Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My Problem with Worship interlude: (A multi-part post in which I offend many friends)

One of my favorite stories about worship leading comes from Eddie Espinosa.

Eddie tells a story about one of the members of his worship team coming to him to complain that worship had become boring and flat.  His band member zeroed in on the problem, Eddie always had a prepared set list for worship and what he needed to do was toss the list and follow the Spirit.

Eddie listened, didn’t argue and took in what his bandmate was telling him.

And then he went home and prepared for worship the next Sunday just the same way he always did.  He prayed, listened, considered songs, listened and came up with a list.

But this time he made two small changes.  He hid the list.  He didn’t give the list to his bandmates.  The other change was that he asked God for permission not to follow His lead.  What he meant was that while he normally would drop in a song if he sensed the Spirit leading in a particular direction in the midst of worship, this time he would stick to the list, no matter what.  He felt God was with him.

Sunday morning the band sound checked, ran over a couple songs, seemingly at random and then chilled until the service started.  Once the worship service started, Eddie played his set list just as he had prepared it, start to finish.

Worship went so well that his complaining bandmate came to him after the service really excited.  Instead of complaints he told Eddie how amazing the morning worship had been and he told Eddie he knew exactly why it had been so good…because he’d thrown out the list!

And that’s when Eddie told him the truth.  He’d used the list, just like he had every other time. And he’s done the songs in the order they were on the list, just like every other time.

Eddie’s story isn’t about making a list or not making a list, but it does reveal just how subjective our singing experience can be. 

As a worship leader I’ve led some Sunday mornings where I was pretty sure God had left the building and I wished I could’ve gone with Him.  And then mid-week I’ve received an email about how “powerful” the worship time had been that week for someone there.  Other times I’ve felt like we were in the groove and if we were ever anointed it had been that Sunday, only to have another leader tell me how flat and dull worship had seemed that morning.

As a preacher, I’ve preached sermons I felt went nowhere and sermons I felt were almost worthy adding to the back of the Bible.  And just like with the worship songs, the reactions from others have been contrary to my own experience and perspective.  There’s a lot of subjectivity that takes place on a Sunday morning but to be honest, most of the pressure for how a morning goes lands on the worship leader.

They succeeded/failed to create the atmosphere for the Holy Spirit to move.
They succeeded/failed in getting hearts to open up to what God wanted to do.
They succeeded/failed in ushering us into the secret place.

It wasn’t me screaming at my wife on the way to the service, or yelling at my kids all morning to get them ready.  It wasn’t that I haven’t looked at my Bible app since we left the service last Sunday.  It has nothing to do with my total disengagement with prayer since the last Amen the previous week.  The problem rests solely with our worship leader not jiggling the right levers that got me with the feels.  It was the poor song selection.  It was the bands lack of attention to their transitions.  Or it was simply because the stupid fog machine broke down between first and second service and I can’t get my praise on without diffused light and copious amounts of fog.

Worship is a performance but it never has to be entertainment, even if we are entertained.  A performance is something we do together, share together and own together.  Entertainment is something we grade, we consume and when it doesn’t keep us engaged we move on to another vendor. 

Internal. External.

There is a subjective nature to our worship service that begs for leaders, senior leaders, who will trust their worship leaders and work collaboratively with them.  We need senior leaders to communicate with our congregations that we are all responsible for our worship experience and Sunday mornings are the summation of our experience that started on Monday morning and not a pep rally to get us through the week.

and thus I conclude this interlude...tomorrow I conclude my ranting...

on worship.

As always, leave your comments after the beep, I love to hear from you.

*Eddie's story appeared in Things they Didn't Teach Me in Worship Leading School, Tom Kraeuter, Emerald Books, 1995.


  1. So, my dear friend, can I pose you a question?
    Well, I will anyway, stop reading here if you want.

    When did "worship" get limited to Sunday morning? That's not really my question. How did we take the act of adoration of Abba and create it to become a concert? I'm not strictly picking on charismatic churches, because the traditional churches do it too. We have constructed our spaces of worship, in the shape of concert or lecture halls. We have created the act of celebrating or boo-ing whomever is at the front.

    The Church is split, on many fronts, but certainly on this - we either have a church known for its music or known for its preaching. Rarely both. And how many are known for what is happening the other 6.5 days of the week?

    We need the latest lights, sound board, cameras, screens, stages, clothing, cds & books for our bookstore. This is the Kingdom of God. Oh...wait...

    1. I think the altar as the front of the room is a pretty old design for our worship gatherings. Prior to that, it seems we gathered by riversides, halls, courtyards, deserts and catacombs. Creating a "clergy class" has been similar to creating career politicians, we have a vested interest in keeping some things as they are because it directly benefits us, even if it isn't best. We traded beauty for expediency.

      I think meeting together should be a high value and that does require organization and planning as the size of the gathering grows. Ultimately, I think it falls on the leaders to wrestle with these things and discern God's best together with their community of faith.