“The church that can’t worship must be entertained, and the man that can’t lead worship must provide entertainment.” - AW Tozer
Dear Worship Leader,
Is there any part of your heart that views yourself as an entertainer, or views what you do week after week when you stand before God’s people to “initiate worship” as entertainment?
If we’re honest, many of us would confess that the line between genuine servant leadership and entertainment can be blurred far too often. That line is thinner than we realize, and we are more broken and easily swayed than we are willing to own.
Our own weakness aside, it is easy to lose our way as the mainstream “culture of worship” is increasingly mirroring the secular entertainment industry. From the normalization of Christian celebrity culture to the elevation of programming and production as the most important things, there are many cards that seem to be stacked against us as we seek to lead God’s people from a heart of service over performance.
While [musical] worship leadership is inherently performative, performance is never the goal; nor should it be our motivator, and nor does it have any power to sustain a lifestyle of worship off the platform. Things like musical proficiency, stage presence, and creatively compelling expressions are definitely helpful tools, but they just are not and can not be the main things! Only the Main Thing is the main thing. God is unrivaled in His worthiness of worship, and our role exists to keep that reality at the forefront of people’s hearts and minds.
Our responsibility as worship leaders is very simple when you boil it down: ours is the honor and privilege of serving people by pointing them to a God that is bigger and greater than every other thing that is fading away like the grass of the field. Our aim is to lead God’s people to treasure, honor and worship Him rightly, not to entertain them, manipulate their emotions, or hold their attention.
We’ve been given unique gifts to inspire authentic adoration and affection for Jesus within the hearts of believers. We get to use our gifts to provide inspiration and direction while also doing everything that we can to remove distraction. That is it. That is the win. If you have done that, then you have stewarded leadership well.
Over the summer, I had the privilege of participating in one of the biggest tours in the history of Christian music. While it was definitely an honor to be a part of something as epic as an arena tour, I was faced with a conflict of conscience almost every single night on the road. The realities of a multi-million-dollar production for worship music were really hard to reconcile with some of my core convictions around worship leadership.
I had to take inventory of my own heart almost every single day. In the midst of the lights, smoke, and LED screens, the propensity of my own heart to make idols of created things and created beings was brought into the light. My own need to be perceived and received in a certain way in order to feel validated as a worship leader was exposed. As far as worship leadership is concerned, I’ve never been more convinced of the fault in my own humanity, and I’ve also never been more zealous to actively wage war against every part of me that feels the need or desire to entertain God’s people. The Church is not a theater and we are not rockstars.
We are lowly sinners radically redeemed by the mercy of a benevolent Father who gives good, good gifts to His people so that those gifts might provoke our hearts to worship Him. The pressure to impress doesn't come from God; it comes from a nature that is bent towards rebellion and idolatry.
The best model of the kind of leadership that refuses to entertain despite the circumstances is Christ Himself. Jesus absolutely refused to entertain people. We see it over and over again in the Gospels when the crowds pressed in on Him demanding signs–demanding to be awed–basically saying to Him, “Prove yourself. Prove your worth. Prove to us that you are who you say you are. If You are a king, then show us! Do a miracle; turn stones into loaves of bread; blow us away!”
Jesus rejected this pressure because His goal on earth was not to satiate people’s thirst for entertainment; it wasn’t to give them a momentary emotional fill. His goal on earth was to glorify the Father, and for people to repent, be saved, and be ushered into the Kingdom of God.
Worship Leader, let’s be like Jesus. Let’s be about our Father’s business in all ways, at all times, even when we are faced with an ever-present temptation to make it about us (or anything besides Him, really). Let us utilize every good gift that He has given us not for the amusement of others, but for the initiative of true worship within their hearts.
Another very human and often struggling worship leader