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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
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.
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.
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?
The act of worshipping in front of an audience blurred the lines between what was for God and what was for people.
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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“’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.”
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
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“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
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“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.
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
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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?
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People are so dramatic. We love to see our stars make sweeping, meteoric rises. And then we love to see them fall hard from that height and leave a meteoric crater. If you pay any attention to gospel music, Tye Tribbett has given you both in the last 5 years. It looks like we’re about to get the former again with his new album Greater Than.
I need to give this caveat. I still don’t like gospel music. There’s usually so much yelling, emotional manipulation, and pomp and circumstance that it becomes a circus of entertainment. Too often when it boils down, it’s no different than secular music, vying for the same popularity, market share, and control as any mainstream artist. So I’m not taken in by its cloying sentiment. What I look for is truth. And I found a lot here. Continue reading
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DISCLAIMER: I wrote this August 8, 2012, but decided to sit on it until now. In light of my friend Robin’s recent illness and passing, it carries extra significance.
Imagine someone you love—a mother, father, sibling, cousin, or close friend—unconscious and unresponsive. You don’t know what caused it and you don’t know how long it’s going to last. But the doctors say, “Keep talking to them, they can hear you. They may also respond to touch.” What would you do? How often would you visit? How long would you stay?
If it was someone I loved, I would become protective. I would be watching to make sure nurses and orderlies treated them right, kept them clean and comfortable. If it was my sister, I would sing our favorite songs to her. I would have DVDs of Good Times and The Jeffersons playing around the clock like she does most days.
If it was my mother, I would recite encouraging and empowering scriptures to her; she might respond to that. If it was my papa, I would massage his feet and make sure his toenails didn’t grow too long and uncomfortable. If it was me, I would want someone to touch me; hold my hand or stroke my forehead. For the love of God, make sure my lips aren’t chapped. I hate that.
And if it was your God, what would you do? Continue reading