So here I am, on a Sunday morning, blogging. For those who have been tracking with me, I haven’t been blogging much here lately because I have been helping out a congregation with their worship music while they are in between leaders, occupying my Sunday mornings for awhile (which is when I usually blog here). But today they are trying out a new candidate, so I have the morning off. Sweet. 🙂
So tying loosely into my recent post “Same Gifts, New Setting” with the fact that I’ve been using my worship leading “chops” a bit more recently, I’ve been thinking about a huge paradigm shift I’ve gone through regarding worship, music, the arts, and the church. It wasn’t a one-day epiphany kind of thing, more of a transformation over the period of several years.
As a full-time worship leader, I was obviously very much into music and the arts as they related to church, and was even considered revolutionary in some church circles because we were so expressive with it. Contemporary (read: loud) music, banners, dance, drama…any creative way in which we might express worship to God, we tried to explore it. While there are still many camps in the church who frown on this kind of thing for a variety of reasons, we always believed (and still do) that if we were created in the image of a Creator, then our creativity brings honor to Him. We also believed in abandoned expression, taking our cue from King David, who “danced before the Lord with all his might.” We believed, and taught, unabashed passion in worship, emptying ourselves before God in worship. And at the pinnacle of this season of our lives, we encountered God in some absolutely amazing ways.
In that season, I believed (and taught) that the church should be a breeding ground for the arts, and that the arts serve their best purpose when yielded back to God. (At that time, my interpretation of that belief was that people should bring their creative gifts into the context of church, and use them in the corporate worship setting–like I was doing.) 🙂 I preached messages that challenged the church at large to get rid ofcreativity-killing mindsets and begin to encourage creativity. I grieved that so many creative people who had grown up in church were leaving, largely because the church gave them no avenue to express their gifts. A long-term vision began to form, a vision to establish a place for 24-hour worship, not entirely unlike the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, along with perhaps a school that would focus on helping people redeem their creative gifts for worship. In my head, I envisioned this major organization that would be a buzzing hub of creativity and excitement–all under the banner of Christianity.
Looking back, I still hold a lot of these basic beliefs about worship in my heart. Even though I am not currently leading worship in church on a permanent basis, I still feel that deep passion for Jesus and will always be a worshiper at heart. But looking back, I must also admit that in my youth, I drew a lot of identity from being a worship leader, as well as from our particular style of worship–and as a result, a lot of my direction (and even some of my theology) was based on that faulty foundation. One thing that long-term readers might quickly catch from what I’ve described is that everything I was envisioning about worship and creativity was within the context of institutional church–because at that time I did not differentiate in my mind between the Body of Christ and the institutional structures we’ve set up around it. Like most Christians, I saw the corporate gathering of believers as the central expression of the church, and our main goal as getting as many people as possible to join that gathering, for its own sake.
When God began to strip me, one by one, of the religious idols I was holding in my heart, one of those idols was the identity I drew from being a “worship leader.” When this idol fell, I began to see how much of my own paradigm of worship had been formed around it. When I stopped clinging to that sense of identity, I was better able to focus on the kingdom of God, rather than my own kingdom–and when I looked at what actually serves the purposes of God’s kingdom (and what doesn’t), my paradigm began to shift.
Perhaps the most significant thing about this shift was that I began to realize that my “dream” to set up a 24-hour worship center had actually been pressed upon me, and that it wasn’t actually something God had put in my heart. And when I saw more clearly just how ingrown the church had become within its institutions, the idea of setting up another institution seemed entirely futile. When I began to see the mission of Christ through a new lens, I realized that the church has a mentality of trying to attract people to come to its established institutions, when in fact the Great Commission is about us going to them, not about them coming to us.
I began to look back over my years as a worship leader, and I saw a disturbing trend. I saw all these remarkable encounters with God in worship, how we and those who had gathered with us had experienced these amazing things–but for the most part, we saw little change in people’s lives–no real transformation. People who had been prostrate in front of God on the floor would get up from the floor, and be just as ornery as before. There was no deeper call to the greater mission of Christ, to go out from our gatherings and reveal the kingdom of God to others; there was only, “God, do it again!” The whole thing was ingrown, focused only on the experiences that were happening within the walls–and even when we tried to turn the attention outward, we found that people were not willing to do so. I had this passion for worship, but as a worship leader, I began to feel like all I was doing was throwing candy to the church. I did not see the kingdom of God within those walls, and I began to feel like what we were doing had no real significance in the bigger picture.
That realization has fueled a journey that still continues today–a quest to find the movements of the kingdom of God outside the restraining walls of institutional Christianity. It has largely fueled what I described in the post “Same Gifts, New Setting.”
And that’s where I see the paradigm shift.
I am still very much a worshiper, even when I’m not acting as a worship leader. I still love to use my particular gifts to encourage believers in a worship setting, and to enable people to draw close to God, whether or not I’m singing in an established church congregation. I think that will always be part of me. But I find it amazing that a few years ago, my whole direction was to attract creativity inside the church establishment, and now I seem to have moved completely the other direction–taking the creativity outside the walls of church, and letting God use it for a larger kingdom purpose. The simple switch from moving inward to moving outward can make all the difference in perspective.
I no longer see worship within one form of expression. I see that worship can take many different forms, and not just in music. I see that worship can occur in a gathering of believers, and it can also occur during open stage night in a bar. I don’t think I’ve abandoned my calling; I think God has removed the restraints and expanded the parameters in which I can walk in that calling. I look forward to seeing just how many ways that calling can be fulfilled.