May 12, 2010
“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” (Psalms 33:3 NIV)
One of the challenges I face as a worship leader is the quest for excellence, both personally and for those I lead and serve on my worship teams. We’ve been slipping a bit lately, evidenced by people coming unprepared to rehearsals and still unpolished on Sunday mornings. I confess that I have slacked a bit in this area. Don’t we owe more to our Lord, each other and our congregation? These we are called to serve with our musical and artistic talents.
Having recently returned from the Thrive Conference at Bayside Church in Roseville, CA, I’ve been inspired anew to gain ground in the area of excellence at Trinity. They do things very well there and it seems to be for the right reasons. However, excellence is not the end-all. There is something greater that comes first. I’ve always and will always hold humility as the precursor to excellence. Humility is one of the Christ-like and Christ-produced qualities that I desire most in me and look for in all who serve on my teams. Humility is what makes excellence an expression of worship to God, putting the spotlight on him as the giver of our talents and the one worthy to be praised through doing our best. Humility is what allows an incredibly talented artist like Lincoln Brewster (the worship leader at Bayside and an incredible musician and worship leader) to play skillfully and in so doing, put the spotlight on God and not himself. While I’ll never be as talented as Brewster on the guitar, I am responsible to develop my talent/skill to it’s utmost potential, and that, to the glory of God.
So I’d like to think briefly about humility and excellence, allowing the Scriptures to speak truth into these areas. While this spans all service to God, including all arts and technical areas, I will focus mainly on the music ministry for the sake of getting to the point.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV)
The enemies of humility are selfish ambition and vain conceit, exalting myself and my desires above others. Okay, isn’t this the basic struggle (a.k.a. sin) of all mankind? In contrast, humility thinks of others first. This was, in fact, the example that the Lord Jesus gave us (where the passage above is going). In a worship setting we must set selfish ambition and vain conceit aside and instead consider others as more important than ourselves. I think the others in our situation are first and foremost the congregation we serve – this will determine the style of music we do (which may not be our favorite style) and how much time we give to making it excellent (a.k.a. practice). Our greatest goal should be providing excellent and beautiful accompaniment to the sung praises of God’s people. In so doing, we honor God whose Word instructs us to “rather, serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13 NIV) (As opposed to serving our sinful nature.) We also serve each other (and love each other) in the band by recognizing that we are all adding a small part to make a beautiful outcome. A good friend of mine explains it like this:
A band paints a picture. Each instrument is a color and each instrumentalist uses their instrument to add their color to the whole picture. The goal is a beautiful picture. If we’re painting the sky, it’s going to be mostly blue and white, maybe some grey. (Unless of course it’s a sunrise or sunset.) Most of the pictures we paint within the worship service are landscapes, sunrises and sunsets – we gather corporately to “to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalms 27:4 NIV). Certainly at times we ought to focus in on one area. In other words, one instrument or voice may be featured. At other times, none at all. My greatest contribution to a song may in fact be where I’m tacit (not playing at all).
I want our teams to excel at painting beautiful pictures at Trinity church. Musically, I want to produce that which is beautiful within the style that connects best with the culture around us. The same goes for media, drama, dance, art and our use of technology. And all of this is done to the glory of God. Humility enables me to forsake my selfish ambition and vain conceit for the overall purpose of glorifying God and serving each other in love. So this is where we start. “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5 NIV) Bring on the grace, God! Bring it on and help us to live it out and give it away.
I am truly grateful for the people who serve along side me in the worship ministries at Trinity. Humility is certainly the distinguishing mark of our teams. To this I say thanks to God, and ask him to help us to excel still more!