A Very Frustrated Worship Ministry Worker

“We should sing more hymns!”

“The music is so loud today!”

“We need to get smoke machines, colourful lightings, LED screen to enhance the worship experience”

“There shouldn’t be too many instruments on stage during worship”

“We should have more instruments on stage e.g. 2 pianos/keyboards, guitarists, at least 5 to 6 vocalists, an orchestra and a choir on stage during worship”

“Worship team should have proper dress code”

“Contemporary worship songs are repetitive and shallow”

“Young people need to learn how to sing hymns / older generation need to accept the new contemporary worship songs”

“We must have good vocalists leading worship”

“Worship today is all about going through the motions”

“That song should be in the key of [X], singing it in any other key is just unacceptable”

“There should/shouldn’t be moving backgrounds for the lyrics during worship”

“Worship leaders are like performers these days, how would I know if what they are doing on stage is genuine worship?”

“Why does the worship leader talk so much?”

“There need to be some sort of silence during worship. It’s a sign of respect!”

Sounds familiar? I’ve heard tons of these comments made by Christians for more than a decade.

Would you believe me if I tell you that I used to be one of them?

When I started serving as a worship minister, I was really caught up by all these talk on how to ‘do’ worship. I read many books and spent much time training people, setting rules, coming up with application forms for those interested to be part of the team, and so on and so forth, in order to set a standard.” Well, that is part of my job isn’t it?

Besides conducting my own training, I would expose the team to some of the worship bands around by organising worship events in the church. The younger generation went crazy when we had teams from Hillsong, Citipointe, Planetshakers and even Sidney Mohede in church. We created hype by spamming our social media telling our friends: “so and so is coming and you should be there” or “this is something that you want to do on a weekend or else you are going to miss out big time.” The older generation on the other hand had people like Bob Fitts, some classical singers and some sort of orchestra group performing in the church and they too had their fair share of excitement. I can almost guarantee that most of them would tell their neighbours and everyone they know. I must admit, I was once a fangirl too (been there, done that, check!).

In addition, being a Hillsong graduate didn’t help either because almost every worship team that I met wanted to find out more information about Joel Houston, Marty Sampson, Brooke Fraser, Darlene Zschech and the rest of the Hillsong worship team. They wanted to know what it was like to study there, the things that I learned over the years and are easily impressed by the stories.

However, the level of expectation was somewhat crazy because I was expected to bring the Hillsong level of worship to the table. The amount of pressure was enormous but the thing that bug me the most is when I received comments like “good worship today”. I often wondered what do they meant by ‘good’. Did it mean that they had a God-encounter? Or that they were able to bring worth to God without any disruption from the stage? Or that I had successfully pointed them to the attributes of God and impacted their life that very day?” You could say that I am overthinking but it is important to a worship leader. If worship is ‘good’ because the worship leader’s vocals were good or the band played really well, then we as worship leaders have failed in what we were meant to do in the first place.

The limelight is never about and/or on us. It scared me when I was told that people couldn’t worship or that the standard of worship had dropped without me leading worship (true story!). This explains why I would avoid worship leading too often. It saddens and frustrates me that worship has become about us, what we think it is, how we assume it should be, how much time we should set for worship, who is on stage. We also spend far too much time and energy debating (and sometimes arguing) on what songs we should sing, what style we should play, how we should come up with the order of worship by deciding whether we should observe the Lord’s Supper, reading the Lord’s prayer together once a month or we should have call to worship and so on and so forth to the extent of causing disunity. I have even come across an article that tells people to stop singing certain worship songs because they are not worth singing while some articles defend their stand on singing repetitive choruses, singing hymns, or using certain lights to set the mood.

We tie music and worship so closely that it worries me because I find many worship teams who can’t lead worship without a full band. Worship leaders would go the extra mile be it begging or pestering musicians and singers (I used to be like that) to ensure that they have a full team because going acoustic or acapella seems uncool and inappropriate these days. It got me thinking: is music that important in worship? If it is, then what happens when there are people who are not musically inclined or those who don’t like to sing? (there are people like that out there and my good friend happens to be one of them). Does that mean their worship is any less than those who enjoy music and singing? What happens when there are no musical instruments? Do we stop worshipping then? Can we worship without singing? Can we worship through writing? Dancing? Giving? Serving our community? Painting/drawing? My friend used to ask me ‘would you be ok if there is a church that doesn’t sing during worship?” It took me a while to think about this and I am actually OK with it. You might argue that singing is Biblical and yes I absolutely agree with you. I am not against singing or anything related to music, but my point is that we have put far too much weight in the musical aspect rather than what true worship is all about.

I used to believe that music is the only right way to worship because that is what we do every Sunday. I was taught that singing is worship and it is something that we must do before a meeting starts, be it a funeral, wedding, connect group or just a simple fellowship time. Worship has to come first but I wasn’t taught the reason behind it and I believe there are many who are the same like me. We have become the contributors of this current problem in churches for far too long.

What is worship then?

“Worship is our response to God, both personal and corporate, for WHO HE IS and WHAT HE’S DONE, expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.”
~Louie Giglio~

Worship is that simple and Louie Giglio sums it up beautifully for us. It is about WHO GOD IS and WHAT HE HAS DONE. Full stop. God alone deserve to be worshipped because He is sovereign and merciful and yet we have make it all about singing of songs or something we do on a Sunday (which we have established already). Worship is us dedicating our whole life saying to Him “I’m here, anything for You Lord” and tell the whole world about Him. Why? Because He saved you and me by letting His Son die for us. Everything is done by God alone and it is by His grace we are saved.

Do you remember your first Christ-encounter? What was your response? I can tell you that our responses could be different because it was a personal encounter. Some would sing, fall down on their knees, pray, jump for joy, dancing and etc. Though our responses may not be the same but we believe in the same Gospel and that is what we are responding to. Sadly, we forgetful people have drowned the Gospel and the true purpose of worship by all the things we think is right and fit for our King. I think it’s time to shift our focus back to what it is all about.

It’s time to stop…

…debating and arguing on who is right and who is wrong
…idolising our worship leaders like superstars
…imposing on others to follow a certain way to worship
…focusing on our musical preferences
…making it about us

We need to give Him all glory and honour that’s due to Him for the things that He has done for us because worship is all ABOUT HIM and never about us.