REFLECTIONS OF A WORSHIP PASTOR
Part II: The Weekly Battle
Yesterday at The Grove, Scott Swanson (Pastor of Spiritual Formation) taught from Genesis 11, the story of the Tower of Babel. Pride was at the core of his message, and so for Part II of my Reflections From a Worship Pastor Series (click here for Part I) I thought I’d open up a can that most (if not all) worship pastors wrestle with every Sunday. The battle against Pride, and all it’s deadly siblings. It is a battle that really is never won. Or maybe I should say it is one that is never over, it’s never completely won. Individual battles can be overcome, but the war with Pride in a pastor rages on.
On The Outside
I’ll start with the more obvious manifestations of my battle with Pride: my appearance. You see, in our consumer driven culture where “worship” in church has become so entertainment driven and production oriented, there has developed a certain expectation regarding “the worship leader.” (More on this topic in a future post). And unfortunately I’ve found myself at times getting sucked in to this. As a result I end up thinking way too much about how I look on Sunday mornings. What I’ll wear. What my hair looks like. How I look when I’m singing and playing guitar, etc. Some Sundays I just CARE way too much about what I look like, as though it is somehow important to who I am and what I do.
Just being honest here.
On The Inside
Less obvious are the battles I fight inside my mind on Sunday mornings. Thoughts like, “man, if I can hit this note, that’s gonna sound AMAZING!” or “I hope the band pulls off this moment of this song, cause it’s gonna be incredible if we do!” or “wow, look at all these people standing and singing with me, I must be really good at this!” And I get bombarded with all these thoughts that anchor me in the flesh and keep me distracted with wondering if people know how awesome I am. At times I buy in to them, the temptations to think “I’m really great.” I accept compliments after the service and rather than attribute them back to my King I become content stealing a piece of his Glory.
Just being honest here.
Normal and Expected
When I fight these battles of pride, both on the outside and the inside, I try to keep two things in mind:
1) This is normal. This is life. Pride has always been an issue for me and it probably always will be. Being up on a stage in front of people will inevitably compound the issue. The thoughts of pride will always come. One of the worst things I can do is begin to beat myself up for even having the thoughts, because then I start a shame cycle that gets me nowhere. The best thing I can do is name it when I see it, call it out for what it is, and take that “thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).
2) This is expected. These are ancient tricks by the satan and the powers of evil. Their best move against me is to help me believe that I am better than I truly am, that I am worthy of praise, that I am awesome and amazing and talented and better at this than anyone else. The context of the verse I just quoted above, in 2 Corinthians, is Paul acknowledging that we do not wage war against the flesh. Our weapons are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds, to combat the powers of sin and darkness (the very powers that Christ defeated on the cross). These powers have no power over me because of the victory of Jesus. But they try nonetheless because they know that at times it works… at times they gain ground. These thoughts of pride are not simply me being weak, they are intentional efforts by the enemy to convince me to steal God’s Glory.
When I remember, I try to say this prayer as I drive to church Sunday mornings at 6am, “God, this morning help me to get out of the way. Help me to remember that this is for you and about you. You and you alone are worthy of praise and glory. Please don’t let me get in the way.” The best moments are when this prayer is answered in its fullness and I am able to either block out the thoughts of pride completely or call them out when they come and give them up to the Spirit. If things go well during the morning I am quick to thank my God for his grace. When people say nice things I am quick to acknowledge it is by the Spirit of God alone.
The worst moments are when I begin to think that the “success and failure” of the morning rests on my shoulders. That I am somehow THAT important to what God is doing here that things hinge on my greatness. If I’ve prepared well, or planned a killer set, then I am increasing God’s opportunity to do great things (isn’t that kind of me?). And on the flipside, if I haven’t prepared well or if things start to go poorly (by my own standards) then I begin to think that the morning is a failure. That people didn’t worship. That the morning was a bust. Again, I buy in to this idea that I am THAT important.
The Weekly Battle
And so now you know. Not that you asked, but I wanted to tell you. Part of battling pride is being open and honest about it. Naming it. Calling it out.
Each week I wrestle with thinking that I am really awesome. That I look good. That I sing magnificently. That I am a brilliant worship leader. That God is lucky to have me. That The Grove is lucky to have me. That things go well if I make them, and that things go bad if I don’t.
Each week Pride puts on the gloves and drags me in to the ring with it.
Some weeks I get pummeled. And it’s embarrassing. If you knew the thoughts in mind (and now you sort of do) you’d probably walk away in disgust, vowing to find a church with a more “humble worship leader.”
Some weeks I survive. Pride takes its best swings but it doesn’t knock me down. We fight out ten rounds and it gets called a draw.
Some weeks I knock the ever living snot out of Pride. But here’s the kicker: these are the weeks when I remember to take off my gloves entirely, get out of the ring, and let the Spirit of God step in and fight for me. These are the weeks when I get out of the way. These are the weeks when Christ helps me surrender completely to him and he rightfully receives all the glory. I wish I had more of these weeks than I actually do. Just being honest, here.
The ironic part of this, for me, is that the reality is that I AM awesome. I AM great. I AM wonderful and fantastic. But not because of what I do or what I am. No, I am these things because Christ is in me, and HE is those things. I am these things because the Creator of the Universe says so. My identity (and yours as well) is found in the opinion that God has of me, and that opinion is pretty high. He thinks I am great. He thinks I am wonderful. He thinks I am awesome. Not because I’m a good worship leader, or a good singer, or because I wear a cool v-neck shirt. No, he thinks these things because he created me like that, and he doesn’t mess up the things he creates. He calls them “good.” He calls me “good.”
“Let the one who boats, boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” -2 Corinthians 10:17-18