History Buff or Nerd
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been fascinated with history. I still remember going to the Smithsonian in Kansas City, MO for the first time when I was ten years old. A year or two later, my family took a vacation out to Washington D.C. and I got to take a tour of the White House. I remember gazing in awe of those rooms that had been inhabited by the great presidents of the past and the artifacts, such as dishes that they used while they were in office. Then there were areas that were roped off that I would have loved to have sneaked out and have gone to see…but it could have been a breach of national security and I might be writing this from witness protection, so probably best that I didn’t! In all seriousness though, I love history. It is full of stories and insight into how we developed into what we are today. There is a sense of glory, albeit a sub-divine, earthly one attached to it. I particularly love world history, music history, and of course church history! My wife got to go on a trip to Europe many years back and she got to go inside the apartment of Mozart and look at his workspace where all those great symphonies and operas were composed. I think of all the inspiration and creativity and the history that was made in that tiny flat and I marvel at it. I would have loved to have been there for that!
The Presence of God
Worship and being in the presence of the Lord is very similar to the idea of being in some sort of tour group in a museum. I heard someone say one time that leading worship is like taking the congregation on a tour of who God is. I think that is a very accurate analogy, though I would add preaching and teaching to that in addition to leading congregational songs in worship. I want to look at what it means to be in the presence of the Lord. You might have heard a worship leader talk about their leading the congregation into the presence of God or you might have even thanked a worship leader for leading you into the presence of God. This is not accurate view of the presence of God, though those things may be thought with pure intentions. Worship leaders do not lead people into the presence of God. We do not do some sort of rain dance that causes the presence of God to fill the room. Not even pastors or preachers lead people in the presence of God. Logan Walter of Austin Stone Community Church put it well when he said, “we (worship leaders or any other ministry leader) are hopelessly incapable of connecting sinners to a sinless God.” So how do we enter the presence of God? Look at Hebrews 10:19-22. It says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” So because of the blood of Jesus, we can enter the holy places. So that means that Christ is the ultimate worship leader! He alone leads sinners into the presence of God. Now most people I have met who have attributed the leading into God’s presence to me or another ministry leader, I believe they did so with innocent, grateful intentions. I believe when they say “thank for for leading me into God’s presence,” what they really mean is “thank you for letting God use you to minister to me” or “thank you for those words you spoke that I needed to hear” or something along those lines. There is no need for rebuke or chastisement. However it is important to realize that they are actually not let into His presence by any one person, but through Christ.
There is also the dynamic between the guide and group, such as questions and answers and such. The group has been brought together by their interest in that museum, and we as Christians have been brought together by the Father drawing us to the Son by His sovereign grace, calling us to be His children. This is much more meaningful than just having random tourist just having decided to go the the museum at the same time, but rather it was ordained by God that we would each enter His kingdom and be joined together as the Church, the Bride of Christ. We are called to “stir up one another in love and good works,” (Hebrews 10:24) and it is this plurality and fellowship that characterizes the Church. Yes, we worship throughout the week through our lives and that should not by any means be neglected, but we have been called to worship Him together. Bob Kauflin in his book True Worshipers writes, “from the first, God wanted a people who would declare the greatness of His name through the words and witness of their life together.” It is not just a once a week activity or obligation, but something we were called to do and intended to do from the very beginning. In our services, we sing together, pray together, take communion together, give together, listen to the preaching of the Word together, and fellowship and serve together. Together is the key word. We need one another to build and encourage one another. Tourists may discuss their findings with one other for clarity and opinions. How much more vital is it for believers to experience God through the love, wisdom, and service of others who also are alive through Christ? We are in this together and though we have leaders in the church, we can all still learn from one another and experience Him through one another. We all are called to serve in the Church, regardless of profession.
An effective tour guide, though he will certainly be noticed and receive the attention of his audience, will direct the focus on the object of study, not on himself, as he knows they did not come to see him, but to learn about history. Those in the tour group will go home having learned something about history and might even forget the tour guide eventually. That is what I strive for, though being in a position of high visibility, the focus and greater attention can be directed toward God. My worship team hears me quote Psalm 115:1 all the time which says, “not to us but to Your name be the glory,” and that is a great verse to be on the minds and hearts of those who lead. Since those who lead congregations do not take them into or usher in the presence of God, we are freed of a certain kind of pressure. God doesn’t need a perfectly performed setlist or a stirring, perfectly outlined sermon in order to work among His Church. We are not responsible for God being there or not being there, because He is always there!
So what do ministry leaders do? Going back to that museum and tour analogy, the tour guide is not the one that brought visitors to see the glory of the old, but rather history happened, bringing about the need for a structure to contain artifacts to remind us of the past. Very similar to that worship leaders and pastors do not bring people to the Church, but the atoning work of Christ 2000 years ago has brought about the assembling of believers united by His blood. What a tour guide does is make those in his group aware of what is already around them. They take them through different exhibits, explaining the background of the different artifacts such as weapons, documents, art, clothing, utensils, etc. What the tour guide says or does not say has no effect on the weight and meaning of that which he presents. The exhibits are no more or less important or meaningful because of the job of the tour guide. However, the tour guide forms impressions in the minds of those in his tour group. Thoughts, conclusions, and interest or lack thereof can form in their minds influenced by what was explained by the tour guide. In the same way leaders in the church bring awareness of the presence of God that is already present in His Church. Through the songs we sing, sermons, or Bible studies we engage in, we are taken on a tour through the different aspects of who God is. “On my left, this exhibit called “In Christ Alone” tells us about how Christ came to earth to die, saving sinners and then rise again.” “On my right, this exhibit, Philippians 4 shows us how we can rejoice in the Lord.” Though this illustration is not a perfect parallel by any means, it stresses the point that everyone is there to behold the glory around them.
It is important for those who lead to be accurate in their study of Scripture and to live above reproach. Heed the admonishment in James 3:1 that says “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Whether you are a pastor, worship leader, Sunday School teacher, children’s teacher, small group leader, or in any other position of teaching as part of your ministry to the church, it is important to teach in a way that is theologically accurate while living a blameless life. Those in the congregation will look up to leaders for learning and receiving direction. When I examine a song for its suitability in a worship service, above style, poetic sense, or even singability, I look at the theology present in the song. Though those other things, especially singability should be considered, I want to be sure that I am putting truth in the mouths and minds of those whom I lead in song. There are songs out there that are beautiful and even mostly filled with good theology, but because of a few suspect lines that are inaccurate, I cannot with peace in my heart bring them to the congregation as I do not want to fill their understanding with anything that is untrue. Truth should fill every nook and cranny of the Church.
So what about those in the congregation? If you are in the congregation or the “tour group,” learn all you can from those who lead you. As you do that, do not give undue credit to those who lead. Doing so can give the impression that God failed to move or speak as if it was contingent on the performance of the worship and preaching. Know that those who lead are not perfect and are sinners like you who experience the same circumstances and battles you face throughout the week. Be as the Bereans were in Acts 17 and search the Scriptures seeing for yourself what God said. “Test the spirits” as the apostle John said in I John. The music might get off or your favorite songs may not get played, your Sunday school teacher might rabbit trail off the point, the pastor might preach on a passage that seems to have no relevance for you or tell a joke (*chuckle), or in some other way, the church service will not be perfect or to your preference. Do not let that keep you from discovering the presence of God that is amidst His people. Hebrews 22 says, “ let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Notice that none of this is conditional. It is what we do as believers joining together in Christ. This is not to get ministry leaders off the hook, as I’ve already stated that much is required of us, but let your dependency be on the Holy Spirit on Sunday morning just as in the rest of the week, not on us who lead. It may not even be the music or preaching, or whatever happens in the service, but rather circumstances in your own life that are making it harder to become aware of His presence and worship. God has invited you to lay your burdens before Him. I Peter 5:6-7 says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Whether the service went smoothly or poorly, whether life is easy or difficult, God is the same God and is worthy of the same worship.
More than a Museum
I realize that the analogy of a tour guide, group, and museum is not a perfect one. Museums are establishments of old relics which though vital or helpful to understanding history are outdated, worn, and most of all not alive. Our God is just as alive today has he was 2000 years ago and all the way before the foundation of the earth. In museums, you cannot touch the priceless and often fragile artifacts, but in church among fellow believers, you can not only learn more about God, but experience the joy that is found in Him. When we visit a museum, we marvel for a short time and then we go home and resume day to day life. When we encounter the Holy Spirit among fellow believers, we are forever changed. Also unlike a museum we are not merely spectators, but partakers. I Peter 2:9 says ,”But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” As we partake in the presence of the Lord, we leave the church and proclaim His name to the world around. What joy that we get to experience and proclaim the marvelous power of God’s presence!