Why? If YouTube videos and conference worship bands are any indicator, we’re unintentionally (I trust) cultivating an understanding of musical worship and its leaders that draws more from rock concerts and Entertainment Tonight than biblical principles.
We can start thinking that the “best” corporate worship context is characterized by bright stage lights, a dimly lit congregation, Intellibeams, fog, high end musical gear, multiple screens, moving graphics, and loud volumes. We can start to think the ideal leader is good-looking, sings tenor, plays a cool instrument (usually guitar), sports hip hair, and writes songs. And by the way, the band members and vocalists should be near studio quality, if not actual studio musicians, and look pretty good themselves.
To be clear, I thank God for godly, good-looking, musically gifted, well known leaders who are simply seeking to be faithful and bring glory to Jesus. I know a number of them. And God is all for skill and excellence when we bring our musical offerings to him (Psalms 33:3; 1 Chronicles 1:22). Technology isn’t evil (although it inherently affects the message we’re communicating).
Overemphasizing or consistently focusing on technology, skill, and excellence can leave most us with a nagging feeling that our musicians, our leaders, our equipment, and our songs are never quite good enough. We resign ourselves to the thought that we’ll never be as successful, used, or important as the people we see on YouTube and at conferences. Or we breathlessly pursue the trappings and externals of “modern worship,” attaching biblical authority to very cultural practices.
That’s why today I want to salute the average worship leader.
Are You an Average Leader?
By average I don’t mean mediocre or lazy. Just normal. Because that’s what most of those leading in churches today are. Normal. Maybe you can relate to some of these “average worship leader” characteristics:
- Your musical training, if any, was years ago.
- No one wants you to sing lead on an album, but you get the melody pretty much in tune.
- Your vocal range is a little over an octave, but almost always lower than the recorded key.
- You prepare and rehearse in the midst of a full time job and responsibilities at home.
- You and some of the other musicians could do better with your dieting.
- Sometimes it’s hard to figure out the chords or strum pattern on a song.
- Your sound system has been pieced together over the years and still works. Most of the time.
- Your choices for lighting are ON or OFF.
- Twice a year you lead surrounded by a set for “Phantom of the Opera” or some other school play.
- You have good folks on your team who don’t have a ton of time to practice or rehearse during the week.
- The ages of your team members range from 14 to 56.
- Some people in the church love what you do, some aren’t crazy about what you do, and some aren’t sure what you do.
- You don’t even try to keep up with the gazillion worship albums released every month.
Here’s why I want to honor you. God sees your labors. And he says they’re not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Heb. 6:10).
God seems to favor doing his work through the weak and the few (1 Cor. 1:26-28; Judg. 7:2-8; Dt. 20:1-8; Mt. 15:32-28). That’s why I think average worship leaders play a significant part in God’s purposes to exalt his Son throughout the world.
While there’s never anything “average” about leading people to exalt the glories of Christ through music and the Word, we can always grow. So to encourage you and spur you on, here are a few thoughts:
- It can’t be said too frequently that while God can use technology, skill, and excellence, he doesn’t require them
- What every leader has to offer people is the gospel, God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit, working through redeemed sinners, i.e., us.
- The same God who seems so present in a crowd of 10,000, is just as present in your church of 113.
- The Holy Spirit doesn’t need a dark room or dramatic lighting to reveal Christ to people. He’s been using natural light quite effectively for thousands of years.
- We’re responsible for the resources we have, not the ones we don’t have (2 Cor. 8:12).
- Being average doesn’t mean we can’t get better through practice, evaluation, and hard work.
- Being average doesn’t give us freedom to uncharitably judge or fail to learn from those who have greater gifts and opportunities than we do.
- Average musicians can be as self-sufficient as gifted ones, which should motivate us to pray consistently.
- The goal of our labors is not success or popularity, but faithfulness.
So if you fall into the category of the average worship leader, I want to thank you for your labors and encourage you to keep growing. God is using you in more ways than you can imagine to build his church and bring glory to his Son.
And because Jesus is the perfect worship leader who paid for all our sins and failings through his substitutionary death on the cross, we can look forward to the day when every faithful leader, average or not, will stand before the Father and hear him say, “Well done.”