MONSTERS OF WORSHIP
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the
Father is seeking such people to worship him.
(John 4:23, ESV)
That verse makes it pretty clear that God is looking for worshippers. Most Christians have their own opinions on what it means to worship. Some think singing reverent hymns is the only true way to worship God, while others think shouting worship songs from a big stage or a frenzy of interpretive dancing is the only true way. Funny thing is, most of our ideas of worship are centered around “me” and what makes “me” feel good. Just as guilty as others, I have found myself driving away from a church service critiquing the worship. “I just didn’t feel it today” has rolled off my tongue more often than I care to admit.
Many of us modern worshippers were captivated when we first heard Martin Smith of Delirious sing “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” or Darlene Zschech’s “Shout To The Lord.” Without intending to dismiss anyone’s true experience with worshipping God, I wonder if what we feel is sometimes confused with the emotion that an incredibly written song naturally stirs. I definitely felt an overwhelming swell of emotion the first hundred times I sang “Shout To the Lord” in church, but I feel a similar emotion when I hear Celine Dion belt out “My Heart Will Go On.” I truly believe God breathes great songs through people, but is the emotion we seek from singing them about “me” and how it makes “me” feel, or is it about how it makes God feel? The monster desires to control our worship in an effort to divert it away from its intended purpose of glorifying God.
The demanding worship experience that many modern-day Christians have adopted gave birth to the modern-day “worship leader”—not just some person on stage leading songs, but a “true worship leader.” You know, the guy in skinny jeans with a cool guitar, hip hairstyle and endearing prayer voice. We once had a worship leader at my church who added a slight British accent to his singing and talking voice. It sounds cool to some and gives that Delirious/ Hillsong vibe, but I can’t help but laugh inside every time I hear it, wondering what a British person might think if they heard it. Personally, I enjoy being led by a hip modern worship leader with lyrics projected on a screen much more than some staunch guy in a suit waving his hand around like a symphony conductor. Am I wrong to allow personal preference to determine the way I worship, or should I put more emphasis on who I am called to worship? If my desires are to worship the Creator, shouldn’t I still be able to do that with whatever style of worship leader I encounter?
The Christian music industry and demanding worshippers have contributed greatly to the creation of the Monsters of Worship. Rock star worship leaders with large egos abound. I often hear stories of the battles that go on behind the scenes of churches over who gets selected to sing on the worship team each week. While there are plenty of incredible churches with authentic, godly worship leaders and worship teams, I also know many worship leaders and musicians struggle with the monster gene. Yep. Thanks to Adam and Eve and the fall, the monster gene is in every single one of us.
Nashville is full of super talented musicians, so one can attend any church in the area and expect a high caliber of musicianship. There is one church in Nashville well known for its incredible choir. That particular church had to install a policy a few years back requiring one to be a member of the church for a year before being allowed to join their choir. Apparently, vocalists were attending the church and joining the choir in an effort to showcase their voice to the music industry professionals who attend the church. I often wonder what it would be like if the super talented singers and musicians were filled with the desire to spread out across the nation, blessing churches in rural towns with their gifts, as opposed to cocooning in Nashville in hopes of being discovered by the music industry? We have several worship leaders at our church and, recently, our favorite moved to South Carolina. My initial emotion upon hearing the news of his move was extreme sadness. But then I realized how great it is that such a talented musician would leave the comforts of Music City and share his gift in South Carolina. It won’t be easy for him to co-write and record from South Carolina, but what a huge blessing for his new church family!
Hopefully, my worship leader friends don’t think I am attempting to paint them in a bad light. My intentions are to point out the pressures we worshippers create with our demanding needs. Many worship leaders have a self-imposed measurement of how effective they are at leading worship. If they don’t feel the energy coming back from the audience through loud singing and hands lifted high in the air, they feel like a failure. Fear of failure is a weapon the enemy uses to take out worship leaders. What a difficult balancing act for worship leaders. I don’t think most of us who sit in churches on Sunday realize how difficult of a task it is for our worship leaders. The monster is always lurking in the shadows, hoping to be fed. Often times, the demanding congregations are the ones picking out the food to serve the monster. It’s disheartening to hear stories from worship leaders about the negative notes and feedback they receive on Monday mornings regarding their “performance” on Sunday. I don’t think God intends it to be a performance. Isn’t worship supposed to be a beautiful celebration of glorifying Him?
During my time working in the international department at Word Entertainment, I had the opportunity to visit Hillsong Church in Australia. Hillsong Music was topping the CCLI chart, the worship music chart that measures songs being sung in the churches every Sunday across the U.S. Being a self-proclaimed “modern worshipper,” I was super excited to visit the church at the center of the modern movement. Upon arrival, there was a V.I.P. seat reserved for me. My special seat was located near the president of Hillsong Music with a perfect view of the worship platform. The thought, I must be a special worshipper this morning actually ran through my mind as the monster of worship began to stir inside. What I would experience that day was a little different than expected, but it would change my view of worship forever.
The Hillsong campus was amazingly beautiful, and the worship center was arena size, but what I experienced there was something incredibly genuine. No fake accents (of course they didn’t need them), no fog machines or laser light show, just genuine worshippers. I instantly realized how Americans had taken something so genuine and turned it into a rock show. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of energy on the stage, but something felt so pure. Darlene Zschech didn’t overtake the platform as some kind of rock star. Instead, it was a worship team experience. I think it was actually her sister who took the worship leader role that morning. On the long plane ride back to the U.S., I pondered the thought of how we Americans took something God birthed in Australia and super-sized it into “monster worship” for America. It’s obvious God had big plans for “Shout To The Lord” and the Hillsong movement around the world, but it manifested itself so differently in the U.S. What I saw in the U.S. was more about how much emotion the worship leader could create with the song. If we, the church audience, didn’t get to sing “Shout To the Lord” during the worship service, it was a disappointing Sunday. I would actually hear people complain when the song wasn’t sung in a service. God has definitely used and continues to use “Shout To the Lord” in a mighty way around the globe. However, I can’t help but think how many monsters of worship used it for self-gratification as opposed to glorifying God.
God created us to worship in ways that may seem crazy to others. He wants our unabashed worship poured out toward Him. David exemplified just that when he danced with all his might in celebration and worship to God. So much so that his wife was embarrassed and displeased.
And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn. As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart.
(2 Samuel 6:14-16, ESV)
And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
(2 Samuel 6:20-23, ESV)
Looking at those verses, I determined that it really isn’t my place to judge anyone’s style of worship. The story gives us a picture of genuine, spontaneous worship. David’s worship was so pure that the monster reared its head through Michal, his wife, as she attempted to condemn him. Reading the last verse of the story (“And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.”) leads me to believe that God was displeased with Michal’s desire to control David’s worship. So much so, that He prevented her from receiving the honor of bearing a child with David. Genuine worship squashed the monster that so badly wanted to control David’s style of worship.