Sunday, April 15, 2018
The Virus Of The Stage
Being a worship pastor has been one of the greatest opportunities to serve in my life. I grew up a military brat and I traveled the world because of it. When you are the son of an Army General you grow up on the stage. No lights, no haze, no crowd, just all eyes on you every day. Every grade, every curse word, every bad penalty taken on the soccer field, every girlfriend, every date, every shift at the job, every speeding ticket, and every newspaper ever delivered on my bicycle was under the microscope of, that's the General's son. So when I entered full-time ministry at the age of 37 to become a worship pastor, it was a fairly easy transition for me to assume the mantle of being on stage again.
Different stage, big screen, lots of lights, huge congregation and once again all eyes were on me. I was under the microscope of Pastor now. I was once again my father's son. I understood service, I understood what it meant to be "on". I know what it's like to walk into a room and have all eyes on you simply because of the number of people you play in front of. I was on the job just three weeks when I was listed as one of the top 20 worship leaders in the country. I had only been a full-time worship pastor for 11 months. Being on the stage, meant a lot of this stuff just came with the job. It was a job, one I didn't realize I had been preparing for my entire life.
So what happens when it comes time to leave that job? What happens when the stage literally shifts under your feet. All of the sudden the reason you were on the stage is no longer the reason you are wanted on the stage? You try to preserve your culture, but the culture continues to shift. You try to leave a legacy and implant your DNA, but your legacy is being challenged by people who supposedly knew you best. You try to protect your teams and the volunteers you served alongside all those years, however, your volunteers, you are told, belong to the church. Obviously, there is a ton to unpack here but I want to do this in pieces in case there are others out there that have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience what I'm still processing.
I've learned over the years that when the potential for something evaporates I am no longer interested and need to move on. The problem with this philosophy is not everyone sees the potential you do. Not everyone has the same vision for what you have a vision for. Finally, your vision may not be what you were hired to bring about. It was like this for me in corporate business. When you arrive at the corporate office and realize you enjoyed the front lines better. To leave the corporate office pretty much ends your upward potential. So similar to a church. I arrived at the big church, big stage, big team, big resources, big sound and lights, and big opportunities. Often the case with larger churches is your focus narrows. Just like as a company grows, not every great idea gets equal time. Eventually, you end up in a culture of yes men and women where good ideas can only generated from the top down, but communication has multiple layers going up, losing translation with each layer but maintaining its ability to roll downhill at lightning speed, loud and clear. You quickly realize you feel a lot like a hamster on a wheel. Just do your job and keep this machine moving. No room for failure, no room for growth, no room for creativity or change. Now you realize the potential for a future that includes you or your vision in some capacity is gone, and you are not even sure when the bus left the station but it is gone, and you are no longer on it.
This is where I found myself more than a decade after pouring my heart and soul into being a worship pastor. I had good job offers after I made the decision to leave, but my family situation was changing. My girls were graduating and heading to college my wife had seniority and tenure in her job and our entire lives were wrapped up in this city, our community, our small group and those we did life with. The big salary was gone, the big stage was gone, and all of the sudden so were all the people that insulated you from the harsh reality that somehow the enemy gained a foothold and part of what you did became part of your identity. This is when the real pain began.
I have shed many tears of pain and anger. We tell ourselves all the time, our identity must come from our relationship with Christ. So you can only imagine the pain of realizing that no matter how I protected myself, no matter how many guardrails I had in place, no matter how nice and tight my hazmat suit was sealed up, that virus still got in. It got in because I brought it in with me.
Part of my self-worth was in my ability to use the gifts God gave me to create something special, to leave a mark, to impact a culture or take a team and make it better than the sum of its parts. Now the thing I spent years protecting myself from, is trapped inside with me and I am its only enemy.
I now lead worship for a much smaller church, I am back to doing the job that 5 people did for me at the larger church. I have a great opportunity at this new church to settle in and not relocate my family but still continue to lead worship, develop a team, and for the first time to be heard when it came to impacting change on a larger scale. But no hazmat suit this time. No way I am going to go through that again.
Where do you go when the job no longer feeds the virus? I don't know. I don't know if you can do your job well and not take pride in it. But we all know what the bible says about pride. I don't know how to pour yourself into people and their families for over a decade and then flip a switch and remove yourself from those communities. I don't know how to push yourself musicially and bring the best out of your team until the wow factor is acheieved, then act like eh' it was nothing. But I do know this. None of that is what God called his worship leaders to do. Our job is to simply facilitate a God-focused worship experience and stay out of God's way.
Nowhere did it say, arrange and produce a killer set with the city's best musicians, nowhere did it say to have a photographer capture great shots under the lights and haze so we can build our social media traffic. Nowhere did He ask us to produce a worship set that sounded exactly like what our congregation hears on the radio. We were never asked by God to own the best gear or write the hit songs. We were never asked by God to monetize our social media channel or build a fan base. We were never asked by God to launch our worship leaders into professional concert worship ministries.
This is the virus of the stage.
God wants our character first, then He will use our competency. But we live in a world that tells us we have to lead by example in order to be relevant, however, all over this planet, there are tens of thousands of worship leaders that are relevant to their volunteers, to their congregations and to the families of those they serve with. They have no means to produce a killer set, no resources to buy the best gear, and no physical space big enough to light, haze and film a killer worship set to post on social media. I've been on both sides I've seen both worlds, and while ego, pride, self-righteousness can infect anyone at any level, I am writing this to caution those of you who will one day find themselves no longer on the big stage, no longer surrounded by the best players, and longer with any capability to produce and film something special that happens during worship and share it with the world.
Who do you want to be when the room goes dark, the career that should have never become a career comes to an end and with each passing day, you find yourself further and further away from where you thought you were going?
Me... I want to be a worship pastor who still finds pleasure in the beauty of a transparent song written to our creator, not to our congregation. I want to be a worshipper who still cries when it's just me and my instrument in an unfinished basement. I want to be a servant who will bring whatever gear he has left to help another musician find his/her gifting to serve at church. I want to be that lover of worship culture that always gives a guitar away or buys a guitar for a kid that wants to do what you do. I want to be that person who doesn't need a worship set to have their heart of worship validated. Some of you may read this and think this is just a bitter former worship leader whose time has come and gone and they weren't ready for the new reality. I hope that is not the case. I hope you will follow me on this journey so maybe I can spare some of you the pain of the virus of the stage before you are fighting for your spiritual lives. I know a lot of good came from my service in worship. I know lives were touched and people opened their hearts up to Christ because of songs and experiences they had during worship.
All I know is when my children put me in the ground and I have no more songs to write and no more words leave my lips in praise this side of heaven, I will be remembered not as a worship leader, but as a person who loved God and His presence and spent time in it. Even when that time was a painful detox from the virus that can be so easily misdiagnosed as worship ministry.