THE ANTI ROCK STAR WORSHIP LEADER

Cleaning_toileteditedA 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.

photo(11)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?

Comments (11)
  1. Greg Watts February 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    As a musician on a worship team I can totally relate with what you are saying. In my case, I can with all honesty and humility state that I am simply too old to be a rock star. I’m just lucky that my knees and shoulders (and back!) can hang in there long enough to complete the worship sets! With God’s grace and my wanting to please Him I do try my best to play the best I can. I do sense while playing that I am “getting into a zone” that I believe puts my heart in a pure motiviation and I can actually “sense” when the congregation is enjoying their own personal worship time (not by sight but feeling the worship occurring in the room). Quite frankly, until I start the song set and right afterwards I am a complete nervous wreck!!!! Once the music starts; however, I simply focus on God’s grace to help me worship and to help those participating to worship for Him! I wish I wasn’t this way for I find myself almost embarrased afterwards and hard to talk with members of the congregation afterwards because if I did play well I would like the accolades to go to God not me! On the other hand, I do need the reassurance from the worship team on how well I played. Nick, it truly is a tough call and I totally agree with your thoughts. I’m getting better at this; but, many times I have a tendency to focus on what I did wrong and to me that indicates I’m losing my focus of what worshiping for God is? Again, I’m reaching a point of not focusing on my mistakes; rather, praying to God before a worship set that I please Him! That has helped so much and my worship time has simply become a wonderful experience! Yeesh, now I’m starting to sound like a Rock Star :=)! But that can’t be for I’m too OLD…LOL!

  2. Josh Burnett February 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks Nick! This post really opened my eyes. Love the CS Lewis quote. I think one of the dangers can be that we will get more or less excited when a particular worship leader is present or absent. We let our worship be influenced by the person leading instead of who (God) we are worshipping.

    I think the worship leader could make a point every now and then to say a word or two about why he/she is up on stage in the first place. They could in a brief few sentences before the worship set, encourage people to come into God’s presence and focus on Him and what they’re singing.

  3. Pingback: The Anti Rock Star | Worship Links

  4. mamalou February 13, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    First of all…NICE picture!!! GREAT hair & is that the ICEMAN James Young in the background??? How appropriate that you use that picture and you are both leading worship now :)

    I think the result of treating anyone like a rock star only leads to trouble. It would help reverse this trend if all believers would view each other as servants of God….each part of the body is important…and none more important than the other. Understandably it is easy to fall into the mistake of treating people who are “up front” (worship leaders, pastors, teachers,etc) as rock stars because we appreciate what they do and they speak to our hearts.

    I think alot of reversing the rock star mentality lies with the worship leader,pastor, teacher, etc. If their attitude is one of humility and giving God the glory, then hopefully worshippers will follow suit. A worship leader, pastor, teacher, etc must have their hearts right, focused on God and an attitude of humility. If the leader is prepared spiritually, mentally and emotionally, the worship experience will overflow from them to those they are leading.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this…excellent blog!
    love mom :)

  5. Dale Sechrest February 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Nice article.
    I don’t know too many churches that view their worship leader as a celebrity though.
    Many WL would like to be big time and play as if they are.
    I’ve witness one who thought he was in Vegas.

    Congregants sometimes have a way of humbling people on the platform.
    They either tell them that they dislike the style of music that is being played;
    that they play too loud;
    too long,
    repeat too many lines.

    To connect with your point, I have seen congregations adore their worship leader for being the entertainment for the morning. Which is more damaging for both the worship leader and the church.

    I have to say, before signing off, that I once asked a young, well known Christian artist, who was leading a seminar on leading worship, his opinion on the difference between ‘performance’, and ‘anointed’ worship coming from someone who is called into the ministry.
    His comment, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re using words that are foreign to me’.

    Looking forward to your conversations with other worship leaders.

  6. Pam February 13, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    We as worshippers have a responsibility to come to each service to worship, not to be entertained. If not, we are contributing to this “rock star” mentality. For me, I can sense the difference between a worship leader who is there to share his/her gifts as an act of worship and is being used by God to move others towards Him, and one who is on stage for their own glory.

    Although I have never been (or ever will be:) an onstage performer, I believe the difference between the two begins with how a person “performs” for their audience of One. Whether we lead worship, park cars, or clean the toilets, true humility and servanthood begins in our hearts and is reflected in our actions in the way we live our lives where we all, performers or not, have an audience of One.

    Thanks for sharing Nick. I love reading your posts!

  7. Jackie McKinney February 15, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Nick, I found out about your blog from a Facebook post just a bit before your VERY proud father made our small group aware of it a while back :). Thank you for sharing your heart through this blog. Please know that it is blessing to me (and I’m sure many others).

    God’s richest blessings!!!

  8. rachel March 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    oh, steve. he would do just exactly something like that.

    thank you for the good reminders.

  9. Pingback: Meet Steven Potaczek, Anti Rock Star | Worship Links

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