Exit Wounds: Song of an Ex-Worship Leader

[Word count: 405. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Introduction

In Deuces, I stated reasons I left the church I co-founded after 8 years. A big part of that was due to bad experiences in music ministry. I either played piano or sang in a vocal ensemble. We’d perform 3-5 songs per service, to set an atmosphere for people to optimally receive the sermon preached. I loved it. I grew immensely, formed lifelong friendships, and gained confidence on stage and in myself overall. But there were serious side effects.

Music was my love. And because of everything I thought had to accompany my music, it became my burden. It just got stolen from me. I said, ‘What is this? How did this thing that I love so much so easily and so quickly become something I loathe and hate?” —Lauryn Hill

A friend told me “I hate you” sometimes just means “I used to love you.” It was too painful to talk about this stuff, but to get healthy, I have to. Some cuts don’t heal until you take the Band-Aid off. It’s too much to cover in one post, so I broke it into parts. This is an introduction to the series. Here’s a quick break down on the rest of the series:

Exit Wounds: Song of an Ex-Worship Leader

  • PART 1: The Miseducation of the Worship Leader

    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

    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

    Help. I don’t fit in with my 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

    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?

    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.

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The Miseducation of the Worship Leader [1/5]

The Miseducation of the Worship Leader
[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.”
—Crystal Lewis

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. Continue reading

Church Superstars: You Ain’t Got It [2/5]

Simon Cowell is unimpressed.

[Word count: 723. Approximate read time: 4 minutes]

“’Cause if you ain’t got it…
Think about it—wait—erase your rhyme.
Forget it, and don’t waste your time.
‘Cause I’ll be in the crowd if you ain’t controllin’ it.
Drop the mic.
You shouldn’t be holdin’ it.
Rakim

While at a rehearsal where members of the worship ensemble were trying their hand at singing lead. I heard a pastor remark quietly, “They ain’t got it.” This struck me as odd because it’s what you expect to hear on American Idol, not at church.

I auditioned for American Idol once. My performance was great, but they passed on me. It was the best rejection I ever got because they rejected even better singers and accepted some really bad ones, proving it wasn’t about talent. They were casting a TV show. They needed someone with an “it factor”—a charismatic personality and a look that would entertain their audience.

“You ain’t got it” was said about other rejects, so I‘m sure it was also said about me. They certainly acted like I didn’t have enough anointing to lead. It felt like a popularity contest… that I lost. And being rejected at church is pretty demoralizing. Be honest. That bar is low. Church folk will clap politely for some truly awful shit. If I didn’t have enough personality and charm to get on TV, that’s fine. But worship isn’t a TV show… is it? Continue reading

More Than You Know What To Do With [3/5]

Overflowing water
[Word count: 566. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” —Ephesians 4:11-12 NKJV

What do you want to be when you grow up? A fireman? An astronaut? A police officer? How about a doctor? What if it’s none of the above? If you have no plans to become anything on the list, does that mean you’re doomed to be a couch-stuck grown-child still living at your parents’ house? This is what failures are made of. And this is the conflict I felt whenever someone recited that passage from Ephesians 4.

When you grow up in church, you’re conditioned to be exclusive for Jesus. If you’re talented in anything, it needs to benefit the church. “Don’t go out and use God’s gifts in The World. Be a blessing to the people of God with your gifts.” And that’s awesome when you can fill a specialized need for a niche that might otherwise go underserved. But what about when you’ve got a specific talent that your church doesn’t really need? Continue reading

Performance vs. Worship: When Keeping It Real Is Wrong [4/5]

[Word count: 635. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]
Wrong1

“Here we are now. Entertain us.” —Kurt Cobain

In music ministry, we’re instructed that our worship should be extensions of our authentic relationship with God. However, your authentic expression may be to fall to your knees and cry uncontrollably for 15 minutes at a time. When on stage in front of people, this becomes unacceptable.

As I understand it, worship is about genuinely loving your god and expressing that love in song, dance or whatever. But… there is an element of performance to it. God requires sincerity, but if the presentation isn’t right, people will turn their noses up.

ideal (adj)
1. conceived as constituting a standard of perfection or excellence.
2. existing only in the imagination; not real or actual.

We set an ideal example so people will join in. We are cheerleaders. And we are actors. Our worship on-stage is not unlike a TV dramatization. What’s being portrayed actually happened, but we only want to show the best scenes. Wait. I thought it was supposed to be authentic though? Continue reading

So You Think You Can Worship? [5/5]

[Word count: 487. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Prayer, in its simplest form, is communication with God. Some prayers are spoken, some not. I can recognize a prayer anywhere. In church or out of church. But I have no idea what worship is anymore.

Peoples’ definitions often conflict. Some see others lifting hands, shouting, singing, and dancing in church and that’s worship. Some speak broadly and say everything they do is worship. The Bible even says giving tithes is worship. It’s hard to get a reliable authority to nail it down. The more people badly define worship, the less I understand what it is.

And then some big prophet flies into the church on a hot air balloon, with a new revelation about an old scripture few have read or understand. And he or she will announce:

“Stop! You’re worshipping God wrong!”
Yikes! I am? Well… how do I worship him right?

“Worship is not mere words, it’s the intention of your heart.”
But I thought my intentions were good.

“It’s service to God. It’s how you live your life.”
Do I need to live… better?

“No, you just need to surrender more!”
Surrender more what? How do I put that in practice?

Continue reading