Worship leaders often make their living on stage in front of hundreds of people. In my opinion, this may very well be a disadvantage in our spiritual formation. Our faith is one with a cross in the middle of it – a symbol of torture and shame. We worship a King who “represented a new moral option” (John Howard Yoder!) in his life and teachings. This moral option was one of selfless love. Needless to say, it doesn’t leave a ton of room for the elevation of oneself.
Now, to be clear, when I say that this profession may present a disadvantage, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily sin. Far from it. I believe worship leading is a wonderful calling. But it’s dangerous, like fire. Treat it carefully. Don’t get too close, too comfortable, too at home. Let the front platform always remain a place of surrender. Be competent, but don’t be cavalier. Lead well, but don’t drink your own Kool-Aid. Let the spotlight always maintain a bit of foreignness to we who serve the One who “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (Phil 2:6).
So I have been thinking about spiritual disciplines for the worship leader. What spiritual exercises can counter some of the potential dangers of living a life “up front?”
1. I believe the discipline of secrecy has to be included near the top. Let there be things only God knows. “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt 6:3). Fast and don’t tell people. Pray and don’t mention it. Give but don’t take credit. Have soul secrets, just you and your God. When your flesh inevitably screams for the attention it so desperately wants, tell it to shut up. Look for every opportunity to have secrets with God. Who knows…maybe you’ll have inside jokes with each other. Sounds fun!
2. Worship leaders should regularly confess. Confession can be like a soul detox. But don’t just confess to anyone. Find a mentor, a spiritual guide, an accountability partner, whatever you want to call it. I have a mentor, Norman, who at the end of our meetings says, “now tell me something you don’t want to tell me.” Gulp! It’s not always fun, but it’s necessary. At my church we want people to “worship free of inhibition.” I can’t authentically lead people in that unless I have named my sin and confessed it to God and another human. For me, there comes a level of honesty, authenticity, transparency, and rawness when someone is able to claim their junk and take responsibility. Plus, it’s only then when we can experience the real fruit of confession – grace. And there is no better inspiration for worship leading than that.
3. This may seem obvious, but worship leaders should worship. My senior pastor Phill Tague shared in his sermon last week (that was coincidentally about worship!) a quote that essentially said that trying to worship corporately without having times of intimate, private worship is like having the dry heaves. You’re trying to bring something up that isn’t there. Get alone, get your guitar, and let it all out for your God and King.
4. Last but not least, worship leaders should practice justice. This goes back to a post I recently wrote about what God really expects out of his people. Let me give you a hint: it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with how loud you sing. It’s about a life led in obedience to him, and it just so happens that God is a God who cares about the oppressed in this world. True worship is inextricably linked to justice and righteousness. Worship definitely has a horizontal dimension to it. In the spirit of solidarity, I’ll just admit that this is the area at which I am feeling the most convicted right now in my own life.
One of the most telling moments in the Bible is when Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Son of God reaches for a towel and a basin, kneels before his followers, and washes their stinky, smelly feet. In my opinion, that’s one of the best examples of worship leading we find in the Bible. And guess what? No guitar necessary.