Sunday, April 22, 2018

Hitting On The Bride

Recently I shared some excerpts from the book "How To Worship A King" when I had to teach on worship. One analogy jumped out at me. It was so clear, so concise and so relatable because as a guy we can all imagine how we would feel if...

Someone starts hitting on our wife.

What I loved about this story was the writer's awareness of the role of the server. Let me sum it up for you, or at least tell you what was going on in my head as I read the author's example. 

You take your wife to dinner and instead of the server coming over to serve, he starts entertaining your wife. Next thing you know, he is sitting down in the booth next to her taking his sweet time to capture her attention. Frequent stops at the table, not to refill your drink or see if you need anything, no, just to tell your wife a funny story, or get a reaction from her. Eventually, you feel like you are the third person on the date between your server and your wife. Your wife is polite, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. Your wife says "he's just trying to make polite conversation, or get a nice tip." But now you are angry, you are jealous. Because your agenda has now been hijacked by this entertainer who was supposed to be simply serving you. 

This was one of the best analogies I've ever read about the wrong way to lead worship. As a worship pastor, we get the honor of putting words into our congregation's mouth to offer back to God in worship. We get to take the pulse and temperature of a room. The songs we choose, the order we place them, the details of the arrangement, how long we let them breathe, how much negative space we place in certain parts of the song all play into the worship experience. A song we opened with one week, might be the closing song another week. Do we do the song the same way, at the same tempo, with all the bells and whistles, clicks, loops and a full complement of singers? Or do we strip it back, slow it down, focus on the words, skip the guitar solos and wait for the congregation to take the song from us and own it?

I've always felt the combat of a worship set. I've always felt that in worship we were engaged in battle with the enemy for attention, time and space. Thoughts like you don't deserve to be up there seemed to be the mantra of the enemy during worship. I knew I was prepared and spiritually ready, but for some, maybe we had one too many beers the night before at a friend's party. Maybe, we stared a bit too long at the summer dresses during the opening songs of the set or watched something on cable that we knew we shouldn't have. Maybe you had a fight with your spouse or child and in anger said some things that were hurtful. Maybe you just buried a family friend or loved one, or found out your best friends marriage just ended.  The enemy takes all this as fuel and uses it to fan the flames of doubt, insecurity, fear, shame, and pain. Anything to take our attention off the focus of the set.

Now there is a different noise that we allow the enemy to use as fuel. I would say hold on tight..... this is when the real battle is about to begin. The enemy no longer has to scream our insecurities into our ear, he only has to whisper. "Dang, you are killin' it." Another whisper, "check out this crowd, they are diggin' you." Another whisper.." man this band is tight today, way to go!"  

Then it begins. Eyes start darting around the room, we start seeking affirmation from the
congregation. We start looking for who else is diggin' this. We start shouting commands to put hands together and we tell them we need their energy. "Give a shout out to God!" The lyrics flash across the screen and we creatively analogize our feelings about how God makes us feel. Twenty-five minutes later, we are sweating and exhausted and we haven't even brought water to the table, much less the meal. Remember that whole who are we serving at the table. The caution is this. Did we just spend 25 minutes hitting on the bride of Christ? If we look back at our lyrics, did we even speak directly to him?

So what can we do about it? What are the guardrails and warning signs we can install to warn us when our worship set slips off the rails?

A professional who is very well respected in the worship industry shared something with me that changed my life. It has also changed how I view my role as a worship pastor, and how I execute a worship set. He said there are three types of churches. The first is the one that from the ground up is designed and structured to chase the absolute creativity and presence of God. Their organizational chart, their ministry focus, their reporting structures, inward and outfacing communication, purchases, budgets, vision casting, hiring and consulting are all designed around how to best follow the heart of Christ creatively and put it on display for the world. 

The second is the church that copies everything the first church does from an outward appearance. They are not at all structured to operate like the first, but they have become so good at looking the same, dressing the same, sounding the same and even imitating the special Holy Spirit moments that were organically a part of the first church's expression, that they look identical. 

Then there is everyone else, the rest of the churches. They want to be like church one and two but have no idea which one is the real thing and which one is the clone.

Man, that rocked me to my core. We want the testimony without the test, we want the 
appearance of diversity without actually having to do the work of being diverse, we want the performance so badly that we elevate talent over character or worse we just want the look even at the expense of quality.

Are we hitting on the bride? Are we serving our congregations or are they being used to validate our ministry agendas? If Christ showed up during our worship set standing at the back of our rooms, would we be able to continue doing exactly what we were doing when we noticed him? Would Jesus look around the room, read the lyrics of our songs, and feel like He was being worshipped. Would he even recognize our worship? Or is is out of sight out of mind?

In an earlier career making and selling ophthalmic optics we would say, if you are off by a millimeter here, by the time this person is driving home and looking hundreds of yards down the road, they can't see. When designing a telescope, if you are off by a millimeter here, you could miss an entire planet out there. Yet, we are pointing people towards eternity and the consequences of us missing here are beyond comprehension. This may sound like I am putting a larger than life emphasis on the musical part of worship. However, I do feel strongly about the participatory aspect of worship during a church service. I believe it is an opportunity for hundreds of people to participate collectively while God works individually and collectively simultaneously. Therefore if our worship is about us and measuring the vibe and energy in a room and not seeking opportunities to direct people to Him, then what are we pointing people to? How are we any different from the world? 

Are we serving our congregation as the waiter or host, meeting their needs, checking in on them from time to time but all the while allowing the groom to attract his bride to Him?  

Let's get back to the concept that hungry people go where there is food. Don't waste time setting the table if we can't feed people. Hungry people will take a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a brown bag over an ornately elaborately decorated table with no food on it. To be able to effectively do both is awesome, powerful and impactful. As worship pastors, we must prepare to serve those we are leading. We must point people away from the stage and towards the story coming from the stage. The story of the grace, forgiveness, salvation, and service. 

As religious organizations, if we can take the time to understand the culture that we want to emulate rather than plagiarize the end result, great things can be accomplished. Don't settle for what we think is a one size fits all. God is creative enough and big enough for all of us to have a unique voice and approach that fits our church, our culture, our community, our people and our volunteers. With that in mind, we have what we need to lead well and stop hitting on the bride.

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