I grew up listening to John Denver. In fact the very first concert I ever attended was a John Denver concert with my parents at the age of 5. His sweet, smooth voice seemed to comfort me and infuse me with a sense of peace. You can literally hear him smiling as he sings. I really wish he had come to know Jesus – I think they would have been best friends.
Just a few years ago I stumbled upon his website and found a quote from John Denver that stirred my soul.
“My purpose in performing is to communicate the joy I experience in living.”
I love that! The quote breaks down a little when we apply it to worship because singing worship songs is not a performance (really). Although an argument could be made that corporate/congregational worship is a joint performance, with the audience being God. So that we are together performing for an audience of One.
As worship leaders (and this is true for the whole worship band), we are performing for an audience of One – true. Our main purpose is to sing His praises, glorify His name, and simply worship Him. But our secondary goal (and this is really the only reason we’re on stage) is to lead others into worship. To bring them along with us as we enter the throne room so to speak. And in that way, our purpose in “performing” should be to help other see and participate in the joy that we experience in living in Christ, and to help them communicate that back to God, and express their gratitude for that joy to God.
I try to keep that in mind as I lead, that these people need to be reminded of the joy of Christ, and music is probably the best outlet to express that joy.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine several years ago where I was encouraging him to let this joy be expressed not only on his face, but in his voice and in his “presence” on stage, in his stage presence. He just always seemed to be super melancholy while leading worship. I understand that many artists and musicians tend to have melancholic personalities. And I understand that sometimes we can have a bad week, or even a bad morning, or a bad moment right before walking on stage. And my friend argued (politely) that we shouldn’t be “fake” on stage, and that authenticity is of extreme value especially in church leaders. I TOTALLY agree with him. Jesus was very harsh toward hypocrites. I believe that real Christians are always called to authenticity, ESPECIALLY when on the platform or when leading or representing Christ or a body of believers.
But I also believe that we as Christians should be calling people to live a life of love, joy, and peace. And that even if we are particularly melancholy one morning (or in general), we have a responsibility to share the love and joy and peace of Christ from the stage. Nobody is coming to church to be discouraged. They have enough discouragement and melancholy out there in the world. The church should be a Sanctuary from that. (I do not use that word very often; I lead worship in an “auditorium” or a “worship center” but not in a “sanctuary”, but I think the word is very appropriate in this context)
In our daily lives God calls us to pursue love and joy and peace (Gal. 5:22). And we as church leaders and worship leaders have a responsibility to help others pursue love and joy and peace.
Several years ago, I walked into Pastor Stan’s office just a few minutes before the service started, and encounter a man who was looking for someone to yell at. He was very bitter about something to happened to his son in law and he felt it was the church’s fault, and he was making pretty serious accusations about one of our church leaders. This made me quite angry because I knew this man had the details wrong. And here he is putting his finger in my chest (only metaphorically if I remember correctly, but it sure felt like he was doing it literally). My blood was up, big time, and I had to go on stage and lead the people in a happy worship song in about two minutes. Fortunately, God gave me the grace to exit the conversation and take a few deep breaths in my office before heading on stage. I reminded myself that God still loved this man even if I was having trouble doing that, and I reminded myself that no matter what I was feeling at that very moment, the lyrics I was about to sing about God’s greatness were still as true as ever. And God was still as deserving of that praise as ever. I reminded myself that there were people out there who needed to hear those lyrics and be reminded of God’s greatness, and his mercy, and his love. And I had the privilege of helping them sing those lyrics, and expressing that truth with their hearts. And that truly is an honor and privilege, and it made my heart glad to remember it.
So, yes, we have a responsibility to not be fake and hypocritical. But we also have a responsibility to be mature Christ-followers who overcome our temporary negative emotions, and God gives us the ability to do that. Praise the Lord! We as worship leaders are called to lead people into love and joy and peace and help them express their gratitude and praise through song.
And that’s why my purpose in leading worship is to express the joy I experience in living in Christ.
And to take this one step farther: as a (sometime) songwriter, when I think about writing worship songs or writing Christian songs or writing any kind of song from a Christian perspective, that’s what I want: My purpose in writing songs should be to communicate the joy I experience in living in Christ. I want to write songs that express the JOY that Jesus brings. I want to craft lyrics and melody and harmony that help others express the joy that they experience in Christ.
And to go even one step farther, and relate this concept to every Christian: as a follower of Christ I am called to lead a life that preaches Christ. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” Another way of saying that (inspired now by Steven Curtis Chapman, even though I’m not a big fan of this particular song) we are called to “live out loud” for Christ. Let’s translate that in light of what I’ve been saying:
My purpose in living out loud is to communicate the joy I experience in living in Christ.
Hmm, it might be overstating it a little, but I think I could even boil it down farther…what do you think? … My purpose in living is to communicate the joy I experience in Christ. Too much? Maybe not.
I want people to hear me smiling as they observe my life.
Related post: “I Come Alive”