I've had a lot of back-door conversations with fellow worship leaders, slugging it out week after week in the local church. This blog has connected me with many of you, and we've met at conferences or just on the road when I've been to your towns or when you've been to mine. When we get down to the deep conversations where we're sharing the joys and woes of pastoral ministry in the context of worship, I sometimes hear something like the following refrain:
Zac, I read your blog and keep up with the online ministry of other like-minded worship leaders, and I can't help but wishing that my context was more like yours. It seems like you've got a church full of sold-out, thoughtful, passionate, engaged worshipers, and when I compare that to my own context, I get pretty discouraged.
I'm connected with a lot of very talented worship leaders who have all been called to some form of ministry to the broader church. They're seeking to fulfill that calling through writing, recording, blogging, speaking, traveling, offering seminars, etc. And I know them and their contexts well enough to say with full confidence:
OUR CHURCHES ARE JUST LIKE YOURS.
I was thinking about this (when I should have been thinking about Jesus or the Trinity or something far more important like that) while I was leading music yesterday and looking out on the congregation with whom I was worshiping. My off-the-cuff calculations yielded the following ratios (admittedly based on what I observed, not what was truly in the heart, which only God knows):
15-20% - engaged
Either by virtue of their raw physical expression or just the small exposure of sincerity on their faces, this portion of our congregation appeared to be in it to win it.
55-60% - slightly engaged, nominally trying
This group yawned through words, had a numb or disinterested look about them, was distracted by whatever was distracting them, and generally appeared as though they were unaffected by the content of the liturgy (I say "appeared" to hopefully buffer the fact that I know I'm misreading people because I can't see into hearts).
15-20% - disengaged
This group didn't sing a single word or note and didn't utter a word of any of the responsive readings. Either they were totally glazed over, bowing down at their phones, or exhibiting some form of glare that ran the spectrum of skepticism to disgust. Some folks in this group sometimes looked around at the engaged folks with a bit of shock and/or amusement.
DOES THIS SOUND LIKE ANY OF YOUR CHURCHES?
Maybe not. But I know that my friends who lead in contexts from the cafeteria church-plant to the multi-site megachurch would admit similar ratios.
Deflating the Myth
There can be a perception that when worship leaders are trained and skilled, and when they're called to a more public ministry to the broader church, that they have some sort of mojo that makes their worship contexts more hip, vibrant, "sexy," or just plain better by whatever rubrics you would measure with.
Though each doxological context has its own blessings and curses, the truth is that neither we nor our congregations have it all figured out. We, too, are wading through the muck of our fallenness. I know that every Sunday, my offering to God is a mixture of my own sin/idolatry and Christ's goodness through the Spirit in me, and I know that this is the recipe of the congregation's own makeup, as well.
I think that many of you would come to Coral Ridge on a Sunday, see what I do and how I lead, look at our simul-justus-et-peccator-ish flock, and say, "Whoa...how ordinary! I was expecting something so much more! I was expecting [you fill in the blank]." Sometimes public ministries and public personas can make the "average Joe" feel like they lack something. I want to do my part to deflate that myth and empower the local worship leader to pastor where they're at, lead where they're at, love where they're at, all with faithful perseverence.
When folks like myself write or speak, it is natural and appropriate for us to present concepts in the realm of ideals--what ought to be in a perfect situation. But that can sometimes give off the air that we serve in ideal contexts or we think of ourselves as ideal leaders. Lord, have mercy. No, we don't, and no, we aren't.
Just remember that if you're ever feeling discouraged when your mind goes the (all too natural) route of playing the comparison game, we're all in this thing together. Preach the gospel to your heart once again, and then get back to work serving Christ's Bride.