Worship Culture. Every church has one, and it has become fascinating to me to seek to understand [ as worship leaders ] how we go about shaping that culture.
The songs we choose to sing are paramount! Every week we have a chance to shape people’s view of God through the words we sing. We are directly influencing how people think about life, faith, and the gospel. I love how Mike Cosper says it in his book Rhythms of Grace, “Our gatherings should prepare people for their encounter with death.”
I live in Woodstock, a little town north of Atlanta, just barely close enough to still be considered part of metro Atlanta. I have lived in the metro area for nine years now and I absolutely believe, for better or worse, the city of Atlanta is playing a key role in shaping the future of worship culture in the Church in America.
Again, for better or worse, the “professional worship leader” or “professional church musician” role has been created and expanded here in Atlanta. The vast majority of churches in our city doing any form of more contemporary-driven worship services are paying musicians to come in on a weekly basis to make sure the music is top-notch quality. I could do an entire blog on all of the positive effects of this, but within this culture of so many musicians bouncing from church to church paid for their talent, there are some dynamics we have to be incredibly careful of as we are shaping the culture of the local church and how we worship.
Like I said, there are many positive effects of this dynamic, but if the quality is great and the heart and soul of worship is lost, we miss the boat completely! I absolutely believe that most church-goers are not coming to church for the music to sound amazing or the band to look cool. We need authentic leaders over polished one. We need vulnerability and humility over well-produced artists. I try to communicate to our church musicians, “preparation is hugely important and expected, but I’d rather have authenticity over perfection.”
Unfortunately, the true reality for many of us is that perfection pays the bills. You go into a church as a worship leader or musician, you nail the parts and you look good doing it, you are going to get asked to come back.
We have our pre-service production meetings and go over every cue to make sure we all nail it – because we are pros. All of this can have its proper place. There is certainly value in excellence and giving your best and there is huge value in working hard to provide for your family. But I still can’t help but wonder, “is there something we’re missing here? Is this the church God calls the bride of Christ?”
My wife and I have recently connected with a church plant in Woodstock called Sojourn Community Church that meets on Sunday nights. We have had a growing desire to find a church home in our local community, and Sojourn has been a great place for us. I’ve continued to serve part-time as the Music Director at Briarlake Church in Decatur for over 6 years now. They have been a great blessing to encourage me to serve this new church plant in our city. Two weeks ago, I was leading worship on a Sunday night and we were walking towards the front for a time of worship and communion. Our keys player, Ty, was supposed to come up with me and begin gently padding as we led into “Lord I Need You” and “Jesus Paid it All.” I was playing a nice long intro as people began to take communion and I couldn’t help but think, “why the heck is Ty just sitting there, he’s supposed to be up here playing!” I came to realize that Ty felt it was more important in that moment to stop and pray with his wife and go take communion together than it was for him to be playing keys. He explained to me later that they had a little argument earlier that day, and he just needed to make things right, pray, and take communion together.
The problem with the worship culture we’ve developed around Atlanta is that in many churches, Ty would NEVER do that! He would never miss his cue. He would have absolutely been there seamlessly padding in the background on cue. It is so easy for us to miss the heart of Jesus in our pursuit of perfection.
That time of worship and communion is easily the most memorable I’ve experienced in our times of gathering for worship at Sojourn. Ty jumped in midway through the set. The sound may have not been perfection, but the Spirit was present. I took a minute to appreciate and thank Ty at the close of the service and was [ somewhat embarrassingly ] moved to tears by the example of his leadership. The most worshipful thing Ty did in that service was take 5 minutes to love, serve, and lead his wife. It was far more worshipful and important for them and the church than anything he could have done on a keyboard. These are the actions that shape a culture!
As much as songs help form the culture of worship, actions and authenticity shape it more. It is my prayer for us as worship leaders that we keep our eyes on Christ, and that He would use our lives, marriages, and songs to shape a culture of worship that brings honor and glory to Christ and His Church.