Are Leaders “Entertainers”? – Wonder and Awe 6
It’s been a joy for me prepping and delivering this message series on worship… Wonder & Awe. I pray I’ve put some much needed focus on worship and helped us rethink what God is looking for from us as we worship privately or gather together. Some things He clearly demands; they’re non-negotiable. But beyond that, we’re highly conditioned by what our forebears have thought they needed to do in the past to obey Him in their particular time and place. In time, some of their practices have become entrenched. And sadly, these days it has become difficult to any longer distinguish a command from what is simply one good method among others of obeying it. Jesus told Pharisees, “by your traditions you have set aside the law of God” (Mark 7:9). We have, like them, have made “traditions” to be over “laws,” demanding where God made no demand but granted freedom.
I’ll ask this question as an example of that… Why are we not more expressive in worship than we are? Now, I have no goal of making unexpressive people feel guilty and do things in worship that make them uncomfortable. In the same way, neither should we stand in the way of one who might want to raise hands and say an occasional “Amen” or “Hallelujah” or, hold your breath, clap in appreciation for someone giving their life to Jesus or even an excellent point well-delivered in the middle of a sermon. It’s a major double standard that we appreciate expressive-ness in black brothers and sisters and condemn it among us white folks?
Isn’t finding a position that has integrity and consistency worthy of our effort? I’m not advocating a “hoedown” during every song – it’s plain as the nose on a face that Paul called for decorum in the church in Corinth when things got boisterous (“decency and order).” But “boisterous” is a term relative to time and place and we’d be wise to allow for outpourings from the heart… and would grieve God to hold back the Spirit should He come to visit us (like “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!).
On to the “entertainment” matter… It arises as a criticism more frequently than you’d think. It seems at first glance to be a modern issue because of technology (don’t you know everybody’s a star with a microphone in their hands?), but it really isn’t. It’s ancient. When we look at the reasons why folks cry foul saying “he’s entertaining,” we most often discover envy – aptly described as the “art of counting someone else’s blessings. In a nutshell, worship leaders are accused of crossing a line from leading worship to “entertaining” on the worship “stage.” Critics say, “Those leading use their singing or speaking voice to gain personal praise.” In our context, “those leading” are preachers, song leaders, praise teams, prayer leaders, Scripture readers, and announcement makers – anyone who takes “stage.” Let’s examine this criticiam…
First, certainly, if anyone on our stages displays arrogance or shows an ego begging to be fed, they would be wrong and need correction. We should easily remember Jesus chastising people who prayed or gave to the needy for show (Matthew 6:1-5; 23:5)..
Second, be aware that the word “entertainment” means “to keep people interested or enjoying themselves.” Ability to “keep people interested or enjoying themselves” is expected – demanded? – of song leaders, preachers, and teachers. But here’s likely the most important thing to remember: those people’s gifts are gifts to them from God... and gifts to us!
If, on the other hand, plain-to-see God-given gifts are used humbly in the process of worshipping our great God, and the process of leading others to do the same, what a blessing for all! We see it clearly when Harding’s Good News Singers lift us as they visit and sing. We see it clearly when Marco Orozco’s enormous gift leads our worship. We see it clearly when Wayne Kilpatrick’s well-thought out lessons, sincere demeanor, and smooth delivery were so “enjoyable” and made us so glad he came our way in August. Then has anyone heard Jeff Walling or Joe Beam?
Here’s a personal illustration: our son Chase is a professional “Worship Minister.” Leading worship is the work he does to earn his living and support his family. He believes God has gifted him in that way. A large part of it is his DNA. And a large part of it is his heart. Now there’s a thing about Chase… as he leads he bounces a bit, pats his leg a bit, pats his foot a bit, and walks around a bit. Perhaps to the great dismay of some, he might “preach” a sentence or two or quote scripture between songs to make everything tie together (song, prayer, scripture, reading, sermon, Lord’s Supper, offering all support and complement each other.
Critics say that “reverence” says leaders shouldn’t do those things,” that “doing them crosses the ‘decorum (decency/order)’ line.” Chase has been accused of show-manship. He would plead “guilty” only to the extent that his considerable God-given talent shows abundantly! But if critics mean “he is showing off and doing what he does for show, for ego boost, and/or for personal praise,” they are off-the-charts wrong! Most folks he’s lead in worship in Searcy, Russellville, Paragould, St. Louis, and Florence (and lots of youth rallies) have been thrilled for his talent, grateful for his hours of preparation, and blessed by his execution of whatever he had planned! You noticed “hours of preparation”? Indeed, he does just plain old hard, prayerful work to plan his songs and slides and Scripture and comments to connect and flow seamlessly, and install awe and wonder about God in worshippers’ hearts. He actually strives to be sure that every component he controls contributes to all the other components in a service and every worshipper encounters God.
Third, specialized worship leaders are ancient, not new! In the Old Testament, as ancient Jews worshipped, they had 4,000 “players” (1 Chronicles 23:5) and 288 “singers” (1 Chronicles 25:7) leading the assembly in worship. Specific clans of Levites were given responsibility by Moses for the assembly’s worship music – that was their task. At times, they sang or played alone; at times all worshippers joined in. If you’re familiar with psalms, you know many have “headings.” Many of the “headings” are musical instructions – how to sing it, when to sing it, with accompaniment or without, and if “with,” what instruments were to be used. In the New Testament church at Corinth, Paul discloses that soloists sang when they worshipped: “when you gather, one of you has a song…” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Again, if we have public leader “show-offs” of any sort, we should take note and lovingly correct them. But mostly, we’ve erected a “straw man” by this “entertainment” objection. What we’ve mostly accomplished is a burdening of good hearts who want only to use their gifts for Jesus and His people.
Four, gifted, charismatic people cannot help but be entertaining; God gifted them to succeed at that purpose! In my Bible study I quickly found a prime example… JESUS OF NAZARETH. Matthew ends his telling of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with these revealing words: “When [he] had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29). You can’t escape feeling that Matthew wants us to see there was something special in what He taught and in how He taught it.
Other gospel tell us the same thing about the occasions when He taught and preached (Mark 1:22; 11:18; Luke 4:32). I love a narrative in John 7 – a Bible “YES!” moment – when Temple guards sent by enemies went to arrest Him but became so entranced by His communication skills that they forgot orders and then eventually returned emptyhanded. Asked why their mission wasn’t complete, they answered: “No man ever spoke like this man speaks” (v 46). What a great insight into Jesus’ giftedness as a preacher and teacher!
Need another example? Then I give you MOSES. Philip, a church deacon and evangelist, preaching only minutes before he would be seized and stoned to death (Acts 7), described Moses as “a man powerful in speech and action” (v 22). The interesting backstory is this: when at the burning bush God told Moses that he was to go back to Egypt to free his people (Exodus 4), he told God he wasn’t the man for the mission because “…I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and tongue” (v 10). Aaron his brother was a gifted speaker (v 14) and God would send him along to be Moses’ spokesman. It wasn’t unnecessary, as Moses was eloquent aplenty and Aaron rarely got a word in edgewise.
God asked a highly revealing question: “Who gave man his mouth… I will help you speak and teach you what to say” (v 11) This tells us that our “leaders” are “God-gifted”! And maybe it says that prayers for speaking eloquence and song leading skills are in order since God can make people who think they’re “slow of tongue” into good public speakers and leaders.
APOLLOS is another example. Luke describes him as “learned” and “eloquent” (Acts 18:24 KJV). TIMOTHY is another. Paul tells him, “Don’t fail to use the gift the Holy Spirit gave you” (1 Timothy 4:12-14) and to “make [your gift] grow” (2 Timothy 1:7). Timothy’s “gift” surely included being an effective preacher / teacher.
Today’s criticism issue and others I’ve addressed in this series call first for Bible study. It’s an amazing testimony to God’s Word that even issues such as these are spoken to in its pages. After study, what’s called for is common sense and using the intelligence God gave us to find answers and set in place worship leaders and practices that take us to God’s throne.
So finally, from intelligence and common sense, I ask an easy-to-answer question: “If a preacher can’t prepare challenging thoughts, hold audience attention, and provide enjoyment to his hearers, how long will a church keep him? If a song leader leads without skill or enthusiasm, his songs fall flat and his “leading” fails. If he’s ungifted or unprepared, not knowing his songs well or missing their pitches and dynamics, those things catch his audience’s focus over song messages. Should folks worship in that situation, it will be in spite of him, not because of him.
I’m not advocating professionalism in all things worship. But I am calling for excellence, as much of it as we can have, especially on Sunday mornings when our biggest crowd gathers to build each other up for the challenges of walking with Jesus and to touch outsiders, who mostly come at that hour (see 1 Corinthians 14:16 for Paul’s concern).
Of course, at appropriate times, we must also give opportunities for new would-be leaders to try their gifts out on us. Still, our greater burden is to search out the most gifted people we have and demand they make good so God is glorified – by him and by those he leads.
Will there still be distractions? Yes, even with greatest planning and attention to detail, some will come. But we must make them as few as possible.
Jesus told us we have “gifts” (and different “gifts”) (see Matthew 25:14-30). How are you using yours in light of His coming back one day to directly and personally ask you how you used it.
Jesus finished telling these stories. Then he moved on from there. He came to his hometown of Nazareth. There he began teaching the people in their synagogue. They were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom? Where did he get this power to do miracles?” they asked. (Matthew 13:53-54)
When the crowds heard this, they were amazed by what he taught. (Matthew 22:33)
The people were amazed at his teaching. That’s because he taught them like one who had authority. He did not talk like the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:22)
When the Sabbath day came, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were amazed. (Mark 6:2)
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard about this. They began looking for a way to kill Jesus. They were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (Mark 11:18)
They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority. (Luke 4:32)
Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him… It was the last and most important day of the feast. Jesus stood up and spoke in a loud voice… The people heard his words. Some of them said, “This man must be the Prophet we’ve been expecting.” Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Doesn’t Scripture say that the Messiah will come from the family line of David? Doesn’t it say that he will come from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” So the people did not agree about who Jesus was. Some wanted to arrest him. But no one laid a hand on him. Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees. They asked the guards, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied. (John 7:37-46)
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Set an example for the believers in what you say and in how you live. Also set an example in how you love and in what you believe. Show the believers how to be pure. Until I come, spend your time reading Scripture out loud to one another. Spend your time preaching and teaching. Don’t fail to use the gift the Holy Spirit gave you. (1 Timothy 4:12-14)
This is why I remind you to help God’s gift grow, just as a small spark grows into a fire. God put his gift in you when I placed my hands on you. (2 Timothy 1:6)
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV)
All who are skilled among you are to come and make everything the Lord has commanded.” (Exodus 35:10 NIV)
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-11 NIV)