I was recently watching a college baseball game with my son, Michael. We got to the game early and both teams were still going through their pre-game routine. Like most kids, Michael’s favorite part of baseball is when someone hits a home run. As the last few players took batting practice, we noticed that each one ended their session with a few bunts. For those unfamiliar with baseball: if a home run is the most exciting moment, a bunt is the most boring. To “bunt,” you simply place your bat out over home plate and attempt to very softly tap the ball down the baseline. Although bunts aren’t very thrilling, they are an absolutely necessary part of baseball strategy. In fact, some of the most important baseball games ever played have been won or lost based on a player’s ability to execute this fundamental play. But it’s no surprise that as Michael watched the players finish their batting session with bunts, he remarked, “Well, that’s kind of boring.” I laughed.
I think the same thing can often be true for worship leaders. We, too, can get preoccupied with the flashier parts of our roles to the point that we begin to neglect the fundamentals. We can get so busy with important tasks like building set lists, connecting with volunteers, or preparing tracks for rehearsal, that we forget what’s most important.
So what is most important? What should we always aim to keep central in our lives as worship leaders? What’s our “bunt”? I believe it is, simply put, to stay close to Jesus.
Practically speaking, it’s prayer. This may well be the central task for any follower of Jesus—to be with Him and to learn to stay close. But especially for those of us who are leaders in the Church, we cannot afford to neglect our life with God at any cost. The risk is far too great.
One of my favorite stories about the necessity of being with Jesus is in Acts chapter 4. In this story, Peter and John are on trial before the Sanhedrin for powerfully teaching and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. God was using Peter and John in great ways during these days, and many were coming to faith and following Jesus as a result of their ministry. The rulers and teachers of the law were upset and perplexed with Peter and John, so they began questioning their methods. They were essentially asking, “How are you teaching with such authority and power?!” Peter and John responded to their questioning with such precision and courage that the high priest and his family were astonished. Listen to what they said about them…
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” - Acts 4:13
Isn’t that incredible? They took note that Peter and John had been with Jesus. That’s quite possibly the greatest compliment any follower of Jesus could receive. To have someone note the power of your leadership, the precision of your craft, and the effectiveness of your ministry and yet, they find out the most fundamental element under it all is the fact that you have cultivated a life that stays close to Jesus. Jesus’ way has rubbed off on you so much that it’s become your way. The authority He carries, and now bestows on all of His followers, has now become the authority that you carry as you lead. The insight that He has as a leader has slowly helped you see how you can serve people best with your giftings. You’ve been with Jesus and people recognize it.
This is what we forfeit when we get too busy to practice our “bunts.” The trade we make when we neglect prayer in order to stay on top of our giant task list isn’t worth it. At the end of the day, the people that we serve don’t need hollow leaders; they need holy leaders. Hollow leaders look like the real thing on the outside, but their inside is hollow—it hasn’t been filled to overflow with Christ. You can only be filled when you stop pouring out and allow Christ to fill you back up. Holy leaders aren’t self-made, they’re God-made. Holy leaders are formed by the power of the Holy Spirit through constant communion with Jesus—learning to be with Him no matter the season or the circumstance. This is the most important task for any worship leader.
Back to that baseball game: as it neared its end, the score was tight and we were down by one run. We managed an infield single that landed one of our fastest players on first base. With only one out in the game, I knew what was coming. As the pitcher began his windup, one of the top sluggers on our team squared up to bunt the ball instead of taking a swing. His bunt was picture perfect, rolling right down the third base line, advancing our baserunner to second. Our next batter came in clutch and hit a game-winning, walk-off home run! It was an amazing moment.
On our drive home, Michael and I talked about the game. As I was raving about how amazing that last home run had been, Michael interjected, “Yeah, but if that guy hadn’t landed that bunt, we probably wouldn’t have been able to win the game.” And he was right.
My closing encouragement is that God uses it all: the home runs, the bunts, and the infield singles. He cares about our guitar tone, our singing, our preparation, and our delivery. But if we get so preoccupied with any of it that we neglect living lives of prayer, learning to stay close to Jesus, we’ve missed the point. I pray that people speak of you and I like they did of Peter and John: amazed at how God can take ordinary people and use them to do extraordinary things all because we’ve been with Jesus.