THE ANTI ROCK STAR WORSHIP LEADER
A few years ago, I met my buddy Steve at church early on a Sunday morning. We were going to scrub toilets. We were leading the worship music that day, and he’d asked me to meet him there about a half an hour before practice. Steve proposed this idea of scrubbing toilets, thinking it might help us approach our role as worship leaders from a perspective of servanthood.
Out loud I said, “That’s a great idea.”
In my head I said, “This is a terrible idea.”
But Steve was right. The church has developed an unhealthy trend in turning our worship leaders into rock stars. And we musicians usually make matters worse. One look at my Twitter feed tells me that young, well-intentioned worship leaders often talk more about their own careers than they do about Jesus. As a fledgling musician myself, I can relate. Seeking the warmth of the spotlight is a real temptation, and a real danger.
Think about it. Do we look at ushers, parking attendants, and elders like celebrities? They’re the real rock stars of the church, if anyone. But I probably couldn’t even list the elders at my church. I’m convinced we’ve given way too much ground to the unhealthy cultural phenomenon of worshiping celebrities, even within the church. It’s the most ironic form of idol-worship.
Don’t get me wrong, I love rock stars. I love going to shows and being entertained. I used to want to be a rock star (Exhibit A: picture to the left), and my little brother sort of is one. I say this because if worship leaders treat their jobs like entertainers, we’re going to seriously miss the point of worship for ourselves and for our congregations.
The social dynamics of leading worship can be tricky. How does a person, on stage in front of a few hundred (or a few thousand) people divert the spotlight off themselves, and onto Jesus? Leading people to follow someone else seems like a bit of an oxymoron. So what makes the difference between truly leading people to worship God versus leading a self-centered-group-sing-along-rock-show with some Jesus sprinkled in?
It’s really tempting to blame the setting. The stage, the lights, the sound, the drum riser. I used to get really wrapped up in these externals. I used to think that churches who used big lights and sound were pretentious and really into being rock stars. You know, the whole “Jesus didn’t use big lights and a fog machine, so we shouldn’t either” sort of thing. But then, I saw some guys lead from the “big stage” with deep humility. And I also saw some guys who led in a small room with no sound system who were trying to be rock stars. When it comes to worship, the setting is mostly irrelevant.
Leading with humility starts with the worship musicians themselves.Every step, breathe, and note on and off the stage sets the tone of worship for the congregation. Effective worship leading begins and ends with the quality of our spiritual lives. And we can’t have quality spiritual lives without deep humility. Worship leaders must become the anti rock stars.
The trick, it seems, is to somehow inspire people but remain “transparent.” To lead without being distracting. To get the ball rolling, get out of the way, and allow people to worship their Creator. C.S. Lewis famously said that “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.” I’d say the same goes for the “perfect” worship leader.
At this point, I have more questions than I do answers. So over the next few weeks, I’m going to be interviewing some worship leaders who lead from a “large” stage & platform, digging in to the details of what it looks like to be an “anti-rock star worship leader.” But for now I wanted to start a conversation about this cultural phenomenon, and how it affects the church.
How do we fight the rock star mentality within the church? It’s one thing to point it out, but what practical steps can we take toward humility?
What results come from treating worship leaders like rock stars? How can we reverse this trend?