Last weekend, something happened for the first time in my life as a worship leader. I came down with a bad stomach bug and couldn’t lead. I had to ask Becca, one of our other leaders, to fill in for me at the last minute. As it turned out, I ended up going in to run the audio, which gave me a chance to see something encouraging. Becca leads worship a lot like me. She has the concept of leading people into God’s presence and getting out of the way deeply imbedded in her nature. She thoughtfully put together a group of songs that engaged well, and led them with confidence and skill. She didn’t draw attention to mistakes and did a solid job leading the band. Even though I wasn’t feeling too well, it was good for me to be there to see it. I’ve only seen her lead in “I lead, you help”, or “you lead, I help” situations. This time, she was leading and i was watching. She led the way she leads, which looks a lot like the way I lead. I’d feel confident having her teach a new worship leader, and she has a daughter coming along who just might be that next one. There’s a saying in churches that people are hired for skill and fired for character. I knew quite a bit about Becca’s character development before she developed worship leading skills. It’s easy to see her lasting for the long run, because the personal, family and community relationships are strong. Character outweighs competence, but in this case, both parts are doing really well.
Our vision of worship must never be limited to the activity of worship. God has always been after your heart and mine; songs and liturgies are a means to this end. -Dan Wilt
Over the past 30 years, I’ve had the honor of leading worship for a Vineyard church near San Francisco, in Concord, California. Same church, in the same town, in the same neighborhood, near my high school. I’ve known some people in my church since the 70’s. If you asked 18 year old me if I’d still be in Concord in 2014, my answer would definitely have been no. I wanted to be a successful songwriter and touring musician.
Over time, God has made it apparent to me that He was using the years of my life differently than I thought He would. He wanted me to learn to submit my hopes and aspirations to Him. He wanted me to be faithful in the small things. He wanted me to learn to follow and trust. He wanted me to become a worshiper who makes it to the finish line. God called me to abide with Him, recognize His voice and do as He says. He called me to be Jesus’ disciple with His character.
When I first started worship leading, it wasn’t really a “thing” yet. Around here in the early 1970’s, young people were coming to Jesus in large numbers all over the place. Since we were part of the rock generation, it seemed like a great idea to write Jesus songs in our musical style and bring them into the church. When I first started leading songs on Sundays, it seemed a like it was an afterthought. I was allowed to lead one song from the Young Life songbook (it was called the little brown hymnal) every week or so. No electric guitars or drums were allowed. I led from the far side, below where the choir stood, singing songs like Amazing Grace (to the tune of House of the Rising Sun). It was in essence, just a nod to the younger generation, but even this small start felt like worship to me. Over time I’ve learned what’s happening during these moments of worship is Heaven’s gates are being opened wide. Whether I’m with a few or many, it’s all the family of God, coming together into His presence. I’m there to make a big deal of Him. I love how John Wimber describes this:
“…I think it’s important for our worship leaders…. to know what they’ve been invited to. They lead us to the throne, but then they need to get out of the way. We’re not there to worship them, so they need to point us to Jesus… period.”
I’ve seen many worship leaders come and go. Some end up quitting because they feel under appreciated and misunderstood. Some were hired for their skills and didn’t grow in character. If we want to LAST as worship leaders, we’re going to need to face our struggles together. We need to know why we’re doing it, how we’re doing it, and for whom we’re doing it. Our spiritual character must be cultivated, in daily, self-feeding rhythms, if we are to grow. We can’t just hope it will happen. We have to intentionally grow as His disciple. Our daily lives need to have components of relationship with God, family, friends, team members and other people around us. Otherwise, our lives are disjointed, and the words we sing are hollow and disingenuous. If we know and live into our identities, as children of the Father, we become much better disciples, and in turn, better worship leaders. The words we sing are genuine. Our hearts are right. My good friend, Tom Patitucci, told me this line his jazz bassist brother, John, uses to describe the inner life of musicians:
“You play who you are.” Let that sink in for a while.
As it turns out, our hearts are revealed by our actions. Me on Tuesday has to look like me on Sunday. I want to help develop worship leaders of character plus skill. If we’re going to be genuine and last for the long run, we’re going to need to give our hearts and skills over to the One who provided them in the first place. It’s time to build up and maintain relationship and discipleship among worship leaders. I can’t wait to see what God will do through us, together!