for the minor details and not to be derailed by them as they are inconsequential.

Unfortunately, too many times leaders succumb to the temptation to validate these criticisms. They see people leave for petty, illegitimate reasons and instead of trust God for the size of their congregation, what do they do? They turn to the musicians and formulate a plan to draw people in with better music. Such it was with our church. Though we declared every Sunday that we were an expositional church, we were suddenly adopting seeker-sensitive methodologies to attract a younger crowd.

Do we not tire of this charade anymore? Do we not grow weary of the senseless, programmatic approach to the ministry that usurps the role of the Holy Spirit of God? Friends, whether we realize it or not, we prove that we understand little of the power of the Word of God preached that draws the true elect church to a place of fellowship—people of all ages—when we think that music is the key to a successful ministry. We have to rid ourselves of the immature notion that we can draw people in with music to hear the sound preaching. We’re kidding ourselves. This improperly elevates music and inappropriately lowers the authority of God in our lives.

“No one can come to me,” Jesus said, “unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

It came to a point where I had to say I wasn’t their man for the job if they were going that direction. I felt they did not hold to a biblical theology of worship, or ecclesiology for that matter, and that there wasn’t a real, genuine problem, rather an opportunity to teach the church more about these things to take the wind out of the sails of the critical voices. To no avail, the leadership had decided to continue on with their new plan and asked me to step down, which I agreed. When it comes to a point like that it doesn’t do any good to stay and cause a scene. If you really do care for the people of God, then you will do whatever you can to minimize the wake of conflict.

In hindsight, the Lord has only blessed our family by bringing us to the next place he would have use serve at and grow at—one that has a deep love for sound doctrine and a consistent application of it.

Look, if we are servants, then we are expendable, yet never outside of God’s sovereign plan. He ordains these things to teach us, grow us, and mold us, while bringing glory to Himself. I am already amazed at how much I would be missing out on with new friends and opportunities to grow and serve had this frustrating experience not happened and I am extremely thankful for it.

The prophet Jeremiah once said, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (10:23).

Fellow musicians, let’s also remember what the Apostle Paul said, namely, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Rom 12:3). We are not rock stars, just musicians. The church does not revolve around us, but the glory of the only living God and His Son, Jesus Christ. We are not irreplaceable personalities, but servants that are moved by God to serve wherever he would have us.

When it comes to the music ministries we have been given by the mercy of God, let’s have a heart that cries what the expatriated Jews did in Psalm 137:

“If I forget you, O [God], let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set [God] above my highest joy!” (5–6).

In His Sovereign Grip,