When I was first starting out as a worship leader, I was an eager 12-year-old who knew how to play some chords on a guitar, thought I had a good voice, and was ready for my youth pastor to let me on stage so I could do what I was made to do.
Not so fast, he said. We need to have a conversation.
First, I sat with my youth pastor in his office while he gave me “the speech.” I knew it was coming, since it was something of a rite-of-passage for the different musicians growing up in the church. I can still remember balancing my Peavey Patriot electric guitar on my scrawny lap while my youth pastor communicated the following expectations:
- Don’t show off.
- Don’t promote yourself.
- Above all else, try to stay humble.
He was clearly and carefully telling me that if I ever wanted to stand on the stage, and if I wanted to be invited back the next week to stand on the stage, I needed to understand the basic and unchanging rules of the game: This was never to be about me.
And in the years to come, my youth pastor would hold me to those rules. When he caught a whiff of me showing off, or becoming impressed with myself, he would call me on it. And to this day, whenever I lead worship, somewhere in the back of my mind, “the speech” is on repeat, and I’m slightly nervous that if I veer into show-off mode, my youth pastor is going to call me on it.
Over the last 20 years, as the prevailing model of worship leading has slowly but noticeably morphed from something very average looking/sounding to something almost flawlessly airbrushed and polished, it has been harder and harder for worship leaders to stay true to what used to be the generally accepted rules of the game, as were concisely presented to me by my youth pastor in “the speech.” The principles of restraining our egos, refusing to promote ourselves and resisting the pull of pride.
Now, in many circles, there’s a pressure on worship leaders (especially young ones) to exude more of a stage presence/persona, to build and maintain a social media following, to find ways to share their look, their recordings and their accomplishments, and somehow do it in a way that isn’t blatantly self-promoting, but is more subtle. I know that I’ve not been immune to feeling this pressure myself.
It’s a pressure that all worship leaders need to regularly resist. The Holy Spirit himself will give us “the speech” on a daily basis, if we let him, with all of the gentleness and love that we should expect. We need to let him call us out on stuff from time to time, just like my youth pastor used to. Not in a way that condemns, but in a way that points us (and thereby our congregations) ever consistently to Jesus.