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4 Reasons Why Modern Worship Is Gonna Be OK Plus A Few Myths About “Rock Star” Worship

This blog used to be centered primarily around leading worship.
I’d say for 3 or 4 years that was the majority of what I wrote about.
Then I didn’t.
Not because I don’t still do it. Worship leading is still about 50% of my “day job”.
But I stopped writing about it because, honestly, “worship style” basically became as controversial as politics and breast feeding is on Facebook.
So instead I now write about breastfeeding republicans who listen to Hillsong.
Kidding.
But I ran across this blog last week which led me to another, and another, that worried me a bit.
They are blogs that I’m sure WANT to do good, WANT to help worship leaders, but in the end confuse and create more division than they probably want to.
Why?
Because they deal in absolutes when it comes to “HOW”.
And as a 40 year old worship leader who has been doing it EVERY SUNDAY for over 17 years, I know there is one absolute…
There are no absolutes.
Before you drop Jesus Is The Absolute all over me, let’s push aside the churches where Jesus ISN’T the absolute and call them Tony Robbins Conventions.
OK. Now that those churches are out of the way let me get a few things off my chest.

1. You Can Stop Worrying About The State Of Modern Worship
In the 70’s they worried about the same thing when Keith Green Came Along.
In the 50’s they worried about the same thing when the organ replaced accepella singing.
In the 1800’s they worried about the same thing when MOST HYMNS WERE WRITTEN TO THE MELODIES OF BAR SONGS.
In the 1700’s they worried about the STAINED GLASS TAKING PEOPLE’S EYES OFF THE PULPIT.
So worry away… but worship is gonna be just fine.

2. Big Screens And Faces On Them Are Not The Problem.
Putting a worship leaders mug on the screen does not cause them to become prima donnas. If you think this is the case with your worship leader then you missed a step. A big step. The step called GETTING TO KNOW YOUR WORSHIP LEADER.
They were a prima donna before they even got on stage.
99% of worship leaders I know who sing in big churches with their domes plastered on the screens love Jesus WAY more than they love themselves.
So stop writing about the 1%.

If it bothers you that the church put our faces on the screen during worship…Walk to the parking lot…get in your car…and drive down the street to the church that doesn’t.
Different strokes for different folks.

3. You Can Perform And Lead Worship
Go ahead and pick your jaw up off the floor.
Listen. If that word gives you the shakes then call it play skillfully. Call it play to Jesus. Call it whatever it is you want to call it to make yourself feel better. But for the love of all things holy… IF YOU DON’T WANT PEOPLE LOOKING AT YOU THEN PLAY THE WORSHIP SET FROM YOUR IPHONE.
But if they ARE going to look at you, and they are, then smile, have fun, and they will have fun with you.
I sprint around the stage when I lead worship. I jump. I dance. I lift my hands. I laugh. Not the Kim Walker more like the Will Smith. I drop to my knees. I do lots on stage. And guess what? I do them as I AUTHENTICALLY WORSHIP JESUS CHRIST.
So either I’m the exception, or doing all of the above does not equal rock star or prima donna.
Let me tell you what it equals…
It equals a worship leader named Carlos Whittaker who is a hot mess of a human being, who almost lost his wife and kids to selfish decisions, who was so far away from Christ that the slightest glimpse of His Glorious Face propels me into a state of joy so intense and overwhelming that I can’t NOT do all that.
It’s not a show. It’s SHOWING my overwhelming gratitude to the mercy storm He has bathed me in.

4. Let’s stop dissecting each other and start celebrating each other.
I have a Catholic worship leader friend who leads in a church where THEY LIGHT THE BAND FROM BEHIND SO YOU CAN’T SEE THEIR FACES. He does an amazing job and is an anointed worship leader.

I have a worship leader friend who leads in a robe and swings his right hand in various cadences directing the congregation in hymns written in 1955. He does an amazing job and he is an anointed worship leader.

I have a worship leader friend who leads on a keyboard and does not smile once the entire worship set. She does an amazing job and is an anointed worship leader.

You see God has not created ONE STYLE of worship. What a freaking boring God that would be. He has created a beautiful bride who uses a variety of styles and types of people to usher a variety of types of people to see His face clearly on a daily basis.

I’m sure I’ve misspelled a few things and not explained some things eloquently enough but I’m on a flight on my way to Vegas where I’ll be leading worship at a church with my face on a big screen and my free wifi on this plane is about to cut out.

Peace Up A Town Down…
Los

  • Point #2 – touche.

  • sbosch12

    Love this, Los! It seems like we always have to find something to complain about. Focus on Jesus not the style of worship. If your critiquing the details then you’re probably NOT there to worship.

  • Jason Persilver

    Great post. I’ve been saying for years that “performance” isn’t a bad word. I tell some people that when we overtly try to not perform, then that becomes a type of performance itself.

  • This. All of this.

  • SaintLewis

    Seems I need to start reading your blog. Very good post. I chimed in on this topic as well, with a little different bent: http://saintlewismusic.com/blog/theology/the-real-reason-we-do-not-sing/2014/05/30/the-real-reason-we-do-not-sing

  • James Fruits

    This sums up exactly what I’ve thought as I’ve read articles about the current state of evangelical worship lately. Thanks Los!

    PS – thanks for clarifying your laughter style.

    PSS – someone please make a video of Los leading worship with Kim Walker’s laugh overdubbed at just the right time!

  • Shellie Kubicki

    I love your transparency and humility. I have followed you for over 5 years and have seen your hills and valleys. You have seen and prayed for mine. God uses our missteps to teach. And remaining open to changes-even the most uncomfortable ones leads us back to Him. That’s how it should work!! Duh! On our knees, face to the floor, praising Him for the pain that leads to the repair job in my life. (Even though if I actually can’t get on the floor anymore). I want to keep seeing your posts, no matter the topic, because you just have so much to say.

  • Jesus

    And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, “Brethren, what’s this shit I’ve been hearing about me being a human sacrifice for your sins!!!?

    May I asketh, who in the goddamn hell came up with that Neanderthal bullshit!!!!?

    Blood sacrifice!!!! Are you all fucking insane with that caveman horseshit!!!!!!!!!????

    Brethren, you can take your dying for sins bullshit and shove it straight up thy fucking assholes!!!!!!

    Except for Judas, because that mother fucker gives a mean blowjob!!!”

    —-Jesus Christ, The Gospel of Sanne Thought

  • Balboa

    Amen brother! and I miss you!

  • dan waits

    yeah, you’re right about all this

  • Elizabeth Lombardi

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Sometimes blog posts regarding worship styles, etc. can make worship leaders feel so phoney or conceited. When we’re picking songs or leading them in front of an audience, that’s really not our intention. 🙂

  • JEG

    Worship is something one give, not gets.

  • Dino Andino

    I’m a bassist for a secular band and my praise and worship experience at Relevant church in Riverside, CA. And I must say I too am AUTHENTICALLY WORSHIPING JESUS! I jump, spin and do what others consider taboo in any other church. My attentions are never to take away the prospective of Christ but to show how the Holy spirit is working within me and to never feel embarrassed of being yourself. Who said that worshiping Jesus had to be conservative? I applaud you for this great column! Thank you for sharing this and keeping it real! Many blessings brother.

  • Alice Carpenter

    Excellent post! I just want to clarify one thing in your #1. The idea that many hymns were written to bar or tavern tunes is simply a misunderstanding of the word “bar” in “bar tune” or “bar song.” This is a long-standing myth in the church, and a little online research can show anybody that it isn’t true. http://www.gbod.org/lead-your-church/wesley-music/resource/did-the-wesleys-really-use-drinking-song-tunes-for-their-hymns http://www.apologetix.com/faq/faq-detail.php?faq_q_id=89 Not that I would care if they did. 😀

    • Tim Russell

      I would have to disagree. I’ve actually heard some of those centuries old tavern songs and recognized the tunes because of the hymns I was familiar with.

      • Jason

        Which hymns/bar songs specifically?

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Almost every Irish hymn was originally a folk tune, e.g. “Star of the County Down” (“I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”).

    • Jason

      I agree that the ‘hymn as bar-tune’ is essentially an urban legend. It should be noted, however, that many hymns did not/do not actually have a fixed tune but, because of their particular metrical form, could be adapted to many different tunes. The text O Sacred Head Now Wounded (or O Sacred Head Surrounded), as an example, was originally associated with a melody quite distinct from the one more commonly associated with it today, the latter of which was actually a secular love song melody, although this shift took a generation to occur.

  • Tim Russell

    I don’t think it’s so much having the worship leader’s or team’s face(s) on the big screen, rather, it’s how small the lyrics are in comparison. I think most people would agree the words about Christ are more important than the person(s) leading them. Why do we need faces on the big screen anyway? (Okay, I get it for dramas) Lyrics with thematic scenes or scenes of nature are far more powerful than someone’s face. Like many things, I think we do some things just because we can or because we think it’s cool. Who are we trying to impress? Does it impress God? Does God stare down from heaven and say, “Man that church is so cool. They have big screens, fog machines, and a great light show. I can’t hear the people sing – oh wait, they aren’t even singing – but that’s okay, the band is kicking it!!” We do things and then get sooo defensive when people ask questions or make certain observations about what they are experiencing. Do we ever step back and sincerely ask “what are we doing, why are we doing it and is it in a way God would be pleased?”. I am not a casual observer. I have worked in worship ministry for 20 years. I have experienced a lot and have seen a lot of changes – good and not-so-good.

    • Evan

      I keep hearing people complain about faces on screen during worship and they say “we’re not worshiping them, why are they on the screen?”. As if whatever is on screen is obviously the object of our affection. You suggest that nature settings or possibly inspirational vignettes. Well, we don’t worship those things, why would we use those? If we’re going to get literal about ‘what you see is what you worship’ then we obviously must put the image of the IN-visible God on there. The image of which is no longer here in body. But his bride is. Man is actually the only thing we have that was made in the image of God. And when man worships, as the bride of Christ… I think that’s the best image of God that we have.

      • Tim Russell

        All I can say in response to this is it’s just silly to think we worship something on the screen…

    • its me

      U worked in worship ministry for 20yrs and u quit being a Christian because of other peoples opinions on how to worship God? Sounds like yr heart was never in it. I can’t imagine going back on my beliefs because of what others do or say. Grow a backbone and take your own stand on yr own faith and not fall when someone has a different way of beliefs other than yours.

      • Tim Russell

        Whoa doggies!! How did you conclude I left the ministry and lost my faith??? You didn’t read my post very well. I take great offense to this as nothing could be further from the truth!!

  • Cody Dicken

    Wow. I haven’t read a worship leader blog in months. Funny that I quit being a worship leader, and a Christian altogether, to a very large degree because of all infighting of worship styles, songs, and approaches. I unplugged for the last time in March as former believer, and haven’t looked back until this very moment. I truly just wanted to sing my heart out to Jesus, but it was almost never about Jesus. Too bad. I miss playing so much I ache. Leading worship as a believer with believers was one of the most invigorating and fulfilling activities I’ve ever participated in. But this crap of worship drama is not doing churches any favors. Put down the guitars and pick up you hands for people that need help, not to tickle the ears of the masses.

  • Randy Wayne Kirkpatrick

    You always say the things I want to, but in a much clearer way.

  • I think you’ve missed the point a bit if you think that the recent article(s) in question are about style – on the contrary, I think they’re all about getting at the heart of the substance. And it’s certainly not a lament about the newness elements, certainly not stylistic ones. Whether one agrees with the conclusions or not, it IS healthy to regularly assess what we do, and why we do it, and ask if those things are helping or hindering our primary goal in bringing God’s people to sing together, and also to ask whether things we do inadvertently give a distorted or wrong message (e.g. do dimmed rooms encourage singing together as people out of darkness into light, or does is encourage individualistic introspection and a ‘me & Jesus’ mindset?)
    I also think it’s worth recognising the distinction between serving-performing and attention-pulling-performing which the writer in question makes. If you read his further posts you’ll see that he very much encourages skillful playing and serving the congregation… What he argues for is for we who lead to decrease, and Jesus to increase, and I agree. I don’t think he was saying that screens cause prima donnas, but I tend to agree that having someone’s face on a screen makes me look at them, and that may not always be a helpful focus to have. There’s a difference between being visable (i.e up the front) and being blown up behind the words.

    The big think I’m seeing with all these responses is a lot of guys who are actually pretty much on the same page, but talking past one another, assuming the other is saying something they’re not (e.g. dissing styles or skillfulness).

    We DO need worship leaders who think pastorally, and that’s the heart of issue as I read it.

    • Jamie Brown

      Thank you, Findo. I could’t have said it better myself.

  • Rob Kittle

    Interesting that you can have a discussion about worshipping God and never once refer to the guidebook he gave us on how he wants to be worshipped. The very concept of worship, whether a spiritual being or a person (king/queen, etc), is 100% focussed on the desires of the pond being worshipped and not how the worshipper thinks it should be done.

  • Just want to say – beautiful post and beautiful thoughts. Thank you for sharing them!

  • Fantastic commentary, Los.

    I think the debate would clear up a bit if Christ followers worshiped God more and played the role of critic less. I’m thankful for the different styles of worship and worship leaders today. I can’t wait to get to heaven to see how it all works out and to see all the disputing ended. (Or maybe there will still be debating in heaven? Who knows? I have a feeling we will be too focused on worshiping God to care.)

  • Joni Ruhs

    I’ve always liked you Carlos. For the most part. 😉 I’ve run the whole gamut of style/emotion/opinion of worship leading over the last 24 years. I’ve gone from “those people have no business leading worship” to “How the heck does anybody let me up here leading worship”. I’ve learned as I’ve gone, been taught well and poorly. Still, there has not been a need for rocks to cry out just yet. Worship will be fine. I don’t believe the downfall of worship will have much, if anything, to do with style or presentation. The downfall of worship someday will be a much scarier issue than big screens, jumping around stage etc. And for what it’s worth, big screens help those of us in the back row or with poor vision(like my husband who has had 2 corneal transplants) see better.

  • Thanks for this, Los. I just read what I imagine is one of the posts and it wasn’t the post but the comments. Reading all the different, “the problem is…” comments made me want to crawl in a hole after doing my calling and job this morning. Your words were refreshing and so thanks, man.

  • Audrea

    Thank you, friend! Maybe these “state of modern worship” articles just stemmed from bloggers not getting enough page views writing about their meal last night. Sadly, it’s likely. Love everything you said!

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  • Esther O’Reilly

    Except there’s one difference between the organ, bar songs, stained glass windows, etc., and today’s monotonic worship songs—everything but the worship songs had artistic quality. To be honest, I would love it if we could come up with GREAT worship material these days. But I’m a musician, and honestly, give me bar songs over Jesus Culture any day. Seriously, for musical interest? No contest.

  • So true! Right now I attend a modern church with electric guitar solos and hipster leaders/singers. I also work at a Christian organization, and we have chapel every week led by people who are 2-3 generations older than me. I also grew up overseas and constantly found myself in churches where I did not speak the language very well.

    Anytime I get upset about worship, I have to remember that it’s about my heart. If something is distracting me from God, then that’s my own fault and not anyone else’s.

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  • SSS

    It was more of a rant on his pet peeves…