Lecture 2: Your Identity as a Worship Leader
Course: Worship Pastors and their Teams
Lecture: Your Identity as a Worship Leader
Hello, Everybody. Welcome to the second lecture in this series on worship and leadership. My name is Carl Cartee, and this course is designed to give worship leaders some perspective for serving the local church. We are going to help you serve your people as best as you can. This is going to be a great time.
I. Your Identity
A. At your core, you are a child of God
Today in this lecture we’re talking about your identity. Identity has been at the core of a cultural revolution for several years now, and people are more than ever wrestling with their identity. And if they don’t feel like it fits them, they want to change it, craft for themselves a new one. It’s tough business, trying to create a new identity, especially when you are trying to make it out of something that is not there. I love what the Gospel of Jesus is – it’s not about making old things better or old things different. The Gospel of Jesus is about making all things new.
I think that a class about worship leadership should first address the worship leaders and remind them that no Christian leader can be fruitful without deepening their understanding of who they are in Christ. I am a worship pastor, a songwriter, a son, a brother, a husband, a father, and a friend; but all of those things come under the realization that I am first a child of God; and how I operate in those distinct roles is always informed by who I am at my core as a child of God.
B. No deep knowing of God apart from knowing yourself and no deep knowing of yourself apart from knowing God
So as we begin this journey of worship leadership, the foundation, I want to first help you with something that has been so helpful for me. As I’m taking my journey of faith, there have been so many people in my life that have taken me by the hand, let me walk beside them, and shown me through just a good mentor relationship. Through the Scriptures, they have let me see a little bit more clearly who I am in Christ and taught me that ministry from that understanding is the most fruitful way to walk. That’s what I want to help you guys with today. John Calvin said this, that there is no deep knowing of God apart from a deep knowing of self, and there is no deep knowing of self apart from the deep knowing of God.
II. Danger of forming an identity from temporary or flimsy standards
A. God is the one that tells you who you are
Not the enemy
The great temptation for worship leaders today is to form an identity from temporary or flimsy standards. You look at people around you, you shape and contrive and manipulate what you are into what you think you ought to be in order to compare well with other people. Could I encourage you to stop that. Comparison is a rough place to start when you are forming your identity in Christ.
Let’s talk a little bit about it. I am a father of four sons. If you have four sons, God bless you, I am so proud of you. It has been an absolutely amazing distinction in our family to have four little boys that run around, they play, they get dirty. We have an amazing time together. My boys also tend to fight with each other and they call each other names; they throw sticks at one another and they pull each other’s hair. Invariably, somebody will get their feelings hurt and it’s usually because somebody else, some other meaner, older brother most of the time, has said something about another brother. I end up being the guy who receives the complaints. A lot of times it sounds like this: The door will slam, I will hear little feet running to my office, my door will open and a little six-year-old dude will walk in there and say, “Dad, so-and-so said I was dumb.” I will be like, “Tell me more.” “And then he said I was ugly.” The list goes on. “He said I was this and that.” I have made it a habit with my boys to always ask them this question: They tell me their problem, they tell me what so-and-so said about them. I always look at the boys and I say, “Who gets to tell you who you are? Who gets to tell you who you are?” They know the answer now, I have drilled it into their little heads. They always say, “You do, Dad, you do.” That’s right, that’s right. I am the only one that gets to tell you who you are.
For so many people, we let the enemy of our souls lay a claim on our identity. “You’re weak, you’re stupid, you’re dumb, you’re ugly,” and we take that for ourselves, forgetting that the enemy is not the one who gets to tell us who we are when we are in Christ.
B. 1 Peter 2:9
God has chosen you to be set apart as a holy priesthood
Let’s look at 1 Peter 2:9. It is a great verse for worship pastors. If you ever have curiosity about who you are or what you are supposed to do, memorize 1 Peter 2:9. Such a powerful reminder of who you are and what you are supposed to be. 1 Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation belonging to our God, to declare the praises of him who brought you out of darkness into marvelous light.”
First part, “You are a chosen people.” That’s who you are. You didn’t earn your way in. Your true identity isn’t dependent on anything but God’s choice. You are chosen. Who you are is not dependent on anything but God’s choice, you are a chosen person. You are part of a royal priesthood. You are distinct and set apart, not because of works, but because of the blood of Christ and faith in his sacrifice. God uses you because you are all he has to work with, not because you are particularly talented or smart or good at music. You are a royal priesthood because you have been set apart by the gracious mercy of God.
Next part, “You are a holy nation belonging to God.” You are part of a bigger whole. You are part of a collective of God’s Kingdom. You belong to him by right, you are not your own, you are bought with a price.
C. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
You are not your own because you were bought with a price
1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.” Isaiah 44:22: “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud, and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Acts 20:28: “Keep watch over yourselves and the entire flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.”
Who are you? At the core of who you are, if you believe you are in Christ, who are you? What makes you who you are? It is Christ’s work on your behalf, to purchase you, to redeem you, to claim you as his own. Who are you? You’re chosen. You’re royal. You’re part of a holy nation. That is who you are. The world doesn’t get to tell you who you are. The world doesn’t get to teach you theology. The Holy Spirit of God, alive and at work in you, helps to confirm your identity over and over and over again. I said earlier, I am a father, a husband, a brother, a son, a friend. The only thing that I will continue to be from now into eternity is a child of God. His claim on my life is eternal; and when I operate as a worship leader from that perspective, it changes everything , it takes so much pressure off of me trying to be something I am not.
III. What You Do
A. Declare the praises of him who brought you out of darkness
First part of 1Peter 2:9 is who you are. Second part is what you do. You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, belonging to our God, to do what? Declare the praises of him who brought you out of darkness into a marvelous light. Declare the praises of him who brought you out of darkness into a marvelous light.
B. Offer your body as a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1
Romans 12:1: “Therefore I urge you, brothers, on account of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual act of worship.”
C. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength Mark 12:29,30
Mark 12:29,30. “Jesus replied, ‘This is the most important: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.’” That is a picture of what you do. A lot of times, especially in Western culture, we are driven and accomplishment oriented to a fault. So hard for us to remember that we are called, not to accomplish nearly as much as we are called to worship, to declare the praises, to use our bodies, strength for expression.
D. Your understanding of your identity always informs your output
It is like I said in the first lecture, worship is the attention of your mind and the affection of your heart expressed. Here is an important principle for worship leaders. Your understanding of your identity in Christ always informs your output. Your understanding of your identity always informs your output. If your identity is in security, your output will be informed by that. If your identity is arrogance, your output will be informed by that. If your identity, who you are, is not rooted in Christ, but is rooted in the diction or singing or fear, that output will be present in the kind of ministry that you do. None of us can ever achieve this perfected state until the Lord returns; but what we are to be doing is take a journey, take the steps necessary to get whole and to get healthy and to get understanding because I don’t want your output to be corrupted. I want your heart, pure thoughts, by the presence of God, to be on display. Identity informs output.
IV. 4 Ways to Cultivate Your Identity in Christ as a Worship Leader
What do I do, Carl? Help me. Here are four important ways to cultivate your identity as a worship leader in Christ. You and I must cultivate our identity. The enemy lays a claim on your life and he is trying to cultivate another identity that is not really your own. So as we grow in Christ, as we experience time in the presence of God, in God’s Word, with God’s people, we are cultivating the true identity that God has called us to have. Four things that help cultivate our true identity as a worship leader.
A. Let the planning of worship follow the practice of worship
Let the planning of worship follow the practice of worship. It has been my experience over the years, working in a lot of different churches, helping, coaching, encouraging a lot of different worship leaders, who plan worship, lots of planning, lots of things to talk about, lots of technical things to assess, lots of places to think through how we can make this work and feel and this sound and everything like that. But the planning has been absent of the practice of worship. If you are supposed to declare the praises of Him who brought you out of darkness, planning for people to do that without yourself first doing that, will be empty, self-serving, and powerless. In his documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – if you haven’t seen it, it is a fantastic documentary on Netflix about this master sushi chef – that’s hard to say. Jiro says this: “In order to make delicious food, you got to eat delicious food.” When we plan worship services absent of ourselves having experienced the awesome and amazing beauty of who God is in our own soul, the things that we offer, the output, is going to be empty. So you cultivate your identity in Christ as a worship leader. As someone has said, “Jesus, I say ‘yes’ to your call on my life.” As you cultivate that identity, by all means, put the practice of worship, the actual experience of you finding your way into the presence of God; you digging deep into the Word of God; you understanding who you are over time. Bring that first to the table, then let that inform the planning. You will be amazed at how much more fruitful your ministry will be. No. 1 thing: Let the planning of worship follow the practice of worship.
B. Work thankfulness into a habit of your language
No. 2 thing: How to cultivate your identity in Christ as a worship leader. Work thankfulness into a habit of your language. You are like, that is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Maybe so, but listen to me. As I have practiced spiritual discipline, followed the Lord, taken the advice of mentors and pastors and people who have invested in my life, every one of them has encouraged me to cultivate thankfulness into my life as a means of reframing the perspective of any moment that I am in; because a lot of times our lives end up ebbing and flowing and sometimes they can do so dramatically. Sometimes it’s all across the spectrum. I have had days before where I would wake up and I’m just as thrilled as I can be about living; but by bedtime I am just blue and down in the dumps. I am not afraid to say that my life is quite dynamic. But every time the dynamics rise and fall, the best way that I have found to root myself in reality – because circumstances and everything about our lives change; so much of our lives change in the snap of a finger – but cultivating thankfulness is a habit of mine, taking the practice of saying, “God, I thank you for whatever it is.” I’m thanking God often for my kids, for my wife, for my house which keeps me dry at night, gives me a place to keep my clothes. Little things like that always help to orient my perspective away from everything that would try and lay a claim on who you are and what you do and this is bad. It orients my perspective when I am thankful and also contented. It gives me roots and helps me understand.
I am actually loved. I am deeply loved by my Savior. I am cared for, I am provided for. As bad as it could be, nothing can pluck me out of his hand. That is a good thing to know, it is a good place to lead from. That was the second thing, work thankfulness into a habit of language for yourself. For little kids, we train them to say “thank you” for things. We know that a posture of thankfulness reinforces a Godly perspective. Say to yourself, remember, when something comes into your life and God does something, let that posture of thankfulness reinforce the perspective of how good God has been to you.
C. Act your way into a feeling, don’t feel your way into an action
Third thing, act your way into a feeling, don’t feel your way into an action. I’ll say that again. Act your way into a feeling, don’t feel your way into an action. In 1527, 10 years after the Reformation and the 95 theses was nailed to the church door, Martin Luther struggled, as did the Reformation, with all kinds of conflicts and disputes. Many of Luther’s friends had abandoned him. He was actually in the depths of what people believe was a clinical depression. It was during that time, though, he took his pen and he wrote what would become his most well-known hymn and maybe one of the most enduring things that he had written, ever, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” In the depths of a depression, in the throes of conflict, torn up, disappointed, things started going another way. Instead of feeling his way into an action and indulging whatever his feelings of depression and depravity were calling him to, he said, no, I don’t want to feel my way into an action, I want to act my way into a feeling. He picked up his pen and he wrote about how good God was. He picked up his pen and he said, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing. Though this world with devils filled would threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.” For me, that is a place where I need to step all the time. You feel your way into an action, you get into trouble. You might say, Carl, acting your way into a feeling, that is kind of fake. I don’t think it’s being fake, I think it’s being faithful. I think you are saying yes to something bigger than the moment and fixing your eyes on eternity. That was the third thing, act your way into a feeling, don’t feel your way into an action.
D. Random has no cumulative value
Fourthly, cultivating an identity in Christ. There is a principle that I like to live by, this: Random has no cumulative value. Random has no cumulative value. Anybody who has ever been around me knows that I say this a lot. I try to make sure I remember that little principle. Diets, working out, learning a new language, anything that you want to do, success comes through consistency. If you go on a diet two days a year, guess what? You’re not going to lose any weight. You work out two days a year, you’re probably not going to get in any better shape. But through consistency, things change. You grow roots, you get established.
Cultivate your identity through consistent time in God’s presence. Nothing, nothing shapes identity like consistent time in God’s presence. There is a famous business guru, his name is Jim Rohn. He has written a bunch of books, coaches people how to be better at business. It is interesting because I think he has applicable information for worship leaders. He said, “Work on your job, you make a living. Work on yourself, you make a fortune.” I think there is a little value in that for us because we can just start cranking out weekends, just showing up and filling in the blanks on the template and doing what we know we can get away with doing. But the most fruitful expression of our worship leadership comes from consistently seeking the presence of God, not randomly. I wish I could tell you how many seasons I have been curious about, O God, what are you doing to my life, where am I going? I don’t know what’s happening. I’m on my heels. Those seasons always correspond with my own spiritual life, my spiritual discipline being spotty and erratic and inconsistent; and I wonder, how come it’s so hard for me to hear the voice of the Lord. Then I will remember, random has no cumulative value. If you want to keep your roots, you have to cultivate those roots. You want to know where you are going, who you are. It doesn’t happen naturally. It doesn’t happen by accident. Nobody drifts north. It has to be cultivated.
These are four things on how you can cultivate your identity in Christ. Remember 1Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” That is who you are. What do you do? “…to declare the praises of Him who brought you out of darkness into a marvelous light.”
A. Cultivate the identity that Christ died to give you
Don’t let the enemy tell you who you are
What is the one thing from this talk you need to remember? Cultivate the identity that Christ died to give you. You are a son, you are a daughter, redeemed by the living God. The world has made a claim on your identity. The world doesn’t get to tell you who you are. The Word of God, God’s people, and God’s Spirit do. That is where your cultivation worth is. That is the one thing I want you to know about cultivating your identity in Christ.
B. Declare the praises of him who brought you out of darkness
If you are struggling on the surface, there is probably a crisis at the core
“Declare the praises of them who brought you out of darkness.” The work of Christ expressed in your life is the one thing you need to do. If there are cracks in the surface, if you are struggling on the surface, there is probably a crisis at the core. You can’t use floor polish to fix the foundation of your house. So the more you understand how to embrace the work of Christ to shape your identity, the more fruitful you will be as a worship leader. I will say that part one more time: The more you work and open up yourself to let Christ shape who you are at the core, the more fruitful you will be as a worship leader. That is the one thing you need to know
C. The enemy wants to be the one to tell you who you are
Why do you need to know that? Because the enemy wants to lay claim on your identity. He wants to be the one that gets to tell you who you are. He wants to let the world teach you theology. If I wanted to beat you in a fight, I wouldn’t worry about your physical strength, I would attack your ability to think. I would make you stop believing you could fight. I would convince you that you’re not good enough to win a fight and that you have already lost before the first punch was thrown. This is exactly how the enemy works in us, exactly. That is his plan. 1Peter 5:7-9: “Cast your anxiety on him, for he cares for you. Be sober-minded and alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him. Stand firm in your faith.” Why do you need to cultivate your identity in Christ? Because the enemy is seeking to change it, he is trying to lay a claim on who you are.
D. Find out who God has made you to be by time in his Word, time in worship, and time with his people
What do you need to do? How am I going to take this information and put it to work? As I have said before, I always want to leave you guys at the end of these talks with something to do, an action to take. For cultivating your identity in Christ, work on this: Find out who God has made you to be through time in his Word, time in worship, and time with his people. Invite the Holy Spirit into your process. Frederick Buechner said that “your life calling is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger converge.” Engage in that process. Find out where that place is and get to work there. Serve the Lord there. Say “yes” to Jesus there. Why do you need to do that? Because you are called to mature in the faith, growing up, making strides in grace. Don’t stay where you are. Don’t stay under the shadow, so many lies that the enemy has told you. You are called, you are chosen. The disciples were called to be with Jesus, not do a bunch of things to earn his attention or approval.
E. Example of Tuesday nights
How can I help you remember? This is one of my favorite stories that I tell. I already told a story about my kids. You’ll have to forgive me, I tell a lot of stories about my kids. But they are awesome kids. My boys love Tuesday nights. As a father of four boys, there is a lot of testosterone that flies around our house. On Tuesday nights my wife, the queen bee, we let her take Tuesday night and that is lady’s night. Tuesday night in our house is daddy night. And on daddy night you do two things: You make a pizza and you take your shirt off and fight. We have an amazing, amazing time. Making pizza, taking our shirts off, and wrestling on the living room floor. The pizza part is fun because the boys always say to me, “Daddy, you ready to make pizza? Let’s make pizza. We’re gonna make pizza.” We get the stuff out, the salsa slime, the cheese is going everywhere. The boys are helping. I’m going to let you in on a little secret that I would never tell them. I don’t really need them to help me make pizza. I make pizza great by myself. But when the boys ask to help me make pizza, I say yes to them, not because I need their help to make pizza; but I’m dignifying them by inviting them into my work. I could do it by myself; but I want them to know that as I invite them into my work, I want them close to me, not because I need them, but because I love them.
As a worship leader, when you are called to lead the Lord’s church in worship, I want you to know that you are not called because God needs you to accomplish some task that he can’t do without you. What’s happening to you is, you have been invited in, you are being dignified, not because of your skill, but because of who you already are in Christ. You are being dignified and invited in to his work, not because you are needed, but because you are loved. And when my boys make pizza with me, what they get by being with me is time in my presence; and that is how they learn who they are. That is how they understand who they are at the core: They are my kids and I love them, not because of what they do for me, because of who I say they are.
That is the Lord’s message for you today. Worship leader, I pray that it will beat in your heart. Cultivate that identity. Don’t do anything to let go of it. Finally, I pray for you, that you being rooted and established in love may have power together with all of the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge; that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.