For several years (13 of them full-time) I was a church worship leader. By that, I mean that I planned and led worship services for various churches, each Sunday being the lead voice in that service. Without belaboring the point and reciting all of the tales (I sometimes feel like Henry V, "These scars I had upon St. Cripian's Day") I endured many hurts - some of them so disillusioning that I decided to lay that mantle down and not take it up again. Instead, I have focused on teaching, performing, some writing, and other jobs that would not hurt my heart so much. I remember I was asked in my first year of consulting how I liked it. My response was, "I love getting up in the morning knowing no one will go to hell based on whether I do my job well or not." Total hyperbole, I know. Mostly what I loved was not being in a position for the church to hurt me. Well, suffice it to say that the church (not mine, specifically, but the greater church at large) has found a way to hurt me whether I am on the platform or not. That is just what it does.
It would not be overstatement to say that the past 8 years have been time in the desert for me. I am often angry, frequently feel lost, rail at God, most of you know the drill. But in this desert have been times of challenge and reflection. Here are some of the conclusions that I have arrived at and that define my life and thinking right now.
- The vast (and I mean VAST) majority of what we do in corporate worship services has no eternal or even remedial value. We recite truths that we agree on, rather than truths that challenge us to become different. We sing songs that give us comfort rather than those that open our hearts to God's work in us.We sing and recite our sacrifices to God with un-bowed hearts to him and un-resolved conflict with our brothers and sisters sitting a chair or two over.
- The whole hymns-vs-current songs thing was a monumental waste of time and energy. I have often said that in the "Worship Wars" I am a non-combatant. What I really believe is this; I treasure and cherish every word and every note that has ever been written to God's glory and to man's desire for him. No one is really making a fortune - a Michael-Jackson style fortune - off of writing and singing Christian/Gospel/Worship music. I would say that almost everyone who is doing it is doing it for the love of the art form at least and for the love of God at best. If y'all want to keep on arguing about what is better; Dead-guy European music or Hippie-hymns, please take your argument somewhere else. God is not a music critic.
- Worship Music that does not change us - is not worship. And don't blame the music! Lot's of people read the Bible and it doesn't change them. Are we going to blame the Bible?
- Ask yourself; do you love God's word, or just the Bible? That is going to seem like a confusing and almost blasphemous question to some people, but I don't care. Jesus taught us that the entire law and prophets hang on, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength," and, "Love you neighbor as you would yourself." It is not at all an unreasonable deduction then to say that the Bible-as-God's-word should be transforming everyone who takes it seriously into a more loving, charitable, understanding, forbearing - for crying out loud, read I Corinthians 13 again, and not at a wedding this time. That is what we are to be in the process of becoming. If that is not happening to me, the only person who can stop that is me. To the degree that I am resisting that process, that is the degree that reading the Bible is just an academic exercise.
Were I to have the same conversation now, I would respond like this.
- Does your church make the stranger and vagabond welcome? No? Then you are offending God.
- Do you seek out the widow and the orphan, the homeless and the hurting? No? Then you are offending God.
- Is your morality all about some political laundry-list of do's and don'ts rather than driving you to be the hands and feet of Christ? No? Then you are offending God.
- Do you set your family aside to do church business? Yes? Then you are REALLY offending God - who made your family your FIRST ministry.
- When you speak from the pulpit do you share your weaknesses and the areas that God is teaching, and perhaps breaking you? No? Then you are offending God, starving your people, and probably boring the snot out of everyone. Trust me, the last thing anyone on this earth needs to hear is a verse-by-verse exposition on the Tabernacle. Sorry, OT scholars, it just doesn't matter - not to someone who can't find a job, or has a sick child and no insurance, or has a drinking problem, or whose wife just left them for another woman. IT DOESN'T MATTER. Knowing each of Calvin's five points is going to get EXACTLY NO ONE into heaven or anywhere else.
Anything else would be a waste of everyone's time, and I have already wasted the time of too many people. If I ever again have the opportunity to lead a congregation in worship (and that is doubtful at this point) the above are the principals by which I shall do it. None of the other principals I have espoused at different points in my life matter to me anymore.