I’ve stopped going to worship training conferences. Not because I feel like there’s nothing to learn, although most tend to be geared toward inexperienced worship leaders who feel unqualified to be serving the way they’ve been asked to. I could probably teach some of the breakout sessions, as could most worship staff members who’ve been serving more than five years.
Really, I don’t want to go anymore because most of the key speakers and session teachers seem to have lost touch with the reality of leading a worship arts ministry in a smallish, local church. I was having lunch with some fellow worship leaders and we were bemoaning these conferences, where worship directors with paid staff and six figure budgets try to teach us who struggle to find volunteers and have to work within four figure budgets.
What I miss most about these conferences, however, are the times of worship. The musicians are fantastic, and the well-known worship leaders are successful because they know how to lead. But then, how difficult must it be to lead an auditorium filled with worshiping musicians who have yearned for someone to lead them for a change? You could play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on a xylophone and we’d be engaged.
The Modern Worship Concert
If you would, please take a minute and listen to this short audio clip.
This is the opening track to a Hillsong United project called I Heart Revolution: With Hearts As One, a double-disc set featuring selections from live concerts throughout the world—Rwanda, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, Shanghai, and more. Hear the roar of the crowd as the concert begins. With each opening chord the applause grows. They respond with singing and clapping, and if I saw the video, they would probably be raising hands and dancing. These are all biblical expressions of worship, by the way (see my post “Sweating to the Oldies”).
This is what we worship leaders listen to, the DVDs we watch, the conference experiences we go away for. But we return to our churches on Sunday morning to unfulfilled expectations. Instead of a palpable anticipation of God’s presence as we begin to worship, instead of a crowd of worshipers who have memorized the songs, instead of the satisfaction of people responding to our leadership, we (yes, even us onstage) are distracted by people still milling about, by latecomers straggling in, by techs who forgot to transition the lights (or even to show up).
Worship leaders like Chris Tomlin and David Crowder and Paul Baloche have the benefit of (these days) primarily playing at worship concerts, where people have paid $20-50 to enjoy some great music and/or to worship. These concert goers all want to be there and likely didn’t struggle to get the kids ready while her husband read the Sunday paper and with whom she’ll argue in the car on the way to church. (I abandon my own wife every Sunday morning before our children even awake.)
Sunday morning is not a worship concert
I’m learning to change my expectations. Yes, I still anticipate people being drawn to God’s presence, but I realize these people are not all the same. (They’re also not artists or professional worshipers.) How can I help them worship? How can I serve them? What songs will they connect with? How can we take some time at the beginning to help them settle, to quiet their hearts before God after not only a difficult morning but perhaps a trying week (or month or year)?
Chris Tomlin has it easy, except for the whole obligation to write worship songs for the church worldwide. Would it be nice to lead a few thousand engaged worshipers with an impeccable band? Yes, but maybe not as thrilling as watching people grow from week to week in their responsiveness to worship. There’s a pleasure God gives in my knowing maybe, just maybe, I helped a little.