[Word count: 653. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]
I guess I thought worship was “magical.” A strong talisman to ward off evil spirits. Friends’ divorces. Death and disease. Organizational discord. As long as I lifted my hands and gave reverence and deference to God, everything was supposed to be okay.
“Life is not always what it seems. Even the best will fall.”
Not quite so. Several of my most worshipping, most Jesus-believing friends all caught divorce like a common cold. Robin developed a brain tumor and didn’t survive. Gossip and distrust tore at the fabric of our friendships. I thought worship and prayer would protect us from that. When it didn’t, I was stunned… like “which one of y’all kicked me?”
When the structure of this music ministry collapsed on top of me, my healthy relationship with Jesus got trapped under the rubble. I used to be passionate about this stuff. Then disappointments broke me. Church culture frustrated me. Hurt changed me. I started to hate everything about gospel music… about church… about God… and even my own talents.
Give the people what they want
Where the music business was about glamour, image, and popularity, worship was to be something more noble. Our songs were changing lives, doing something cosmic and transcendent, breaking mental and emotional chains. I thought there was power in it. But in hindsight, it seems all we were doing was just singing songs. Sometimes we were like the “opening act.” At its worst, it felt like we became the pastor’s jukebox.
But I did it anyway. I really loved to sing. And God’s people needed us to help them lift their heads, hands, and hearts. Then I noticed people’s reaction to worship was mirroring that of any other form of entertainment. They clap and engage when they like it, or stare blankly when they don’t.
There was pressure to elicit a response though. If not, we might be sent back to sing more songs (as if our job was improperly done). Or chastised to sing with more passion. Or worship more in our private time. Go on a fast. Get into the Word and activate your anointing. Practice longer. Do something. But one way or another, we needed to get results.
Take this job and shabach it
I started to feel less like a minister, more like a commodity. Key people I looked up to had left the worship team, and even the church. The rest of us were stretched thin to fill the gaps. It got lonely on stage. Common clichés like “God deserves your praise no matter how you feel” started to sound like “I don’t care if your fingers are bleeding; keep sewing ‘til we say stop.”
The thinner I was stretched, the angrier I got. Obligation piled on, while appreciation fell off. I didn’t have permission to rest. If someone would’ve just told me to take a break, I might not have short circuited and quit everything.
All those years rehearsing, studying, performing, and sacrificing, I thought I was building something sacred and significant. It wasn’t magical. It didn’t save Robin. What can it do for me? I knew my time there was coming to an end when simply entering the church parking lot made me intensely angry. One day, I looked around and decided that whatever this was, I didn’t want to do any of it anymore. And it was abrupt when I left. I’m sorry about that. It was unfair to those who remained, but I couldn’t stay another moment.
“And so it goes, I never meant to hurt you
Couldn’t stay, but I never meant to desert you
A whole lot of things I just had to work though
Time to heal and restore the self worth too.”
—Lauryn Hill, “Lose Myself”
Can I offer a solution?
(1) Part of offering people faith involves believing in the product you’re selling. So it makes sense to happily laud its benefits. But even the most harmless products still require an FDA warning label. I wish someone would have done a better job warning me worship wouldn’t protect me from life happening.
This is #1 in a 5-part series called Exit Wounds: Song of an Ex-Worship Leader.
Read the introduction here. You just read “The Miseducation of the Worship Leader.”
- PART 1: The Miseducation of the Worship Leader [1/5]
— Whatever worship is, I thought it was more powerful than it actually is. When I found out how mystical it wasn’t, I could not deal. I wish someone would have done a better job warning me worship wouldn’t protect me from life happening.
- PART 2: Church Superstars: You Ain’t Got It [2/5]
— Music was one thing I was sure I was good at, so to hear that I wasn’t good enough was crushing. It left me unsure of “my calling,” and doubting whether I was good at anything.
- PART 3: More Than You Know What To Do With [3/5]
— Help. I don’t fit in church, but I don’t know how to get outside of it. What do I do now?
- PART 4: Performance vs. Worship: When Keeping It Real Is Wrong [4/5] — The act of worshipping in front of an audience blurred the lines between what was for God and what was for people.
- PART 5: So You Think You Can Worship? [5/5]
— The hokey-pokey dance of trying to understand what worship is and isn’t left me confused. I’m still not sure what it is right now.