We all got into it for the same reason, us boys from Christian homes: girls. It would have been wrong for us to demonstrate our suitability for marriage through flirting (it never happens at church) so worship leading was always the best way to show your emotionally intelligent side.
Of course, if you couldn't sing, then lead guitar was your second best option, provided you could sound like U2, closely followed by drumming (prime excuse for emotional flailing) and then bass guitar (there's only four notes to play providing room for eyes closed in devout concentration). The keyboardist is only ever there to "bring the anointing" and you'll notice they are always chosen for their asexual aesthetic.
As a worship leader you would learn to wait for compliments like "The worship is really anointed when you lead", or "I love how you're not really a worship leader, but more of a lead worshipper" and you would learn to filter complaints from the old people about volume while understanding that when a girl tells you "You really took me to the throne and back" she wants your babies. Right this minute.
You begin to adjust to the reality that every song seems to rhyme 'desire' with 'fire', 'king' with 'sing', 'love' with 'above' and 'adore you' with 'before you' and that the congregation can't really mean the words "You are holy" until they have sung it at least 32 times. And during your time on the church roster, you begin to realise that people can't connect with God unless there is a "woah" section somewhere in your set, alongside a song that mentions the words "awake my soul".
It is a delicate art form but is understood well by those that get people jumping with their hands in the air, and maybe if you're really talented, people start to produce tears.
Worship doesn't depend on our sincerity
But clichés and subcultural funnies aside, it seems that the evangelical church in the West is pretty confused as to what we're actually doing when we're having a time of community worship.
For some of us, it is just to have an experience of feeling close to God, whether that means a heightened state of emotion, tingles down our necks or just a good time. For others of us, it is a chance to offer to God the most sincere thank you we can muster for the gift of salvation in the hope that He will accept our "offering of praise" as a "sweet, sweet sound in His ear". For others of us it simply the part we have to endure before the sermon.
What is clear, however, is that a lot of our theology is built on the songs we sing in church, and this is why so many of the church's forefathers, like Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts went to painstaking lengths to put good stuff into the lyrics.
Unfortunately our songs today don't really say much. Take 2013's most popular worship song for example, Matt Redman's '10,000 Reasons'. What you'll find in this song is a whole bunch of reasons to praise God and then a lot of telling ourselves to praise Him. And there's nothing wrong with this, but it's what is being left out that's the problem.
'10,000 Reasons' is symptomatic of much evangelical worship, with a lot of focus on an experience in which we seek to offer ourselves to God through our own efforts, and emphasises our faith, our decision and our response with pretty much no reference to the work of Jesus now. It implies that now Jesus has died for our sins, God now throws the responsibility back on us to make a proper response to it in worship.
The Forgotten Trinity
If we're going to be picky (and I've just decided that we are) then Christian worship needs to rediscover the importance of the Trinity. I'm as guilty as anyone for treating the doctrine of the Trinity as a superfluous add-on that doesn't have much to say to us. But if we believe that God is a community that we have been invited to participate in, then worship isn't about trying to muster up something that begins with us. Jesus died in our place, but he still presents all humanity to the Father for us too.
James Torrance says it like this, "It is not my faith or my decision and conversion, my dying and rising that washes away my sins. It is Christ's vicarious baptism for us in blood on the cross, his death in which we, by grace, participate through water and the Spirit." In other words, Jesus is the only one that can, did and is worshipping God properly as a human being, and so it is by faith in His relationship with the Father that we start to worship in a true sense.
Our worship is to participate in that, free of striving to do it properly, because we can't. It's not so much about experiencing God, but about discovering and expressing our identities as found in Jesus. We're not simply independent beings looking for private religious experience, but people that have been drawn into the relationship at the core of all reality. We have been re-"personned" if you like.
This language is largely foreign to us, but perhaps it's time to start thinking hard about who we are and why we worship. Let's keep all the good stuff we already sing about, but let's also try to bring more to the conversation, as we dwell on truth in our times of singing. We're not earning anything in worship, but celebrating and receiving what's already ours.
This is very good news. Altar call anyone?
First published January 30, 2014
Sam Burrows grew up on the mean streets of Torbay, and the hard knocks of the North Shore prepared him for his first job as a teacher. After three years he quit to pursue his dream career in mattress jousting, but quickly realised that it wasn't a real job, so began working for his church in the youth and young adults groups. In his spare time he pretends to be a rock star and writes so that girls think he's funny and might let him talk to them.
Sam Burrows' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-burrows.html