Who are we leading?

I created a post back in August talking about fear and how we represent the message of Christ, and upon a closer review realized that my thoughts didn’t quite make sense.  I was challenged by a friend & colleague to take another stab at articulating my thoughts.  Here are the reflections I had by the time my brain had stopped…

I picked up Craig Groeschel’s most recent book The Christian Atheist during the Leadership Summit.  Before you freak out at the title, let the subtext put the title into proper perspective for you: believing in God but living as if He doesn’t exist. Reading it has reminded me of countless previous church experiences I’ve had where the church completely misrepresented the Gospel.  So often the church misses the whole point of knowing and sharing Christ and what it means to follow Him.

Don Cousins, the director of ministries at the church I work at, shared in a staff meeting recently how so many churches “take the gospel only so far.”  A pastor teaches about the spiritual gifts and how important it is for each and every person to find their gift and develop and cultivate it, and the congregation gets all excited about it and fired up and wants to find their gift and develop it, and then the pastor ends his message by saying, “… so go find out what your gift is and develop it.”  …  And that’s as far as the church leadership takes it.  No coaching, no assistance, not even a half-hearted point in the right direction.

Only a fraction of the people in church that day may actually go out and try pursuing what their gift is.  A few may even stick with it for more than just a few days.  But they’re expected to find their own way into a world that is strange and sometimes frightening because they’ve never been there before, and they don’t get any further because there is no one there to lead them, to help them.

So often I find I expect people to engage to a certain level during corporate worship.  I desire for the entire room to have their hands raised, fully immersed in the Spirit, voices raised so loud you can’t hear the band.  For a long time I talked about my desire for there to be a buzz of anticipation about what’s going to happen that day during service, a “what’s God gonna come and do” on the lips of every person who’s gathered at each venue.  I expect every person who’s shown up on that particular day to have experienced the incredible and undeniable mercies and miracles of God that week.  I expect to find people whose faith is like mine, people who are basically just like me…

Worship leaders and musicians, as passionate and emotive Christ followers, fall victim to this tendency pretty easily.  We’re driven by the emotion and passion in music, we feed off the energy and excitement in the room as we lead worship.  And, while there’s nothing wrong with that as long our hearts are leading from a place of authenticity and adoration of Jesus, we get frustrated when we don’t receive that feedback.  I know I do.  Having played major concerts in huge venues and been in edgy rock bands where everyone’s jumping around and “rocking out” to the music, I love getting caught up in the response to the vibe being created by the music.  But not everyone knows how or wants to plug into the musical experience that way.

Imagine you live next to a well with the clearest, purest and most revitalizing drinking water on earth, and it’s your job to tell all who pass by about it and provide it for them.  The only catch of this particular well is, you’re the only one in the area who knows how to use the machinery that lowers the bucket down to the water and then bring it back up.  You’re so excited about the well and about your job as the well’s official announcer that you walk around with a bullhorn telling all within hearing range about the well, pumping a big sign up and down in the air with the words “FREE WATER, TAKE AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE” painted in huge, bold letters, but you never actually set down the sign and work the bucket machinery or even take time to teach someone else how to work it…

I forget that people show up to church without knowing why they’re there or even how they got there.  I forget that people show up as they have for years and years because that’s what people are supposed to do every Sunday, and then they leave God in the parking lot as they drive to Panera Bread for lunch.  I forget that people only had enough gas in their car to get to church and have no idea how they’re going to get back home.  I forget that people show up with hearts that are hurt, angry, bored, shamed, bitter, full of sorrow and confusion and questions.  I forget that the church is made up of people who are completely different from me in every single way.  People with stories that would make my skin crawl and my heart snap in two.

I forget that I’ve been hurt, angry, bored, shamed, bitter, full of sorry and confusion and questions.  I forget that I’ve led worship from these same desolate places, I’ve had to guide a congregation to a place of joy when all I was feeling was painful sorrow.  But the beauty is, these are the places where so often God is able to work in us the most.  That’s been very true for me in the past.  When everything else falls away, I finally reach that place where He’s the only thing I have left, and then I realize that He’s really all I need.

Expecting everyone in the room to have reached the exact same checkpoint in the race we’re running like the apostle Paul talks about is absolutely foolish.  We must remember that people from all walks and stages of life and faith come through our doors every single week.  Next to the person with closed eyes and raised hands who is singing words that have become as familiar to their heart as breathing, there stands someone whose eyes flicker around the room trying to figure out what’s going on, whose hands are buried deep in their pockets, and who hasn’t said a word other than “hello” to the usher who handed them their info guide.

We did the worship exercise a few weekends ago where our worship leaders encouraged the people in worship to try changing their posture, to try to experience something more, something deeper, to encourage the churchgoer who is nervous, or angry, or broken to take a baby step in a new direction toward the person of Christ.  Remembering those challenging times in our own stories and communicating the realities both of those challenges alongside the authority with which Jesus can conquer those challenges is what allows us to help that person who is nervous, angry, and broken find the high, wide, and deep love of Christ their Saviour.  Sometimes when all we see is a person standing completely still instead of “responding to the worship experience,” that person is in the midst of the deepest connection with their Creator that they’ve ever experienced.

We can only lead from a place where we’ve been ourselves, and that rings true both for where we are serving as leaders in our community as lead worshippers, and for all the valleys we’ve struggled through along the course of our journey.  If you’re a leader in your church, your community, wherever and whatever it is, remember that Christ created the church to serve all who are seeking to deepen their relationship with Him, from the ones who have devoted every waking moment of their lives to seeking and serving Him to the ones who have never before set foot inside a church.  Our role is to help usher them all into the presence of God, so let’s do it as a people who have experienced His saving grace and are daily in need of it.  Let’s know who we are in Him so we can come to Him in earnest, seeking His heart and His love and His promises.