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Feeling Flat…


Today I’m feeling flat!

No, I’m not depressed. Depression is a serious mental illness and requires medical care and supportive sensitivity. My emotional and mental state today, and indeed the past few days, is simply one of feeling unenthused and unmotivated.

When you survey my last few months you could be excused for telling me to ‘build a bridge and get over it!’ Business wise I’ve had a great year thus far. I’ve implemented a strategic plan for my small business (Singing Teaching) that is reaping tremendous dividends. Praise God! I’m surrounded by people who love me and I have wonderful things to look forward to; both short-term and long. But even still…I have these short periods of time occasionally that leave me feeling despondent and nonchalant about all that needs doing in the immediate. Unlike clinical depression which encases the suffer in a deep impenetrable fog, the passing mist of my temporary pessimism will reveal a clear excitement for tomorrow.

My current sense of dejection did have me wondering (as you do) about the role of the worship leader and how we don’t always ‘feel’ like leading people in worship. Without entering the debate that discusses our contemporary worship orientation, which constantly seeks to be peppy and up-beat (even at funerals!), I thought I’d table a few thoughts about what it is like to shoulder the responsibility of leading worship when you simply don’t feel like doing so.

I’ve been leading Christian worship services for over 20 years. During this time I have had many occasions when I would rather have been somewhere else doing something entirely different. Please don’t misread my admission here. The vast majority of the time I love leading God’s people in worship. Watching the adulation on people’s faces as they lift their hearts and voices in praise to our God, and knowing that I am a part of facilitating such a practice, is both personally rewarding and satisfying; but that doesn’t mean that I’m always thrilled to be ‘rostered on’ to do it! For example, fortunately for me, I am not on the worship team roster to lead this Sunday at my church (St Marks Uniting, Mt Gravatt). If I were, accounting for my current emotional state, I would not have a sense of anticipation for what God might do among His people. I will readily admit that my mental tone might resemble something like, “Argh! If it be your will Lord, then take this cup from me!” My reference to Christ’s turmoil in the garden of Gethsemane is a little over the top (OK, way over the top) but you get the idea…I simply wouldn’t be looking forward to the privilege of leading worship.

Even as I typed that word, ‘privilege’ in the previous sentence my mind tries to rouse me to some higher motivation for doing what we do as worship leaders. But alas, my downcast state will win the battle today…not tomorrow…but certainly today. So let’s hypothesise that I was ‘rostered on’ to lead worship this Sunday. How should I approach such a service? Should I, as I just suggested, ‘rouse’ my emotions and challenge myself to sing God’s praises regardless. Most certainly! God is worthy of my praise, regardless of my situation, circumstance or even emotional state. I want to again highlight here that I am not talking about mental illness such as depression; which requires care and attention before the sufferer can see clearly enough to simply get out of bed little own express a positive and worshipful heart. Back to the question…But can I worship God, moreover can I, and should I lead worship even when I’m not feeling emotionally buoyant? Well I guess the answer to that query is found in the underlying ethos upon which my worship orientation is founded. For example, as Mark Pierson (2010) writes in The Art of Curating Worship, “If excellence is a primary goal, then the weak, the timid, the depressed, the disabled, the unskilled, the sick, the introverted, the overweight, the less attractive, the poor, and the untalented aren’t going to get a look in” (p. 65). I’m adding to Mark’s list…the temporarily despondent.

Allow me to offer the thought: perhaps my worship (and my leading thereof) in this moment of temporary despondency is worship experienced differently. Sure, on the outside it might not present with the level of excellence I have in the past but I am choosing to worship regardless of my feelings; offering myself as a living sacrifice – imperfectly despondent. Could this actually be a wonderful opportunity, disguised though it may be (even to myself), where my offering of worship is simply in the doing? Sometimes our worship becomes very ‘results’ orientated. The task list might include tangible awareness of God’s presence or heightened acknowledgement of God’s transcendent awesomeness. But maybe this occasion calls me to simply do and be with no expectation of result or outcome. How wonderfully un-gratifying! Now, in my current state of glumness, it’s not about me…it has to be all about Him. In the midst of the moment it may well be that God touches me in a refreshing way and I come through the experience changed and uplifted. Equally, it might not happen like that. But that should not be my reasoning anyway. I don’t worship simply for ‘what’s in it for me’. At least I shouldn’t…and this circumstance (my feeling flat) has actually gifted me with the opportunity to make sure that the worship service can’t be about me – but about the one to whom we offer our praise!

Of course this is all hypothetical…or is it! As sure as the sun rises in the east I will encounter another Sunday when a general sense of despondency coincides with my scheduled responsibilities for leading worship. Perhaps when that day happens I should remember to re-read this post and give myself a good reason to be and do. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Please share this post with a worship leader who you think might need some encouragement in a time of general despondency. And feel free to leave your comments below about your experience and thoughts regarding leading worship when you have ‘felt flat’.

References

Pierson, M. (2010). The art of curating worship: Reshaping the role of worship leader. Minneapolis, MN: Sparkhouse Press.

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Should we pay Church Musicians?


I recently had a great email conversation with a good friend of mine who currently resides in colourful Canada. The discussion was centred around a Q&A session with Bob Kauflin and John  Piper; two Christian leaders who we both admire and respect (you can view the video here). My friend suggested I blog my commentary…so here it is – almost word for word. I now eagerly invite you into the conversation also…

I just watched the video at length. Overall this was a good watch with some helpful insights. It’s always good to have our leaders speak their mind ‘unscripted’…it also reveals some interesting bias that runs subterranean to their ‘public views’.

The comments which grabbed my attention specifically were the points about unbelievers in worship and the discussion about ‘paying muso’s’ in church. Whilst I agree with the position that the worship platform is no place for the unbeliever I note that Timothy Keller utilises unbelievers in his services. In D. A. Carson’s “Worship by the Book” (2002) Keller writes, “…we often include non-Christian musicians in our services who have wonderful gifts and talent. We do not use them as soloists, but we incorporate them into our ensembles. We believe this fits a Reformed ‘world-and-life view.’ (p. 239). I guess there are a range of views on what constitutes as a ‘reformed world-and-life view’.

Secondly, it is also Keller who supports the payment of musicians for their worships services. Again in Carson’s text he writes,

…we use only professional and/or trained musicians for our corporate worship services, and we pay them all. The reason for this has to do with our commitment to excellence. We are one of many congregations today that hire only professional clergy for their staff. Ministers (and other staff, such as counsellors) are expected to be schooled and trained specifically for their work and then paid for it by the church. However many of these same congregations single out and treat musicians differently. (p. 239)

The concern I have with Bob’s position (it’s preferable to not pay muso’s) is that he is almost certainly on a payroll for a role which almost certainly includes playing in worship services. From all observations his remuneration does not affect his humility or his sense of calling; which he seems to imply would happen to ‘lay’ volunteers if they were paid for their service. Bob later references the idea of excellence and skill-standards suggesting that practice is required by instrumentalists and vocalists on worship team. Of course I couldn’t agree more…but let’s not forget that those same people volunteering their time on the worship team (without pay) need to work, aside from their service in church, to earn a dollar. The consequence is people are super-busy with little time to practice the very craft (instrument) that they are required to be excellent on. As Marva Dawn writes in Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, (1995) “Think of the musical experiences that could happen in our churches if we spent more to pay good church musicians. Very few parishes have well-paid musicians, and yet music is a major part of the worship experience!” (p. 45). The issue of ‘to pay or not to pay’ is not an open/shut discussion as is suggested by this Q&A.

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