Lecture 4: Your Spiritual Uniform
Course: Worship Pastors and their Teams
Lecture: Your Spiritual Uniform
Hello, Everybody and welcome to the worship leadership class. This is the fourth lecture in a series and this will be the last lecture where we focus on the foundational concepts of what makes a good worship leader from a heart perspective – the way you are in your own soul, what makes you the most fruitful. This is going to break up into two sections again. These first four have been the heart behind what we do and the next four will be the practical application of how we might go about it in real, concrete kind of ways.
I am excited to talk to you once again about getting ready to lead worship. We spend a lot of time getting ready to lead worship. We have the right sound. We have the right gear, the perfect songs, the best musicians, we hope, or the volunteer who always shows up on time. We invest a great deal of time and energy into our work. One thing I have noticed is how even the clothing choices of worship leaders have gotten into a more narrow frequency range. We can spot the worship team, you know how they look, there is a certain look, maybe even a certain tattoo. Clothes make a statement about who they are. My clothes make a statement about who I am. I wear denim shirts all the time because I think it’s cool. I think it’s wonderful so long as we’re known more for being a certain way than looking a certain way; and I hope we will be recognized by our fruitful lives more than any other thing.
I. Be Known for Your Character, Not Just Your Appearance Matt 7:15-17
How you act, not just what you wear
Matt 7:15-17: “Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” Proverbs 20:11: “It’s by deeds that a lad distinguishes himself, if his conduct is right and pure.”
II. Your Spiritual Uniform (Colossians 3)
I’m going to talk to you from Colossians 3 today. This talks about a uniform we need to be dressed in. What I want to offer you is a way of getting ready to lead worship, and I promise it will transform your ministry if you apply this as part of your preparation and practice. You will be dressed for work when you lead in this uniform. This is a power suit, but not in the sense we think of power suits. This is Christ’s power suit.
Colossians 3, starting verse 12: “Put on then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bearing with one another and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other. As the Lord has also forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
I want to talk to you about putting things on, getting ready for things. Sometimes I remember being a little kid, getting ready for school, I just put on whatever I could find on the floor and ran out the door. I didn’t put much thought into it. Then I started recognizing that girls paid attention to that kind of thing, so I wanted to pay attention to it, so I started thinking about that. So I started dressing a little bit nicer, getting ready for school. Getting ready for a job interview, you have to look presentable, you have to get ready. Finally, I remembered getting ready for my wedding the day I was getting married. I wanted to make an impression on my wife. I wanted to be ready, I wanted to look right. I wanted to be dressed in a certain way, and I remember the pastor talked to us and pointed us to Colossians chapter 3. He pointed us to that verse and he said, “You spent a lot of time getting ready for today; but I want to make sure that what you put on are these things from Colossians 3.” I want to share that with you because I have taken that and applied it to worship leadership. As I lead worship, we get ready for things. It has to look right, it has to be right, all those things can have importance. But none of it could be more important than you preparing yourself before you walk on a platform and stand in front of people to call them to worship. I want to talk to you through these things in Colossians 3 and invite you to start putting them on as your practice, as you shape who you are in Christ, as Christ begins to do his sanctifying and transforming work in you.
A. Compassionate heart
Make their needs, your needs
Colossians 3. The first thing that we put on is a compassionate heart, a heart of compassion. As a worship leader, this is a great place to start. When you stand up on a platform, look out at a bunch of people, a great thought to engage them with is compassion, compassion in your heart. Place yourself in the position of the people you lead. Make their needs your needs. Consider their experience and understanding. There is a famous children’s program, his name is Mr. Rogers. He kept a note in his pocket – I heard this story – the note said, “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you heard their story.” That is a good way to look at the people that we lead in worship, with a compassionate heart. The great temptation, though, is if we stand in front of a congregation and we’re insecure or suspect about how they might feel about us, the great temptation is to not have compassion on them, but to be nervous about what they are thinking, to be curious if they are going to like you, those kind of things. You can diffuse those fears and anxieties and insecurities by training yourself, encouraging yourself, giving yourself opportunity to look on people and think, how would Jesus look on these people? These people are a mess. Don’t forget that. These people have just as many problems as you do. Don’t forget that. These people need a shepherd, just like you do. Look on them with compassion and lead them with compassion. That is the first thing to put on as a worship leader. First part of your power suit, a compassionate heart.
Be kind to people personally so they connect with you when you lead them corporately
Second thing, kindness. Kindness comes easy to some people, not so much for others. For me, I like being nice, I’m a nice guy. I have a pretty easy time with that. But other people with different gifts, that is a thing that has to be cultivated. If it is not easy for you, though, that does not let you off the hook. You have to cultivate that because leading people with kindness really is how a shepherd operates. Taking people by the hand, taking an arm and wrapping it around somebody, using an encouraging word is a simple way of being kind to somebody. I’m a big believer in leading first from among them. If you are going to lead people, you lead among them, so that when you are leading on a platform and you are trying to influence and shape thought, you are able to have greater impact through the words you say and the things you’ve said because they’ve also experienced what you are like when you’re not on a platform. I do that by being kind.
I do this thing I call the 30 seconds. I always spend 30 seconds with as many people as I can before I go on the platform to lead worship in a service. It is a very simple practice, it is super easy to do. But I have found that over my life and ministry, that is one of the secret sauces of being able to be a fruitful worship leader, is being kind 30 seconds at a time. Here is how I do it. I just find my way into the congregation. If it’s someone I know and I’ve been through this process a few times with them, I just ask them a few questions about how they are doing, it is 30 seconds. If I don’t know who they are, I ask them their name, where are you from, why are you here today? I will say something like, I’m really glad you’re here, welcome. Thirty seconds, takes 30 seconds. Then I move on to the next person, 30 more seconds. In about five minutes, I have spoken to about nine or 10 people, and then I make my way to where I need to be for the service to start. I do that almost every time I lead worship somewhere. It is amazing to me, it’s like a magic trick, what kindness can do to transform people’s willingness to trust you. It only takes 30 seconds. Sometimes you get caught by that person who needs 30 seconds times 10, they want to get chatty. That is okay, though. But thinking of kindness in terms of 30 seconds at a time, it is easy to do. It works wonders for you as you get ready to lead worship, because what it does is it makes people aware that you are not just thinking about what you are doing on a platform, but that you are also a human being who wants to relate personally with people. You are that kind of shepherd. You are not a distant shepherd. Jesus was not a distant shepherd, he was close, he was tangible, you could touch him, you could talk to him. I think people that lead worship need to follow that model. That star culture is tempting, to kind of hide in the shadows and, I’m too busy to be kind. No, you are not. If you’re too busy to be kind, you better loosen up your schedule. It is so important to put that on.
Put on a compassionate heart. Put on kindness.
Being who you really are, which you discover in God’s presence
The next thing that Colossians 3 says is, put on humility. This is really hard because we desperately want to impress people. I want to be impressive. It is a great temptation we have. The way you impress people is by making them think that you are a bigger deal than you really are. That is how you impress people. Even if you are somewhat of a deal and you try to say that, you’re trying to impress people. You desperately want that. But humility asks you not to be a bigger deal than you really are. It just asks you to be who you are, be yourself. Humility is actually the opposite of insecurity. When you are content with who you are, you love graciousness, mercy, those things become a lot easier because you are not calculating so much attention and so much energy about what you hope people think you are. You are content with who you are in humility. Be yourself, your true, redeemed self. Humility is discovered in God’s presence. You begin to recognize who you are in God’s presence and your need to impress or defend yourself goes away.
There is an interesting story in the Bible in Numbers 12. Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses because he married a Cushite woman and they didn’t like that. Numbers 12:3 says this about the Christian leader in The Old Testament. Numbers 12:3: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” That is a good distinction. Moses, lots of position, lots of authority, lots of influence, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. When God heard Miriam and Aaron speaking against Moses, he was not pleased. He was the one who came to Moses’ defense. He was the one who said, “Don’t speak against my servant. Some prophets speak, but this one I speak with face to face,” talking about Moses.
Humility is the mark of a great worship leader. If you can impress me, I’m glad for you to do it, I like to be impressed. But when you start trying to impress me, we’re losing ground really quickly. What I hope to do is be impressed by how you follow the Lord and how you use your gift in profound and dramatic ways to lift him up.
Avoid being hard, crass or manipulative
The fourth thing, after humility, from Colossians chapter 3. In your power suit, as you’re getting ready to lead worship, gentleness. That is an interesting concept, not very popular in our culture. Sometimes we are a little bit rough around the edges, but gentleness is a good concept. When you are training a wild mustang, a wild horse, you take it through a process called gentling. You earn the trust of a horse by treating it gently and using things like calm speech and affectionate touch to harness its power. That is how you train this beautiful, wild animal. But if you lose it with the mustang and you go nuts and you yell and you strike it offensively, you are rough with it, you treat it harshly, the horse will never work the same for you again. You won’t get it back. That has been proven time and time again.
You can lead people without gentleness, you can do it. You can lead by being harsh, or crass, or manipulative, or frustrated with people when they don’t behave like you want them to. But if you want the most out of the people you lead, you can do it with gentleness and it will be fruitful. And it is the way of Jesus, as his model.
Compassionate heart, kindness, humility, gentleness.
Be willing to ask for forgiveness
The next thing is patience with people. “Bearing with one another, forgiving each other. Whoever has a complaint against you, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you forgive.” I mentioned in one of the previous talks about my sons. We have a saying in our family that we use for forgiveness. When one of the boys does something wrong, or they are disobedient to their mother, break something in the house, whatever; any number of things could happen where they need to be forgiven and ask for forgiveness, we have a little policy. We say, “Say four things.” They know the answer. They know what they are supposed to do. “Say four things.” The four things are this: I was wrong. I shouldn’t have hurt you or said that about you or taken that from you. What I should have done was be loving, be kind, be generous, fill in the blank. Then finally, will you forgive me? I was wrong, I shouldn’t have done that, what I should have done was this. Will you forgive me? You would be surprised how difficult that is to say, even as a little kid, because who wants to lead out with, I was wrong. We don’t let them say, I’m sorry, because you can get a lot swept under the rug with, I’m sorry. We’re not going to say it. I want them to be in a place of patience with other people and themselves, so when they get frustrated or offended, mad or angry, and forgiveness needs to be offered, they know that I was wrong, I shouldn’t have said that. What I should have done was this. Will you forgive me?
As you work with people in worship leadership, you are going to have conflicts. This may come as a surprise to many of you, there are going to be people who have very strong opinions about worship music, very strong opinions about the volume of things, very strong opinions about the choice of the songs, the environment that gets created. People get super intense and sometimes people get hurt. I have a couple of voice mails that people have shared with me, that people have called them on their phone just fussing and being mad and angry about a certain thing. You are going to experience some of that stuff and you are going to want to hurt and sometimes you will and lash out. You are going to be hurt. The gift of patience with yourself and with other people will help lift some of the anxiety that comes along with that tension. And in your own heart, when you know I was wrong, I shouldn’t have done that, what I should have done was this; will you forgive me? It is a great posture to take with the people that you lead, and it is a great posture to take with the Lord as well.
People don’t care as much about how talented you are as they do about how much you love them
Colossians 3:14: “Beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Henry Allen wrote one of the finest books on Christian leadership for me that I have ever read. It is called, “In the Name of Jesus” and it is the story about Henry leaving a professorship in theology at Harvard University and going to pastor a community of mentally ill people in Canada. He said he was struck with the realization that mentally handicapped people care nothing about how much you know, that they care deeply about how much you love them.
Sometimes our gifts as worship leaders offer us an opportunity to be in a place of influence. I like to call the place we stand a platform, not a stage. You perform from a stage, you influence from a platform. So, in churches when you are asked to stand up in front of a congregation and lead, don’t do it from a stage where you perform, do it from a platform where you influence. And if you have the opportunity to put on something, to wear it like a uniform, put on love and remember, people do not care how good you are at things, how impressive you can be at music, how awesome you are as a communicator. But they do care deeply about how much you love them. I would encourage all of you to take a look at it in the name of Jesus and describe the trajectory of a Christian leader as not an asset into fame and influence, but a descent into obscurity and service. That is the life we are called to. That is what we are putting on when we put on love. The people we lead don’t need to see how impressive or talented we are. They just need to see the love of Jesus and that he has changed who we are.
I was leading worship this past weekend, singing a song that I had written about my story being different because of how the Lord changed who I was. I was born again, brought to life from death. And I asked the congregation, do you know what it is like to feel that? Hands up all over the room. I could have sung out of tune, out of time, not made a musical impression on anybody. But relating from a platform how good God has been to me and what he has done in my life and how he has changed me from who I was, to who I am now by faith in His sacrifice, that makes all the difference. Inviting people in. I might have looked the part, sounded the part, I could have been impressive; but without that part of my story, it would have been meaningless, it would have been worthless.
I want to invite you to invite people in with love by putting on these things from Colossians chapter 3. The distinction that those kind of things make in your worship leadership are so much better, so much more valuable, so much more enduring and lasting than any distinction that you could make by looking a certain way, sounding a certain way. It is the temporary things versus the eternal things.
A. You cannot lead if you are not ready
Leading worship is an act of love and service
What is the one thing you need to know about this? You cannot lead if you are not ready. You should no sooner stand on the platform to lead people in worship than you would show up without a shirt on. Prepare yourself first with love. The rest is not hard after that. Worship leadership is an act of love and service for the church. You have to think in those terms, you have to, because that is the foundation that you want to launch from.
B. Leading without getting ready is what the enemy wants you to do
Why do you need to do that? Because leading without getting ready is exactly what the enemy wants you to do. That is how he wants you to operate. He wants to take advantage of you by telling you, you need to be and look and sound a certain way, without you remembering that you need to put on the things that matter most: Compassionate heart, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love.
C. Emphasize what matters most
God never uses a prepared worship set more than he will use a prepared heart
Emphasize what matters most. If you have to make a choice about getting ready to play music, or getting your heart ready; if you have time to do one or the other, always choose time in God’s presence and let that be what shapes the trajectory of your life. I hope that you manage your time so that you are able to do both. But if you get in a situation where, I have to practice or I have to prepare my heart, always choose time in God’s presence to help shape what you are about to do. God never uses a perfect worship set more than he will use a prepared heart. I will say that again: God never uses a prepared, awesome worship set more than he will use a prepared heart, a humble heart, a kind heart, a gentle heart, a loving heart, a patient heart. He always uses imperfect things, but he stiff-arms the proud. He resists the proud.
D. Discipline vs. regret
Daily decide who you will be because regret is heavier to bear and lasts longer
Why do you need to do this? I like to say it in these terms: Discipline versus regret. Discipline and regret both are hard. They both have a weight. But you would much rather carry the weight of discipline and training your heart in these ways, much more than you would rather carry the weight of regret. Discipline and regret are both heavy; but regret weighs so much more and lasts so much longer than daily deciding who you are going to be as a worship leader, daily saying yes to God’s call on your life.
When I was first leading worship, I remember I had written this new song. It was kind of an amazing paradox. The song was called, “First.” The lyrics of the song was that you would be first, you would be all, you would be everything; whatever it takes for my world to break and yours begin. If I rise or fall, it won’t matter at all, only that you receive the praise. For better or worse, hey, you would be first.
I had written that lyric for that chorus, and that weekend I knew that I was going to play at this big church. I had been wanting to play there for a long time and I had been invited to come and play. Man, I wanted so badly to impress, I wanted so badly to kind of be the guy. I decided that I was going to sing this song. I thought, putting the Lord first. It was an amazing, embarrassing paradox, but that is kind of where my headspace was. I will never forget having this swagger about what I was about to do. I knew that in a perfect world I could sing and play well and that this was a pretty good song; and I wanted to use it to impress. But for whatever reason, the Lord chose in that moment to give me musical amnesia and I remember, and I can almost still place myself right there on the platform of that church, full sanctuary. The pastor had just slapped me on the back and said what an awesome person I was and how thrilled he was to have a singer in his church. It just started to crumble beneath me as I started trying to sing this song about putting God first. Wow! At the same time I knew my heart was filled with this ambition to be anything but a guy who was putting the Lord first. I had put myself first. I muddled through the song, it was terrible. There were a few groans, I am sure, maybe one nice lady in the back said something like, “Bless him, Lord” or “God be with him,” something like that. My wife was there. I sat down, sort of took a deep breath and she said, “Wow, that was interesting,” which is always a code-speak for, you did not do very well at all.
That was a great way for the Lord to use me, to teach myself something, to say, Carl, when you look out on a crowd, please look on them with compassion; please look on them with kindness, with humility, with patience; and please leave them with love, not for your own ambition, not for your own gain, not for your own ego. But look on them with love and then let me be the one who impresses. God was saying, let me be the one who puts something beautiful on display. I’ve never forgotten that. I hope you can learn from my crash and burn experience about putting the Lord first and about how to get ready to lead worship.
Let me pray for you. Ephesians 3:17:” I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s 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 full measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”