Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Want Jesus on My Worship Team

Among the newer titles in our churches is the moniker "Director of Worship Arts." Among the more important roles in our churches is the "Worship Team." It may or may not be a surprise to you that the Director of Worship Arts is not a Pastor or the Pastor. In general, this person is not even "clergy" by the loose definition we borrowed from the IRS (Ministers of Religion - Commissioned). He, or she, is generally a musician, well schooled in one of the primary instruments of the ubiquitous "Praise Band" (guitar or keyboard). He, or she, is generally not well schooled in a Lutheran course work (Theology of Worship, Hymnody, Church Year, etc.). Or, if he, or she, was schooled in this, this person has long ago left behind the ancient constrictions of liturgy, hymns, lectionary, and the church year to follow a new voice on a new path.

Members of the "Worship Team" are among those who, with the "Director of Worship Arts," plan and execute worship. They lead from the praise band pit. But they might also include technoids who can make sound systems work, make computers talk to projectors, and expertly put together PowerPoint presentations at a moment's notice. In another era they might have been in somebody's garage band but today they are the stars who make worship possible for those who prefer the contemporary version.

A number of these folks are end of the line Boomers who have always wanted to do this but never had a chance until somewhat recently. They might have grown up to worship by page number from the hymnal and thought it well enough until a visit to a non-Lutheran church opened their eyes. At first they did not "like" it but after a while it grew on them. More than this, what grew on them was the desire to be stage front reliving a childhood rock and roll dream but with a holy purpose and a holy calling.

Among the younger (generally male members) of this team are those who wear the badge of relevance in a scruffy beard, goatee, or enough five o'clock shadow to say to those who see you "serious musician." Among the women, it does not hurt your role if you look good, look real good. The worship babes of praise band land are good looking women, that is not to be denied. Who is to say that those who lead cannot be pleasing to the eye (male or female). The old guys might be in Hawaiian shirts but the younger folks tend to ordinary casual clothes (well wrinkled is a plus).

Each week they create. They start with a goal. Maybe they even got it from the liturgical calendar. They start with a goal and then pack in the elements that will draw the crowd from beginning to the ending (the fulfillment of the goal). Component parts of this creation include songs from the standard "Songs for Worship, Volume Whatever," maybe a new song -- perhaps even written by one of the musicians as the Spirit leads them (God gave me this song but its copyrighted and if you use it without paying me I'll sue your a__ off), some dramatic elements, the appropriate visual images to complement the stuff, perhaps a few dance moves thrown in (at least some clapping), a teaching sermon/Bible study/conversation with the pastor-leader (dressed in khaki and polo if it is an affluent suburb or nice jeans and tee if it isn't)... I know that this is a difficult task because often when they perform, uh, make that lead, I can see in their faces the pain of many moments spent in planning, rehearsing, and now doing it all -- if you are a good musician it hurts when you play or sing and you show it on your face)...

We recruit some of these folks from the parish. God gave them musical gifts and who are we to deny them a place (even if the gift is whistling). Pastors often justify these worship teams with an appeal to gifted Christians within the assembly who are doing nothing but worshiping and why not find a way to use their talents (steel drums included). Those we do not have on hand, we buy at the musician superstore in the mall or we have the ones we do bring along their friends. It is a band for the sake of the music (and the fun of performing, of course).

We cringe at the thought of spending money for a grand piano or a pipe organ but when it comes to the sound systems, video projection systems, recording systems, mood lighting boards, screens, keyboards, amps, drums (real or electronic, make that digital), and such, we have to have quality and quality it costs.

Where once you might have had a choir of 30-40, now you have a worship team of 10, a praise band of 4-8, a tech team of 2-3 (and some of these others are also on the worship team). But you make it sound like there is MORE lay involvement than traditional worship ever had (at least the front and center involvement which people can see without turning around to the choir loft - uh, make that balcony).

Okay, before you get all hot and bothered. I am being facetious and exaggerating somewhat for effect... I am walking all over the motives of these people... I am being callous and downright rude... I know this... but still I post this...

Because last time I checked the "Director of Worship Arts" was called the Pastor. Last time I checked the "Worship Team" was the Pastor and organist, cantor, choir director, etc. Last time I checked the "Praise Band" were the parish musicians and the choirs (voice, bell, etc.) and instrumentalists. Last time I checked these were not the creators or enablers of worship but the ones who worked together so that the liturgy was a seamless garment of calendar, hymns, liturgy (with all its embedded options), sermon, and service music (from prelude through anthem to postlude). The goal was defined by the texts for the day (aka propers) and the purpose was to faithfully address the Word of the Lord so that it may speak with the coordinated voices of lessons, sermon, hymns, anthems, etc. the one message. Last time I checked, anyway.

Where have I been? Camped out under a rock, I guess. Things are a changin but I am not sure for good. Are you?

Well, I feel better now. . .


Steve said...

Pastor P,
Thank you for posting this. At our church today we are burying our choir director/organist of 53 years. A truly beautiful saint of God. The new guy on the block, um, me, is very thankful for your "meandering" this direction today. Your words have taught and reinforced in my heart the reasons why we worship as we do. Your points on the "worship leader" were poignant as well. Bach was as much a theologian as he was a musician. Half of his library was comprised of theology books.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

You're the leader of the worship team? Does that mean you wear khakis and Hawaiian Shirts to Church on Sunday? Or does this mean you want to? Maybe I missed the whole point >=o) (Please note the dripping sarcasm)

Anonymous said...

No need to apologize, Pastor.

It is what it is and should be named as such.


Carl Vehse said...

You nailed the descriptions about the "praise worship" being foisted off in Missouri Synod congregations these days.

But you might also mention the associated "children's message," often delivered by showbiz wannabes "performing" their puppet ministry ( during the worship service.

In liturgical terms, it's called "comic relief."

Unknown said...

Very sad that the Word of God is continually being replace with our words,in what ever form that may be, which usually spawns from our fleshly wants and desires.The sinful flesh is always hostile to God and will always work to replace it with itself.

Peter Davidson said...

You have a very nice blog here! You may also appreciate the many testimonies of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at God bless.

Unknown said...
is a Mormon link ,I just thought it needs a disclaimer.
Sorry Mr.Peter Davidson with all do respect I have a link for you, It is about Christ's work not ours.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

You see Sir, It is not our work, it is God's,we are his workmanship and the work that is done in us and through us is God's work. It is His fruit that is grown on His tree, and He will constantly and continually point us to the one thing that sustains and grows our faith, His Word. His fruit grown on His tree and his fruit is abundant!We can't lay claim to His work, or we make an Idol to ourselves.Is it your Work or is it His?

Sorry, I went off topic, but is it not the center of what we are talking about?

Anonymous said...


Even though you may believe you are being facetious and are are closer than you think. Having spent most of my adult Christian life in such churches, you have pretty well nailed it. I came into the Lutheran Church to get away from such empty, self-centered "worship" and am greatly disturbed by it's ever increasing encroachment. Thank your for your thoughts. They are a blessing to me each day.

Anonymous said...

Pastors often justify these worship teams with an appeal to gifted Christians within the assembly who are doing nothing but worshiping

Yikes, I just picked up on this. How sad is that? Used to was a time when worship was the prime reason for being at church. Royal priesthood at worship and all that? Oh, sorry. That's too retro I guess.