How Worship Leaders Should Respond to Compliments

In Faith Community Church, Pastor Benny has initiated our mentoring phase as part of our 2-year DNA campaign. Quite amazingly, there is a strong mentoring buzz now in our church with heaps of people getting connected into mentoring relationships.

Yesterday, I had the honour of launching our worship leadership mentoring group with worship leaders from Kinetic, Vibe, Young Working Adults and the Adult Zones in our church, the idea being that we would meet regularly and talk about all things related to worship leading.

It was actually really refreshing, despite a busy weekend, to be able to sit down in an informal setting with like-minded people just to talk about something we were all passionate about!

As we began our first session together, one of the key messages I wanted to get across was the importance of maintaining a heart of worship – that beyond talent, skills and outcomes, we have a responsibility of keeping the right posture of heart in a ministry that is often fraught with danger and hubris.

Tim Hughes once warned:

As worship leaders, are we getting too preoccupied with the sounds and songs we are creating? Is there a danger that we look first and foremost at gifting and talents, and forget the key thing: the heart?

John Wimber said:

The difficulty will not be so much in the writing of new and great music; the test will be in the godliness of those who deliver it.

One of the issues we talked about was how worship leaders should respond to compliments. Quite often, after you have finished leading worship, a well-meaning congregant might come up to you and say: “I loved your worship leading today”. Or “I just want you to know how nice your voice sounded”.

I don’t think we should over-spiritualise it. Imagine if you’ve just grilled a perfectly succulent steak. You are told ‘wow, you cooked that just right. You are really good at cooking steak’ and you respond with ‘no, I did nothing at all. I just stood at the barbie and the Lord moved through my arms and my tongs and compelled me to turn the hunk of meat just at the right time’. In any other context, if someone complimented you, your natural response would be to say “thank you”. So why not respond in the same way? After all, you did spend all that time putting in the effort to make your voice sound better, or to make sure the set flowed well, or to make sure your team played in unity.

One way of holding the tension is to accept the compliment for what you have control over, i.e. improvements in your vocal quality, the cohesion and drive of your team, the depth of preparation etc. In other words, by all means, accept the compliment for the fruit of your effort. But whether people encountered God and the resultant effect of His presence, well, that only happens by His Spirit, because true worship is by the Spirit. That aspect, we can’t take any credit for. God alone gets all the credit for the fruit of worship!

Bill Johnson actually provides an interesting spin on this. He says (in Experience the Impossible at p 179):

Humility is Kingdom; pride is at the root of everything evil. But the pursuit of greatness is not necessarily evil. In fact, it seems that those who spent time with Jesus had latent desires awakened in them regarding their own significance. As a result Jesus never rebuked His disciples for their desire for greatness. He simply redefined it by pointing to a child.

First Peter 5:6 says “therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” Here we see the tension between humility and a desire for greatness. Johnson says that whilst being under the hand of God might seem like a frightening picture, God’s hand is actually one of a loving Father – a hand of covering and protection. And that’s exactly what we need as worship leaders (or any leader in the church for that matter!) – covering and protection as we pursue a place of greater influence in God.

We usually have no problem with accepting the need to be humble. Johnson says:

What is difficult for us to handle is God’s response to our humility: ‘that He may exalt you’. What do we do with that? Many of us squirm or say things to undermine the honour given to us. Yet if we do not know how to receive honour correctly, we will have no crown to throw at His feet.

A culture of honour is an important element in the community life of every church. We need to understand how to receive honour to allow such a culture to be propagated. It requires us to be quietly confident about the skills, planning and hard work that we have put into our service, and yet humbly dependent on God for the things that only He can do. And then, like Paul, be able to count all our accolades – the significance in our greatness and influence – rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ more. Then we will truly be able to hold that tension; to walk the paradoxical line of humbled exaltation.

Adventures in East Timor – Part 1

I have had an amazing start to 2013, beginning with the privilege of serving with an awesome team of people from Faith Community Church on a short-term mission trip to East Timor, followed by a relaxing holiday with some friends in Bali. What I saw in East Timor was eye-opening and confronting. In my next few posts, I will chronicle some of what took place over the time our team was in East Timor.

Flight to East Timor

I have to admit that I didn’t really grasp the extent of what I was getting myself into when I expressed an interest last August to join a short-term team to East Timor. Our missionary on the ground, Agung, had come to Perth to spend some time with his sending church and we had the privilege of having Agung visit our cell group.

It was probably on impulse that our cell leader Ernie and one of our cell members Shi-En (who was on the East Timor missions committee) thought it’d be a great idea if we went on a short-term trip as a cell group. I didn’t have any objections at the time.

Shi-En is one of those people who gets things done. He often moves so quickly that you don’t really have time to process exactly what he is doing. Before it had registered in my head, I found myself committed to a mission trip in January.

I don’t think I fully realised what I was in for.

Whilst Ling and I had always aimed to go on one short-term mission a year, we fell desperately short of our lofty aspirations. Our last trip was to Sapporo, Japan in 2007. Of the three short-term missions I’ve been on, all of them have been in urban settings. It never occurred to me that East Timor could be anything less than urban (which really betrays how little I knew about the country). I would be in for a rude shock when I actually got there.

The road to East Timor was not always a smooth one.

With less than 6 weeks to go, due to unexpected developments beyond our control, there was a real possibility that the trip was going to be cancelled. Two weeks later the trip was back on again.

As a team, we had three meetings in total, most of which had to do with logistics of getting there. To say the least, I felt grossly unprepared.

I like preparation. My ministry philosophy has always been that we should prepare well. The more prepared we are, the more spontaneous we can be. It holds in worship ministry, and it holds in just about any other ministry context.

But I was reminded of what John Wimber used to say: “blessed are the flexible”. On this trip, with very little prior preparation, flexibility was key and I was glad to work with such a team of versatile and proactive leaders who could think on their feet (or sometimes off their feet!). I also realised how much more it made us depend on the Holy Spirit!

After our third team meeting, at least we had planned what equipment and gifts for the villagers we had to buy. As for the program, this would rest on our creativity, resourcefulness and the Holy Spirit’s orchestration.

So on Christmas Day, 25 December 2012, Ling and I flew off to Singapore for a short holiday before meeting the rest of the team in Bali a week later.

The adventure begins…

Worship and Performance

When I was learning to lead worship, one of the things that I was taught early on was that worship is very different to performance. The two things don’t mix and in fact, I was told that performance made worship impure, for “no flesh should glory in God’s presence”.

I think a lot of that teaching derived from the early days of the Vineyard movement. Worship leaders like Andy Park were very laid back and it was a culture most probably set by John Wimber. Wimber had always been a proponent of being “naturally supernatural” and those who have documented his healing ministry always mentioned the fact that he was completely (and consciously) unpretentious.

This shunning of showmanship to an extent was (in that context) a way of answering the critics of the Charismatic movement who tried to discredit the movement by pointing to its emotionalism and frenzy, particularly coming out of the era of the healing evangelists. Wimber gave them something that shielded the movement from discredit. But in the context of worship, I believe that it has given way to a form of extremism which labels performance as carnal.

Even recently I have had detractors say that I am too performance-orientated, as if that were a bad thing.

The church these days is beginning to accept that performance is very much part of worship leading.

It was only around last year that I first heard this during a message by former Parachute Band frontman, Wayne Huirua. Huirua said that it wouldn’t make sense if worship leaders put off the performance aspect and instead tried to appear as level and emotionless as possible. This simply does not inspire anyone to worship.

Recently, as I was reading Martin Smith’s memoir Delirious, Smith makes the same point. Writing about his first foray into the American worship scene, Smith writes:

Getting your head down and ploughing on with worship was not the culture in America. I still think that the crowds in the United States are much more limber when it comes to being led: They expect the person onstage to take control and do a show even if it’s one full of God-songs. I’ve always said that the United States taught us how to play on those big stages and opened our eyes to a new way of engaging with an audience. We came offstage at that first Creation gig knowing that we had to up our game if we were going to play more “shows” like that. It was obvious that we had a long way to go before we could present what we did to a field full of people, and I can still remember feeling utterly petrified by not knowing how to do it.

Somewhere amid that fear was something else – the sense that this could all end by being something profoundly great. I’d always thought that the two parts of me – one liked to perform, and one liked to worship – existed in separate spaces, finding different outlets. But up on a stage with a crowd that stretched out in front of me like a lake, it was different. Perhaps those two parts of me weren’t strangers after all. What would it be like if I could learn how to draw the crowd in and then step aside to join them in worship?

….

At times, I felt that my showman side needed to be kept separate from the worshipper, but I knew deep down that the two were brothers, not strangers. And they enriched each other: My performance had meaning when linked to worship, which in turn was able to draw more people in when delivered with confidence in front of the crowd.

I’ve highlighted some of Smith’s insights here because I think performance is a very important part of worship leading. To try to look unemotional and uninvolved is false humility (unless that’s your natural disposition).

Think about the preacher. The most effective preachers are the ones who are animated, who translate their passion into words and gestures. And when the cloud of emotion settles, you know that the seed of transformation has been planted.

I think Smith is absolutely right: worship leaders need the performance element to bring people in before moving aside to join them in worship.

Of course, there is a line to be drawn. A worship leader can become so obsessed with performance so as to forget the reason why he or she is up on stage. A worship leader can be so performance orientated so as to bring attention on themselves rather than God. But a degree of performance is a good thing and I think it’s about time that the church recognises that performance is very much part of the art of worship leading.