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Gutsy Worship Leading, Confronting Idols

Amos, 18th c. Russian Icon (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia)Because leading worship is a pastoral endeavor, it makes a lot of sense that most, if not all, facets of pastoral ministry would show up in the work of a faithful worship leader.  In many ways, we can dissect the role of a pastor by examining how a person with such gifts mirrors (albeit in an extremely secondary way) what theologians call "the threefold office of Christ"--Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King.  Could it be that in worship leading, the first of these three tends to go most underserved?  In what sense is worship leading a prophetic endeavor? 

Think, first, about the fact that worship stands at the core of what all human beings do.  Think, secondly, that we all (Christians and non) have a big idol-worship problem.  Think, thirdly, that the role of a prophet is often to forthtell Truth into the idolatry of the people of God and the broader culture.  (Think here, particularly, about the prophets Amos and Hosea.)  So, there is an aspect of worship leading that is responsible to sensitively and graciously confront one's own idols and the idols of the flock over which God has given you care.  I'd like to share a story along these lines.

Not long ago, I was visiting a worship leader friend who serves a local church in a major college football town. He relayed to me a little story that both cracks me up and lights my fire.  It’s an example of a worship leader appropriately and strategically challenging cultural idols.  It shows his pastoral heart and zeal for the worship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Driving through this pigskin-loving city, it didn’t take long to pass by the towering stadium.  It was like encountering a modern-day Roman coliseum, symbolic of all the trappings of those cultural centers of antiquity.

My friend relayed to me how much church attendance is impacted by (get this) Saturday night football games, especially if they’re home games.  The number of folks gathered for corporate worship dips dramatically.  In some forum where this worship leader was speaking to a significant amount of the flock, he asked a bold question to the group, simultaneously loaded with both humor and truth.  The dialogue went something like this:

“Hey, how many of you folks are going to the worship event on Saturday night?” 

(Confused or blank looks in response.) 

“You know, the big one, where 20,000 people are coming?”

(Continued confusion.)

“You know, the one where Florida will be there?”

(Registration begins to occur.)

My friend said he got some “ahas” as well as some pushback.  Without saying much, he said much.  He was able to point out how many of our big cultural events truly are “worship events.”  He was able to challenge the cultural idols of football.  He was able, in a backhanded way, to help expose the superior allegiances that we hold above our Triune God. 

You don’t have to be obnoxious to be a prophet.  If you did this kind of stuff on a weekly basis, you probably will drive a wedge between you and your congregation.  But, if there are strategic times when, guided by the Spirit, you choose to expose areas of growth for your people, it can be a powerful tool in the arsenal of properly pastoring the people of God. 

Finally, just in case you’re still unconvinced that an innocent little game with helmeted men running after a leather oval could rise to the level of idolatry, check out this insightful post by Rod Dreher on the underpinnings of the Penn State scandal.  And, in the spirit of James K. A. Smith, maybe the next time you’re at a football game you’ll be able to exegete all the liturgy and liturgical acts taking place in the bleachers and on the field.

I'd love to hear, in response:

  • Some of the other ways that a worship leader functions prophetically (it might generate some blog posts or great future discussions)
  • Other examples you've encountered of worship leaders taking this role seriously



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