Dear Worship Leader: Some Thoughts from the Congregation

I've visited quite a few churches lately. Here are a few observations...

I’ve visited quite a few churches lately. Here are a few observations…

Hey, Worship Leader, I’m on your side.

When God’s people worship him together, the enemy trembles, and you get to be on point. I really want you to do well.

But I’ve been visiting a lot of different churches lately, and I’m afraid it’s just not happening. Maybe it’s me. If someone loves God, they ought to be able to worship him anywhere, anytime, and I want to.

I really do.

But you’re not helping. Not often anyway. Instead of directing my heart to God, I’m afraid you’ve done more to distract. And I’ve talked to enough people to know that I’m not alone.

Now, I’ve pastored long enough to mistrust anonymous complaints, so let’s pray for each other. If I’m missing something you let me know. In the meantime here are a few things I hope you’ll consider before attempting to lead the saints into the presence of the Almighty:*

Just because your favorite Christian artists sound constipated doesn’t mean you have to. 

There are a lot of them.

It’s popular, I guess, though I don’t know why. Popularity rarely equals ability, but won’t you agree that unpleasant sounds detract from good music?

Grunting isn’t the same thing as passion. Groaning is no substitute for sincerity. And singing as if you’re in pain (to say nothing of your facial contractions) isn’t any more spiritual than singing pleasantly while smiling.

And since we’re talking about singing…

Just because you have a guitar doesn’t mean you should be singing.

It’s hard enough to play one instrument well, let alone two at the same time, and your voice is an instrument. I know you spend time tuning your guitar strings, but you kill the effect if you’re singing flat.

Can you tell?

We live in a world of singing guitarists, but we also live in a world of American Idol and The Voice. Surely we know by now that not everyone sings as well as they think. Use the gifts God has given you, and if you want to sing, consider taking some voice lessons.

And once you can sing well enough to lead the congregation…

Remember that if you look around and no one is singing with you, it’s called a “solo.”

John Maxwell is famous for saying that if you think you’re leading and no one is following, you’re only taking a walk. Well, the same goes for leading worship

That song you love but no one else outside your circle of friends has heard? Either teach it to us patiently, or sing it by yourself. But please don’t make us stand there awkwardly while you croon with your eyes shut.

Our eyes are open – we’re looking around to see if we’re the only ones who don’t know this song.

We’re not.

Even if we actually listen to the Christian Top 40 during the week, we can’t sing songs we don’t know.

And even if we do know them…

David Crowder doesn’t record congregational songs.

Yes, you went to that conference with five thousand other church leaders in their 20s and 30s and sang Crowder songs until the arena exploded.

But here’s the thing: you like Crowder and know his songs. His beautiful, highly poetic, musically complex, sometimes ambiguous songs. Which is like a list of reasons to think twice before using one in a congregation of diverse ages, backgrounds, and musical ability.

I don’t know what my beer-swilling, football-loving neighbor thinks about hurricanes, trees, and unforeseen kisses, but you want him to sing “Oh, la, la, la, la, la, la” a half dozen times?

And speaking of content…

Please make sure we’re singing to Jesus, not Captain Planet.**

Metaphors, similes, and symbolic language are great, and great lyrics are often nothing more than poetry set to music.

But there’s more to God than earth, water, wind, and fire. There’s the Gospel, and it involves death, life, blood, a wooden cross, faith, grace, sin, righteousness, love, substitution, rescue, victory, resurrection,  and glory.

And Jesus Christ.

Trust me, that’s more relevant and understandable than waves, waters, and words that only rhyme when sung with an Australian accent.

Of course, once we’re singing to Jesus, I’m sure you’ll want to lead us in prayer, so…

Can we pray to someone other than “Father Weejus?”

I’m not criticizing your prayers, but something’s a little off when you sound like you’re trying to think of things to say instead of talking to the King. You know, like, “Father Weejus ask you to fill us, and Weejus need you right now, and Weejus want your love.”

King, Father, Brother, or Friend, let’s talk to someone we know instead of trying to appear spiritual in front of a crowd.

It’s OK to stop playing your guitar while praying or simply to ask someone else to pray. Or everyone!

Just remember, “God” is not a synonym for “um.”

This post isn’t about bashing worship leaders.

Worship leader, like I said, I’m on your side. When you do a good job, I really appreciate it.

If I sound like I don’t take you seriously, it’s because I’ve sat in front of too many worship leaders who don’t seem to take themselves seriously.

They take hipster culture seriously. They take the recording industry seriously. They take their equipment and hair product seriously.

But when it comes to Christ, his Church, his Gospel, and the role of worship in our corporate sanctification and global mission, I’m just not convinced they understand how truly important they are.

How important you are.

I have been extraordinarily blessed by godly worship leaders who simply did their best for the glory of God and the good of his church. They loved God, considered God’s truth, thought hard about how to lead God’s people, and coordinated the abilities God had given them and others.

Neither the size of the worship team, nor the style of the music had anything to do with it. It simply came down to understanding the role, working hard to do it well, and trusting God to bless.

I pray the same for you.

*Disclaimer: This post was written after visiting a variety of churches over a 9 month period of time and should not be considered a reflection of any church or worship leader in particular.

The opinions given in this post, however, are unanimously shared by several other people visiting many of the same services, though – as a group – we possess above average musical training and ability, which undoubtedly makes us more sensitive to the musical portion of any worship service.

**”Captain Planet and the Planeteers” was an environmentalist sermon series thinly-veiled as an after-school cartoon in the early 90s. The hero was summoned by the combination of the protagonists’ elemental power rings: earth, fire, wind, water, and heart. Sadly many modern worship songs contain as much biblical truth as this show did.

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