I used to be notorious for complaining about the music in church. Not that the musicians were ever bad. I’ve always been blessed to be surrounded by good musicians in church. It was always the songs I couldn’t stand. And I had my reasons.
I didn’t like how almost every song sounded like a bad rip-off of a U2 song. I didn’t like how most of them sounded like Disney jams from 1997. I didn’t like the lyrics that sounded like 8th grade poetry. I didn’t like how high the vocals were always mixed. I didn’t like the dramatic key changes and vocal gymnastics that seemed impossible to hang with. I didn’t like that most of the lyrics felt like they were plagiarized from Scripture with no real honesty behind them. I didn’t like how some of the songs seemed to be bad knock-off versions of other bad worship songs. I had all sort of reasons I thought the music in church sucked.
Sometimes when I tell my wife I love her she asks me, “Are you sure?”
This happened recently, and I realized perhaps we were working from different definitions of the word “love.”
In many ways, my wife’s life is a miracle. Her parents struggled to have children for years, and suffered through more miscarriages than anyone should have to endure. Eventually the doctors told them that having children was not in the cards for them. They began fostering children, and finally adopted a baby boy. They’d given up all hope that they would ever have children of their own.
And then a few years later my wife was born. Baby Melissa Anne vanSpronsen, 8 lbs. 3 ounces.
I grew up in a very conservative, “bible-based” church. So naturally, I memorized insane amounts of Bible verses as a kid. Most of them were about the “love” or “salvation” or “grace” of God. To be honest, I had no experience of the love or salvation of God. I was more scared of him than anything. But I learned the verses all the same.
There was this test at the end of the school year with a handwritten and verbal component, testing how well we’d memorized the verses word-for-word. And if you got a good enough grade on the test, you got a free ride scholarship to summer camp.
To my recollection, I passed every year. Free trips to summer camp. I did the book work to appease the powers-that-be, pass the test, and make my parents proud. And in exchange I got to escape with my buddies for a week or two, stay up late playing pranks with shaving cream, and exploding flashlight batteries in a bonfire. Win win.
A guy named Tim Lambesis recently hired a hitman to kill his estranged wife. He paid the man a thousand dollars and promised another $19k once he’d confirmed his wife was dead. He gave the hit man specific times that his children would be alone with him, to be sure they were safe and that he had an alibi. When it turned out that the hitman was actually an undercover detective, Lambesis was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison.
This probably wouldn’t have made national news coverage, except that Lambesis was the lead singer for a popular “Christian” band.
Shortly before his trial, the singer gave an interview and explained how he and his bandmates had become atheists throughout their years of touring. In order to maintain record and concert ticket sales, the band decided to continue marketing themselves as “Christian.” In the interview, he shared openly about his struggle to be honest and the “cowardly” way he handled it. He talked about the Christian music scene and said “9 out of 10 ‘Christian’ bands we toured with weren’t actually Christians.” Lambesis’ cautionary tale reminded us of a gross reality within the Church:
You can totally fake it.
Actually, you can totally fake it and loads of people won’t even know that you’re faking it. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between who you really are and who you pretend to be on Sunday morning. And if Christian rock stars can get away with faking it, couldn’t worship leaders as well?
This week I had the privilege of writing a guest post for Worship Links. It’s something I wrote to lead pastors and preachers about how they’re the “real worship leaders” of our churches. Now, I’m nowhere close to qualified for giving lead pastors or preachers any advice, other than maybe “here’s why you shouldn’t let your youth group kids play with lighters and cologne in the summer camp cabin.” But in my time leading worship, I’ve noticed how influential these pastors are in creating a culture of worship in their church. This post is a “thanks” to them.
Here’s a nibble of the post:
“Once when I was nine or ten years old I spent the summer at my grandma’s house. I’d just bought a sweet new plastic ninja sword, and I was playing by myself in her backyard pretending to be a Power Ranger or a Ninja Turtle or something. I was fighting some imaginary evil ninja bosses, and I was really taking names and feeling good about it.
My karate moves were complete with kicking sound effects and a hearty “hi-YA!” every now and then. I flew through the air taking out sixty-two bad guys with one jump kick. At one point I got swept up in a moment of ninja bliss, and busted a roundhouse that would have made Chuck Norris cry like a baby. But as I spun around, I froze in terror…”
(Melodramatic linkbait cliffhanger!)
…now go read the rest on the excellent Worship Links site!
"Conversational life with God - or prayer - is not hindered by space and distance. When you speak to God, it is like speaking to someone next to you. Spirit is unbodily personal power. Our conversation is not limited to space, time, or matter. God is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. You don't need a holy place, as the woman at the well learned when she asked, 'Where is the Holy Place - on this mountain or in Jerusalem?' God is not looking for a holy place. Places are holy because God is there."
Last week, I shared a few self-deprecating stories about how I used to hate singing in church. Until about three years ago, I refused to sing on Sunday mornings and had a lot of opinions about how lame worship music was. Then I had an experience that changed the course of my life, as God revealed Himself to me in a way that significantly shifted my opinions about corporate worship.
The irony wasn’t lost on me. I was a guy who hated “worship music” with every fiber of my creative being. Now, three years later, I’m a worship pastor who asks people to sing every Sunday. Why the one-eighty? I was curious to explore the thought further, to see how my beliefs about communal worship have changed over the last few years. I was also really eager to make fun of myself some more and expose a few funny laughable skeletons from the closet of my past.
I thought maybe the best thing to do would be to interview my 25 year-old self.
Confession: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always hated singing in church. Some say “hate” is a strong word. I’d say it’s probably not strong enough.
Being a pastor’s son, I was always in the children’s choir. I didn’t want to be exposed as a fraud, but I didn’t want to sing either. So one of my middle school buddies taught me that if you just mouthed the word “watermelon” over and over, it would look like you’re actually singing real words. I don’t know if that actually worked or not. It probably looked ridiculous (“why are those two kids in the back row saying ‘watermelon’ instead of singing?”) But I did it anyway and escaped having to learn the words and sing along.
About a year ago, my wife and I sat in our living room and cried.
We couldn’t afford to send our son to preschool. My wife had quit her job so she could stay home with the kids and finish up her degree. We were getting used to our new financial situation and we crunched the numbers over and over. No matter which way we sliced it, there was no way we could afford the tuition.
We’d been so excited when we enrolled our son in preschool. We knew that it would help him socially and academically and we found a great school that loads of our friends recommended. We couldn’t wait for him to start. But as the first day of school approached, we knew we couldn’t afford it and we were pretty shattered. As a man, knowing that I couldn’t provide that for my kid was a terrible feeling.