Today is the fourth post of several where I’ll address some of the issues I’ve noticed in leading worship over the past 20+ years. Ultimately, all of the issues I’ll address find their root in the heart, and are given wings with our pride.
The revival pastor would preach a fiery, animated message and, as he would come to the close of his sermon, he’d share a story that would go something like this:
I preached in a revival a while back, and the local pastor and I went to visit a family where the father was not a believer. His wife was a Christian, and she was faithful to the church. And, she was faithful to bring the children every time the doors were opened. But, for some reason, the father wouldn’t attend. I asked him if he would come to the services that night, and he said he would.
At the end of the message, I gave an invitation to come forward. The father was there, and I could tell the Spirit was working in his life, but he just wouldn’t take that one step into the aisle and come forward. The invitation ended and we closed the service.
Later that night, on the way home, the father was killed in tragic automobile accident. He died, not knowing Jesus as his Savior. And, that wife and mother, and those children will never get to see their daddy again in heaven, because he’s not a Christian.
So, with “every head bowed and every eye closed,” the revivalist made the plea with all of us there that night to come forward and accept Jesus, because, you never know, you could be like that father and die before you have the chance to ask Jesus into your heart…
I don’t know…maybe the story was true. But, I have to admit, I’m skeptical. It seemed like every evangelist had a story almost identical to that one. After a while, I felt manipulated.
The definition of manipulation is this:
…to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner.
Revivalists are not alone in the tactic of manipulation. Worship leaders do it, too. And, pastors, as well. It’s a “full steam ahead” approach to get worshippers to respond to something, anything. And, it’s sin.
When we, as worship leaders, use something to manipulate those worshipping, it says that we don’t trust God. We don’t trust his sovereign work of salvation in the lives of those present. We don’t trust in the power of the Gospel. We don’t trust in the working of the Spirit to open the hearts and minds of people to hear the Gospel. In essence, we trust only ourselves to manipulate people to do something – make a decision, sing a song, raise their hands, and so on.
Many times, you’ll see manipulation work out in several ways. Here are a few:
1. A look. Worship leaders and pastors can dress a certain way, style their hair a certain way, and so on to get that “look.” I suppose it’s an effort to be trendy, current, or contemporary; or, it could be a way to hold on to tradition – like wearing a coat and tie.
2. An atmosphere. Walk into any place of worship, and you can tell immediately and with accuracy what the worship will be like. The most evident will be lighting, especially lighting that very subtly changes colors with certain songs or points in a sermon. Even more, when the stage is brightly lit, and the auditorium is lit dimly or not at all, it’s full on manipulation. Add some candles, a rug for the worship leader area, some up-lit backdrops, and you’re in for a full on assault.
3. A style. This isn’t just worship style. It’s style of delivery. The most obvious is the weak, breathy, almost-quivering singing voice that pierces right to the heart. Dynamics are one thing – music calls for soft and loud – but vocal affectations are a bit much. And, the same applies to preaching…vocal ups and downs and extreme dynamics can be used as a tool to manipulate the message.
4. A method. There are tried and true ways to plan a worship service or sermon that can major on affectations more than the message.
I suppose the point here is that we plan and carry out our worship with excellence. And, we cannot neglect that we are created with emotions that allow us to express our heart. Yet, when we, as worship leaders, focus on and “skillfully influence” the emotions of those in worship, we sin. We show a distrust for God and the gospel.
God is unchanging and is always faithful. Let us, too, be faithful to who we are as worship leaders and trust God fully as we lead.