I recently had the opportunity to attend a 5th grade graduation celebration. Now I admit, the thought running through my head as these soon to be 6th graders walked across to shake hands with the principle and receive their mock diploma was, “this isn’t a graduation…they are simply progressing to the next step.” It seemed to me to be the epitome of handing out participation awards. Take for instance the award for perfect attendance. It is literally an award for showing up! You don’t have to perform exceedingly well or show excellence in anything. Simply show up and you are awarded. All joking aside, I understand and agree with offering appreciation and encouragement to the children as they pass through one checkpoint, if you will, on their way to the next.
“I’m so glad you could make it”
This experience made me think, do we do similar things with the worship team in the church? Do we simply hand out participation trophies? Are we just excited the team showed up or are we expecting more from team members? As a team member, do you expect more from yourself? Do you see the connection between quality and skillfulness in your musical offerings of service leadership?
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men Colossians 3:23
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. Psalm 33:3
Obviously, we use the resources God has given us in our local church and not every church has an abundance of extensively trained and skilled musicians. However, does that absolve us, who God has placed in those positions in our local church, of striving to improve? I would think not. The Creator, the Almighty, the Holy God is deserving of our best actions, not just our best intentions. It is true and the book of Galatians teaches us that we are not justified by our works but by faith. We cannot earn salvation. It is the free gift of God obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. And it is also true, as James teaches, that real faith should produce works.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
I don’t believe it’s a stretch to see the compatibility of Colossians 3:23 and Psalm 33:3 with James 2:14-26. Our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ should produce in us the desire to offer back to God integrity, diligent work, skillfulness, and creativity with the skills, talents, and abilities he’s given each one of us.
Good, but not too good
I recently read a blog post by Josh Martin, a Worship Pastor at a church in Pullman, WA. Addressing the topic of excellence within church worship teams he observes the common attitudes Christians express concerning the level of quality offered and even accepted within many churches. He poses the question, why is it considered judgmental or rude to evaluate the skillfulness we bring to our service? He continues,
“Nehemiah had the best musicians play at the Dedication of the Wall. I wonder if some Israelites walked away saying, “Ah, too much production for me. A little showy. That harp solo didn’t really do it for me.”
It’s like we want Christian stuff to be good, but not that good.
I remember seeing an interview with the guy who designs and runs lights for Hillsong. The interviewer asked him how he took criticism when people called his light work “too showy”. In the humblest tone he responded, “At the end of the day, I’m a follower of Christ, and I happen to love lights and He’s gifted me to be really good at lights. So, as an act of worship, I’m going to offer Jesus my best when I do what I do. I’ve never thought of it being showy, I just think about it as my act of worship.”
Can you imagine telling a preacher, “Hey man, your preaching is getting a little too good, can you dial it back?” Seems crazy.”
I really appreciate Martin’s example of a preacher. It does seem crazy that a congregant would ask a preacher not to preach so well. We all prefer preachers who are great communicators. It is a misconception when one thinks that preachers were just born that way. No, they work at being skillful. They are diligent with honing communication skills. Why, so often, do many worship team members feel they are exempt from similar efforts?
Like the elementary school teachers and staff I saw recently, I am excited for each of you on the worship team. I applaud your willingness and desire to serve. Sometimes I may even be tempted to hand out participation trophies! (Just kidding) I am encouraged by the skills, talents, and abilities God has gifted each of you with. I hope to encourage you to press on. Keep going. Cultivate, plant, be careful and diligent, and then praise God for what He does with the yield!
Please take some time to do some self-evaluations.
Do you feel you’ve been lackadaisical in desire, preparation, and performance?
Have you had the errant perspective that the things you do (sing, play an instrument, run tech, etc.) are simply things you do and not things God has given you to do and expected you to offer back with interest? (think of the parable of the talents: Matthew 25:14-30)
How much time have you devoted to growing in skillfulness this past week?
How much time have you spent nurturing your relationship with God before you stand before others in a church service leading and encouraging them to do the same?
Are you willing to commit to be more diligent in honing your skills and craft as a way honoring God?
(Note: I used to have comments open on these posts and really appreciate input from the team. However, due to the ridiculous amount of spam the open comments section generates daily, I’ve closed them. If you have questions or comments, feel free to email them to me.)