The Challenges Of Worship Album Era
Live worship recordings. They are incredibly beautiful, and in our culture today, highly esteemed. Churches grabbing ahold of the unique thing God is doing in their congregations, capturing it so it can benefit other believers and other churches. It is a beautiful picture of a church, a segment of the Church, living out its unique purpose.
I’ve been on both sides of it, myself. Being part of a church culture that values capturing what God is up to, in a specific group of people, at a specific time in history - priceless.
In my lifetime, I have seen it move from the recordings of a few select worship leaders and churches chosen by a record label to the explosion of a church in Australia, which has now grown to churches everywhere digging deep to capture the unique expression of their house.
I've seen how things have moved away from a select few individual songwriters and worship leaders to an entire team working together, functioning as one unit. Ultimately, functioning as the Church.
So I’m sure by now you’re thinking, “Yeah! So what’s the challenge?”
Mimicry. That’s the challenge.
The challenge of the worship album era is mimicry. Step foot in almost any church anywhere and you will hear the same top 40 worship song sung with the exact same arrangement and parts, often accompanied by the same backing track.
I love how my friend, Malcolm du Plessis, so brilliantly lays out the danger in his blog, Decolonizing the Worship Movement.
When we take a unique expression that was relevant to a church across the world, a song that was recorded at a worship conference or night of worship in an arena with thousands of people, and we bring it to our church of a few hundred people and expect people to respond exactly like they did on the recording, we fall prey to a dangerous place.
You see, what was captured on that recording was unique to a group of people, in a specific place, at a specific point in time. Expecting you can take the same approach with the same song, bringing it to an entirely different group of people in an entirely different context on the other side of the world and see the same impact, is kind of missing the point!
Worship leaders, we need to wake up to the realty that our call is not to be human jukeboxes, replaying someone else’s songs in the exact same fashion; our call is to cultivate a unique expression coming out of the people of God in our unique location.
Now, don’t get me wrong here – I believe there is INCREDIBLE value in learning songs and leading songs the way they were written.
But can we honestly expect on any given Sunday morning that we can stand up and have the drummer count us off into a massive-arena-rock-guitar-worship-song intro and expect that our congregation is going to be all pumped to jump up and down, or even be ready for a moment like that if we don’t first lead them to it?
Here’s the bottom line: the worship album is just a snapshot; it’s a snapshot of the mountaintop experience of one church.
This snapshot doesn’t show us the weeks and months of worship teaching and true worship leading that took place behind the scenes. And so often, we fail to recognize it.
We have to remember that worshippers aren’t born overnight; they’re developed over time. For them to be developed means that someone has to do the developing. And that, my worship leading friend, is you.
If we choose not to do anything to help train, equip, and teach our congregation how to be worshipers, can we honestly expect that they will become that on their own? Sure, some of them will. But that’s your job. That’s my job. We are WORSHIP LEADERS. We are not just song leaders. Leading songs is a part of being a worship leader, but there’s a whole other piece.
Song leaders teach people how to sing songs right. Worship leaders use songs to teach people how to rightly give God what he deserves. See the difference?
So today, I appeal to you on a few accounts.
First, see the worship album as a resource.
I realize that it may seem contradictory for me to talk about my concerns within the worship album movement…since our church is just completing the process of releasing a new worship album - but hear me out.
Here’s what I would challenge us to do: See the worship album era as a resource for your local church, not the answer for your local church.
The distinction is significant. When you see it as a resource, you see the worship album and the worship recording at large as a starting point. But you don't take them and just do a human jukebox arrangement; instead, you let them be molded and shaped to be a tool to effectively lead your church where you are at during this moment in time.
The alternative is this: you consider them the answer, and therefore, you have now fallen into mimicry.
Secondly, I plead with you to rise up to your unique calling. Do not settle.
Maybe for you, today is the first time you take the mantle of worship leader upon yourself. No more just settling for a slick 20 minute worship set. Find a moment to teach and encourage God’s people to the revelation behind why we are singing or lifting our hands. Think of it as a 30 second sermon with a call to action. That’s all it needs to be!
Embrace your circumstance, the song and voice of your church, and lean wholeheartedly into all God is doing; it is as unique as you are.
Rise up and own your calling, purely for what it is, not for what it could be if it was propped up in some social media popularity contest. Living content in our sphere of influence without striving to see it become higher profile than reality is an uphill climb, but one that is worth the trek. Frankly, it’s countercultural.
God made you to be you, not to be me. You own your call and I will own mine.
Remember, what God is doing in a big city or a big church isn’t any different than what He is doing in a small town or small church. The vehicle may look different, but the destination is still the same: Jesus is drawing all people to Himself. We are charged with helping lead the way.
I want nothing less than to see you take my songs and adapt them to be a resource for your local church. Let me help you. But don’t let me dictate what your church family needs right now. God has placed you, not me, in the role you’re in. So embrace that role and take hold of every available resource, whether someone else’s song or your own, and be prayerfully discerning about what to use, when and how.
May we together celebrate the story that God writes through us all.