An Open Letter to Worship Leaders

November 14, 2011 — 6 Comments

Dear Worship Leader,

Thank you for your work. Each week you spend countless hours honing your voice and your instrument to lead us in turning our hearts and our minds toward God. You stand before us and raise your voice, and we follow suit.

It must be difficult, in this celebrity culture, to resist the temptation to make worship a performance. As a uniquely talented individual, we honor you by placing you in front of us. That could easily go to your head, and we thank you for fighting that hard fight and taking on a role of submission.

But we need something more from you. 

Our Western, American culture is shaped by individualism and consumerism. Unfortunately, we don’t leave those things at the door when we enter the worship space. We bring them in with us. Our default position is to bend things to our advantage, to make all things serviceable to our desires. Daily we are bombarded by enticements to buy and consume things that promise to enrich our lives. When we come together for worship, too often we are guilty of judging its efficacy by how it makes us feel that day. We consume worship each week instead of being consumed by worship.

The American Dream idolizes the rugged, self-made individual. Daily we try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and climb another rung further up whichever ladder we’re on. We look out for number one, casting ourselves as the lead players. The plot services our hopes, our dreams.

So when we enter into a time of worship in the company of others, we are primed to exclude everyone else from that experience. We close our eyes as we sing and we shut out those around us, making the gathered worship time an individual experience. But that is the last thing we need. We need to be thrust into a community who worships together. And you can help.

When you choose the songs we sing together, take some artistic license. Whether it is David Crowder or Charles Wesley, or any other songwriter in between, change all the first person pronouns from singular to plural. It really is a small thing, something you can do almost on the fly. And it won’t even mess with most rhyming schemes or rhythms. 

It will do wonders for our worship, though. Each phrase that we utter will work to knit us together as a community. You will lead us in coming before the throne of God together, offering our praises, laments, supplications, and pleas together. Try it now. Take whichever song you’re rehearsing and replace all the “I’s,” “me’s,” and “my’s” with “we’s,” “us’s,” and “our’s.” 

And if you are writing songs for us to sing together, have us in mind. Pen the lyrics on our behalf. Resist the temptation to write a love song to Jesus, reflective of only your personal experience. Instead, be empowered and sent by us to compose for our community.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. We appreciate you. We need your talent and your leadership. The rest of our days are filled with opportunities for us focus on ourselves. Help make that hour we’re together different. Lead us into community and then root us there. Turn us to Christ as one and break us out of ourselves.

-The Worshippers

Anderson Campbell

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  • Rodger McEachern

    Andy – I understand your intent…I find it interesting that in evangelical traditions worship leaders seem to refer to those who do the music…within the traditions that I am a part of the worship leader is the presiding clergy…and the musicians are just that – musicians etc…this of course is in line that re a service of worship – music, prayer, scripture, sermon, sacraments even announcements are aspects of worship. So I suppose the one thing that might make a huge difference in the culture of ‘me-ism” [and your suggestions are good] is to begin with the ‘leaders’ – whether in music or preachers – they are not the ‘stars’ of the ‘show’ [I think there is an element of performance and drama in corporate worship…we enact what we believe and show through our actions what we honour, yet as a worship leader I am not the star nor do I want to be]…and perhaps in a small way moving away from music=worship and music leaders=worship leaders might assist the ‘de-starring’ of our leaders [as would titles like senior pastor, lead pastor etc…] a more wholistic view of the gathered body of Christ in whom worship is embodied would be a good thing…in which I might lead but it is not about me or the mood that I might or not create…good post Andy #dmingml

  • Anderson Campbell

    Thanks Rodger. You’re right. The (mis)appropriation of the label “worship leader” is a fairly contemporary evangelical thing. That’s who I was addressing. I agree with you that perhaps worship leaders in the broader, presiding clergy sense might also do well to assess the “me-ism” they are bringing to the table when they preside. As to your observation about moving away from music leaders equalling worship leaders, I think that many contemporary evangelical churches are enmeshed in thinking of worship as music, something we “do” that is preparatory for the hearing of the sermon. Thank you for the comment. You are challenging and stimulating as always. I expect nothing less from the smartest Canuk I know.

  • Colleen Butcher

    Good writing Andy. I think your audience really needs to hear that message, to become intentionally aware of the influences of culture on our ‘way of being’ and to become more attentive to the ways that they can be part of the countering of those influences. Also agree with Rodger that the labels we use are limited and they reflect our cultural immersion in the “leadership cult” (as Len Sweet calls it). Worship-follower might be better! :)Changing to inclusive, communal words in songs is a start, but I would argue that even before that step, those who choose the songs need to be much more sensitive to the stories and metaphors of the songs that are used and take the time to evaluate them for content – then we can make the “right” stories communal.Small steps…but important in making our gatherings the counter-cultural, identity forming places they need to become!

  • Brad Bichsel

    Love it. As a “Worship Leader/Pastor/Whatever”, I like to think of myself as a volunteer while God is happening. Playing whatever part is necessary as God stirs the hearts of the people. Another way to look at it would be as a tour guide. Helping people connect on a corporate journey. The biggest issue is pushing past the business of life and helping people embrace spending more then a short pre-defined time-frame of worship. I like the leader aspect in corporate worship. We as worshippers by ourselves would be lost in our own moments and a leader/pastor helps keep focus as we go from times of celebration of God to a more intimate place as a group and leading into his word. Reminding people along the way of the community focus. The stage is a difficulty to wrestle with but if we approach it in a humble manner and ignore the distraction of others to be glorified we enjoy seeing people connect with God and that is always worth the great honor to be part of the journey.

  • Anderson Campbell

    Brad, Thanks for weighing in! I hope you and Rebecca are doing well. I know that the two of you place a high value on modeling worship in all of life.As songwriters, is there some sort of balance you try to achieve when you pen lyrics? I know that a lot of what inspires you comes out of your own relationship with God. So how do you help translate that into a gathered time of expression?For example, your song “With Me” (http://youtu.be/KIvXB-KBKuk) is a great example of a love ballad to God. I can see people listening to the song as part of their own ‘devotional time’ or appreciating it at one of your concerts. Do you also include this in your ‘worship service’ repertoire?

  • Brad Bichsel

    Thanks! I always think of God-Honoring songs first. The whole “i” “we” “me” “us” is always difficult. For songs we write its more of a mixed bag somethings are “i” and some are “us”. In putting a set together I’m ok with both, but its how we set up that helps. If all the songs were “I” then we would miss the main event, who is God, seeing many “I” songs are reflective in nature. If all the songs were “us” then we could easily miss the response that even within a congregational gathering happens. We don’t all hear the message and respond the same way so I enjoy the “I” and even the “us” in a response. Playing off of the sermon helps tie it together. When we gather we do both corporate celebration, communal learning, but individual understanding and application. Same with worship. At least that “my” thoughts :)