My ongoing struggle with contemporary worship leading…

Every Sunday morning all throughout our country, thousands of twentysomething guitarists in thick rimmed glasses fashion their hair to look like they just got out of bed, slip into some skinny jeans, deliberately neglect to shave, strap on their Taylor guitars, and take the stage.  There are lights, subwoofers, cameras, and sometimes even fog machines.  These people are your contemporary worship leaders, America.

And I am one of them.

At least, minus the skinny jeans, Taylor guitar, and fancy hair.  Maybe someday, if I’m lucky.  My hair is thinning after all, and perhaps there are better ways to hide it than the haircut I’ve sported since my freshman year in high school.

So I have a confession to make.  Sometimes when I observe one of my peers in the professional worship leading field, I…struggle.  Yes, I struggle.  I have a good deal of tension about all this.  I admit it; I’m a skeptic when it comes to my own job.  Please know, this struggle not because I think I’m better than other worship leaders.  It’s because I’m just plain uncomfortable with the entire paradigm itself.  When I see others lead, it’s a rare opportunity to look in a mirror.  And I can’t help but think about how much…attention we worship leaders draw.  That seems a bit backwards, doesn’t it?

Bottom line, I’m uncomfortable with the way that we’ve practically venerated our worship leaders.  Not sure what I mean? Watch a few seconds of this:

Is it awesome?  You betcha.  Is it worship?  Sure.  Of whom?  Please don’t make me answer that.  Besides, I really can’t.  Only God knows the heart.

But I will say this.  In his book The Pastor, Eugene Peterson argues that while Pastors rail against abusing such things as drugs and sex, many are being seduced by something equally addictive: crowds.  I’d probably ignore Peterson’s observation and convince myself that he’s just an old grouchy pants.  That is, if I didn’t know firsthand how right he was.

But seriously, what is it about the fact that I can watch the video above and be more drawn to the fact that there are five electric guitars on stage (5!) or the perfectly messy hair than the Exalted One that they are singing about?  And yet, I can watch a similar video by, say, Casting Crowns and be truly drawn to Jesus, “friend of sinners.”  What’s the difference?  Am I just shallow enough that I have a hard time worshiping the God of the universe just because the people on stage are wearing ball caps and beanies?  If so, then shame on me.

But this all serves as a good reminder.  As worship leaders, we are setting the stage for Jesus to be exalted.  But if our attitude is anything other than John’s, who referred to Jesus by saying “the thongs of who’s sandals I am unworthy to untie,” then we’re idolizing ourselves and inviting others to do the same. The line is so thin that it scares me.  I guess what I’m saying is, perhaps we’ve become a bit too cavalier with that line.

So my job is to elevate God in the midst of a paradigm (rock and roll) that has literally conditioned us to elevate man.  That’s no small task.  But I believe that God can bring redemption even in the midst of our broken means of worship.  Every day, I have to humbly place my Telecaster at his feet.  Who knows…if I’m lucky, maybe someday I’ll have awesome hair that I can place there too.  And a Taylor.  And while we’re at it, a Vox AC30…

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2 Responses to My ongoing struggle with contemporary worship leading…

  1. Jordan says:

    Thanks for this blog Phil. I guess you could say I’m a twenty three year old, skinny jean wearing, taylor guitar playing, worship leader that is really struggling with this too. Thinking about the concept of worship leading has been really frustrating lately…

    I’m currently at a church where there is an emphasis on production and are a lot of high expectations it seems to perform well. I feel a lot of pressure to meet people’s expectations when I worship and find myself just feeling flat and empty inside sometimes… I’m sick of all the lights, and gibson guitars, and peoples attitudes for perfection. I just want it to be about Jesus and all the other distractions, performances, and critiques to just stop…

    I just wanted to say thanks for your blog, it was good for me to read this week and look deeper into what it really means to worship. Its not about us, its about Jesus.

    • phillee4840 says:

      Jordan, thanks for the heartfelt reply. I suspect there will be more and more worship leaders who desire something deeper than a show. Let’s never let our desire to create something great for our God morph into the desire to make ourselves great before others. Keep drinking from the well of Christ and let your worship leading be an overflow of that. Blessings, brother!

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