Why do we lead people into a time of worship?
If asked directly, most worship leaders would articulate that the main point of the time together would be the exaltation of God and the experience of the refreshment that comes from Him. But, in my experience, the time leading up to a worship gathering can be one of the most frantic times all week. Not just in the scrambling around in final preparations with sound, lights, and equipment, but also in the state of our hearts. Our minds are racing and hearts are churning with the hope for others’ approval of our efforts. Eugene Peterson once posed the question, “How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion?”
What if we were able to worship from a place of rest?
It is a beautiful privilege to lead a community of people in the rhythm of worship. In doing this, the focus is usually on the experience of those that are in the crowd. But, there is a great bit of caution extended through a statement Søren Kierkegaard once wrote:
“It is absolutely unethical when one is so busy communicating that he forgets to be what he teaches.”
Sadly, this is an all too common occurrence amongst those that are charged with the responsibility to lead out in a faith community. We are able to perform our duty, but it is not an expression of what we are experiencing ourselves. I think about the simple lesson of how a mother bird feeds her children. The mother leaves the nest and finds a worm for the baby birds to eat. Then, the mother chews up the worm to make it easier for the baby birds to swallow and digest it. Because of the work of the mother bird, the children are satisfied. Find the worm, chew the worm, spit the worm. Very simple. But, this process doesn’t provide any nourishment for the mother. After all of her effort, the mother bird would still have to go and find food for herself.
Stick with me.
This imagery can apply to those that operate in a role of spiritual leadership. It explains why many are able to serve as a leader, while simultaneously feeling dry, angry, and frustrated in their heart. I’ve heard many stories about leaders who have written amazing books and songs and are terrific communicators about the way of Jesus. But away from the stage their lives aren’t reflective of the principles they share—some experience unhealthy dynamics in relationships, or others are domineering and controlling to the people around them. If we think of this type of lifestyle as relating to the bird analogy, it isn’t as surprising at all:
Leaders can find the word, chew the word, spit the word.
If the one that is “giving out” isn’t receiving the nourishment necessary to sustain themselves, they will be weak and ineffectual. One of the issues that leads to this type of operation is an unbalanced emphasis on the “visible” aspects of ministry and leadership.
In Matthew 6:1, Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” There’s a question that we have to ask ourselves to help to determine our motives:
“Am I doing this so God and others love me, or am I doing this because God loves me?”
When we establish a regular rhythm of practicing Sabbath rest, we allow ourselves the chance to stop and consider the true condition of our soul. Rather than directing all of our energy toward “showing” or “proving” that our worship is genuine, we provide the venue for God to meet with us in true worship. Then, our leadership in worship comes from a place of rest and contentment, rather than striving and straining.
Give yourself the permission to be intentional about including a regular rhythm of rest and self-evaluation in your worship leadership team culture. As Henri Nouwen writes, “If we don’t have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit.”