Friday, December 7, 2007

Leading vs. Performance

By Sally Morgenthaler

The "contemporary" trappings of worship do not guarantee leadership

What is good worship leading? Lately, I've found myself ruminating about this subject in the least likely places: time-out during one of my son's basketball games, standing in front of the frozen food section, waiting for the little cylinder to pop back into place at the drive-up teller.

It's only worship leading, for heaven's sakes! You'd think I was obsessed. It all started at a worship conference. Wisely, the organizers of the event had made sure we weren't just analyzing worship ad infinitum. We were actually scheduled to worship! I was looking forward to our corporate fellowship and intimacy with God more than to the classes themselves.

Half-way through the first worship service, I wondered if I'd registered at the wrong conference. Here I was in an ostensibly interactive, God-focused environment, but I had no sense whatsoever of being authentically engaged. It was as if someone had plugged in a prefab worship video, the kind that seems permanently stuck in cultural reverse. Picture it - hundreds of sincere worship devotees, dutifully clapping double-time for five songs straight, mimicking the worship leader in multi-minute, shoulder-abusing arm-lifts, spitting out worship-correct statements on cue.
It was less than awesome.

Admittedly, several of the trappings of interactive contemporary worship were present: extended corporate singing, mini-prayers interwoven within medleys, expertly segued moments designed for brief (very brief!) personal reflection. Still, there was something hauntingly synthetic about it. Was it just me? Two conference attendees talked with me afterward. Their experiences had been similar to my own.

Since then, I've concluded that the overriding problem was the worship leading, or, more accurately, the worship performance. What's the difference between the two? Here's an in-process list refined from months of frozen-food section/basketball game musings. No doubt you could come up with a few entries of your own.

Worship Performer
• feigns a private worship life with God
• lifts up self
• manipulates people through "virtual worship"
• consumed with presenting a "glittering image" (I Samuel 16:7) recommended reading: Glittering Images by Susan Howatch (Ballentine, 1995)
• fails to give spiritual "big picture"
• personal goal: maximum visibility
• draws attention to self by: dressing in revealing, loud, or ultra trendy styles; contrived, too big or too many gestures; talking too much; focusing on own experience; singing and/or playing too loudly; exaggerating movements when playing instrument; displaying vocal or instrumental "virtuosity" for show; monopolizing front and center stage.
• clones his/her "worship leading" style from the Christian subculture
• strings together a series of pre-fabricated gestures and jargon
• tries to "work the crowd," to manipulate an experience
• tells how/pressures people to respond
• inflexible with the worship order; does everything according to plan
• searches crowd for signs of approval
• disallows or interrupts silence
• dislikes giving up the microphone to others visibly depressed by smaller crowds; goes through the motions

Worship Leader
• takes "worship as a life" seriously
• lifts up God
• leads people to worship by worshiping
• consumed with a passion for God and an integrity of heart (Psalm 27:4; Ephesians 4:22-24) recommended reading: The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Christian, 1992)
• keeps Christ's redemption at the forefront; relates God's story to people's own stories
• personal goal: invisibility
• deflects attention from self by: dressing in style but modestly; using gestures as natural expressions of personal worship; talking only to provide context or reveal more about God; focusing most on the character and works of God; heard but not distracting; playing to express, not for an "effect"; offering skill to God as a sacrifice of praise; occasionally moving to the side to become less visible.
• allows God to fashion his/her own style out of unique personality, gifts and experiences
• worships spontaneously, heartfelt
• fosters an atmosphere of worship then steps back and lets God meet people where they are
• gives people options and lets them find their own way
• prepared, but sensitive to what God is doing
• stays in touch with the people in order to sense their needs
• lets go of control, allows God to speak in the quiet, to deal with people's brokenness
• mentors others in worship leading, gives them opportunities to serve
• celebrates God authentically, no matter how many are in the pews

It's a given that nobody will ever "arrive" as a worship leader. But if you or someone under you is responsible for weekly worship and is displaying several "worship performer" characteristics, some decisions must be made and made quickly. Corporate worship is the single, most life-impacting activity of the church. Are we going to sabotage God's work just because we don't have the courage to face reality?
And the reality is this: before any of us can engage people in the authentic, interactive adoration of God, we must first of all become worshipers. That may mean stepping down off the platform and getting our lives in sync with God. It may mean sitting in the pew and learning how to worship for the very first time. Depending on our situation, it may mean a process ranging from weeks to years. But, face facts we must. There is only One worthy of our praise (Rev.4:11) and that One desires truth, not pretense; being, not performance. If and when we step back up and get behind the microphone, we must do it as an instrument, not the object of praise. And we must be willing to cast off our "glittering image" so that we reflect only the glorious image of Christ.

After many years in worship ministry, Sally Morgenthaler, author of Worship Evangelism (Zondervan 1996) is a consultant with congregations developing their own worship evangelism models.

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