When I was a kid I split my Sundays between the Catholic Church with Grandma and our local non-denominational church with my family. At St. Peters there was no worship band. We all just picked up our hymnals and sang when it was time to do so in the service. This system seemed to work well and I suspect it has worked well at the Catholic Church for a thousand years. I never heard any criticism of worship save for the occasional snarky comment about so and so with the bad voice who sang too loud. (Actually, my grandmother was no songbird but there was NO DOUBT about her sincerity in worship. She lifted her voice to the Lord in praise and that was beautiful in itself.)
At the non-denominational church we had songbooks. They were photocopies of lyrics numbered by song and stapled together. The service bulletin listed the songs to sing and our pastor’s wife lead the worship by singing loudly from the front. She had a great big southern voice and a smile to match. Oftentimes our pastor would add a few songs to the list right on the spot, indicating which extra song he wanted us to sing by a show of fingers. Song number 3, Majesty, was his favorite. We sang it E-V-E-R-Y Sunday. Again, I don’t recall any critique about worship there. The church was filled every Sunday and we worshiped together as a congregation. It was heartfelt, genuine, and an offering to the Lord.
All that to say, during my childhood I just showed up on Sunday and worshiped during worship time and that was that.
When Dave and I moved to Minnesota our first order of business was to find a church. So we set out “church shopping.” (I dislike that term for the consumer mentality is suggests – but that’s fodder for a different post.) We landed at a church that had both great preaching and a big impressive worship band. Even as life changes found us at different churches over the years, most had a sizeable worship team.
Fast forward to today when we are at a church with a small worship team. One of the things we were drawn to at this church was the simple, heartfelt worship style. Recently my very average singing voice was brought out of a self-imposed 17 year retirement to join said worship team.
My friend is the head secretary at a huge church in a different state and I mentioned to her that I was singing again. She laughed and said you couldn’t pay her enough money to be a worship pastor or join the worship team. She informed me that worship is the number one thing she fields complaints about. Turns out people complain if the team doesn’t sing their favorite songs often enough. Complain if the team plays a certain song too often. Complain if there’s a song too dated. Complain if a song is too modern. Complain if you don’t sing enough hymns. Complain if you sing too many hymns. Complain if the band is too loud. Complain if the band is too small. Complain if the band doesn’t create a “worship experience.” Figuring she must be exaggerating, I did a little poll of friends in ministry in various churches and they all nodded their head in agreement.
What the what?!?!?
Call me naive, but I was stunned. Worship time is not a concert for goodness sakes. Isn’t it supposed to be about, well, worshiping God? I didn’t feel any less worshipful when the pastor’s wife yelled out “Song #3!” and proceeded to belt it out from the front than I did worshiping at the Paul Baloche worship night I attended last month. Because while its Paul’s job to lead in worship, he can’t worship for me.
I scoured my Bible for where it says we should be critical of our worship pastors. Nada.
I searched for verses where it says incredible worship bands are the litmus test for a great church. Nothing.
I tried to see if there was anything in scripture to reinforce the notion that worship is about me and you. Turns out it is supposed to be about God. The end.
Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!” 1 Chronicles 16:23-31
It seems as if we’ve allowed worship to become battle of the bands. “Oh such and such church has a GREAT worship team – you should check it out.” Agh! No! Please don’t church shop based on the worship band. Please please please. Of course it’s great to have talented musicians offering their gifts to the Lord and leading their congregations in worship. But I urge you to avoid the consumer mentality that tempts you to compare churches in terms of worship “quality.”
YOU are the church. YOU are the worship team. YOU are called to offer YOUR gifts to the Lord. Don’t blame the worship pastor or song choice if you’re feeling like worship is lackluster. The worship pastor can sing like a dying cat but God still wants YOUR heart, YOUR voice, YOUR praise.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, Psalm 103:1-4
To be clear, I am not opposed to great worship bands. Churches with talented musicians offering their gifts to the Lord are blessed. And the Bible speaks of worshiping with skill. “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” Psalm 33:3 I am glad that our church has a great worship pastor. But its sad if we’ve gotten to the point where the expectation is that worship bands have to be amazing and polished and always pick the perfect songs. We have to remember that worship pastors lead worship. They shouldn’t be expected to carry the worship. And God knows when we aren’t focused on Him.
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Isaiah 29:13
When I read in 1 Chronicles 13:8 “And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.” I envision a cacophony of instruments and singing. And I bet it was amazing. Because they were worshiping “with all their might” rather than worrying about song choice. That is my hope for us as the Body of Christ. Lets worship that way.
Unless there is some egregious misdeed to be addressed or a worship leader so bad it’s distracting, I hope we can stop wasting our breath on petty, fruitless criticism. Instead, lets use our voices to pray for our worship pastors, encourage them, and worship with them as fellow believers.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
As a fledgling worship team member just singing backup, I have been encouraged by the individuals who have thanked me for helping out with worship. How much more can the worship pastor at your church be blessed by your encouragement? Flood their inboxes with that. And meanwhile, on Sunday morning, just focus on God.
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. John 4:23
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. Psalm 96:1-8