Growing as a Worship Leader - Part Three
“Belonging is for becoming.”
In Part Two of this series I briefly touched on the importance of worship leaders developing relationship with their congregations and teammates. In this segment, I would like to dig a little deeper into some ways that I believe being part of a community helps us to grow.
Community is a difficult word to define, especially in church culture. It seems that everyone has their own idea of what community should look like and how it should operate. Some people even become quite heated over this topic. I don’t want to attempt to claim that I have the perfect formula for community. However, I do want to share some of my journey; and in doing so I hope to communicate why I feel that community is so crucial to our ongoing growth as worship leaders.
The Road Trip
It was January of 2015 and I was slowly making my way home to San Diego. I had almost completely exhausted the collection of music on my iPod after several hours of driving and I decided it was probably a good time to give my ears a rest. As I turned off the stereo I immediately felt the silence give way to the stirring thoughts and questions I had been avoiding over the last four days of travel. I knew it was time to have an overdue conversation with Holy Spirit.
The weekend road trip that I was on had been prompted by a desire to get some clarity for the year. I don’t know why, but I have always done my best thinking while driving. So, I decided that a trip up to Northern California and back would be a great way to process through some thoughts. The prior year (2014) had been incredible for me. After a vision God gave me, I had launched a ministry called One Worship Gatherings. The heart of these gatherings was to see the Body of Christ united in worship across the region of San Diego. Every month (sometimes even twice a month) worshipers would come together from all over the city and join in worship expression for twenty four hours or longer. The events moved from church building to church building as different congregations caught the vision and offered to host. During this time I was also accepting every invitation I received to lead worship for church services, events and conferences. I was not actively involved in a local church, so this left my Sundays open. I was leading worship 2-3 times a week and getting a lot of experience. It had been a great year of breakthrough for our region as well as growth for me personally in worship leading.
As much as I loved what was happening with the churches and worshippers in my city, there was a growing ache in my spirit that I could not ignore. It was difficult to put into words but I was becoming aware that something important was missing. I knew, as we neared the close of the year, that I needed to schedule some time away to seek God and hear His heart on the matter.
As the silence in my car began to feel heavy, I finally broke through the weight and asked, “God, what is happening with me? I am so grateful for all you’ve done this last year; but for some reason I feel dissatisfied. What am I missing?”. There were quite a few minutes of silence that followed. Sometimes God likes to take His time with His answers. I think maybe He waits to see if we really want to hear them. After some time of waiting I heard Him respond clearly, “You started a movement and you have done well. Now I want to teach you how to be part of a family.” His words were like a blanket of peace. I knew immediately what He was referring to and what it was that I needed to do in response. God was calling me back to the local church and He had already shown me which one.
A week after I got home from my road trip I had a lunch meeting with a couple of Pastors. Literally a couple. Micah and Bourne Burns were both assistant Pastors at a small church in Encinitas, CA called Beach Chapel. They were preparing to take on the roles of Co-Senior Pastors later that year and I knew that God wanted me to serve them. That year Beach Chapel became my home church and since that time I have learned a lot about what it means to belong to a community and to be part of a family.
There has been an unfortunate growing philosophy among worship leaders in recent years. It’s sadly one that I fell into myself for awhile. It’s the belief that belonging is unnecessary. It is an independence mindset that views itself as the most free when it is the least committed or submitted. There are many different ways that this mindset has snuck its way into our worship culture. Some may view itinerate worship leading as the ultimate achievement or platform and strive to get there by avoiding putting down roots in community. Others may have given into a belief that at some point in our spiritual journey we simply outgrow the local church and then use it as a stepping stone to something perceived as better. I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with itinerate worship leading or with growing your personal ministry, however, no one is above being part of a community.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus’ own words tell us that what marks His true disciples is their love for one another. This proves that it’s not possible to live the full Christian life outside of community. Why? Because there is no such thing as a community of one. How can you love one another if you are independent of the rest of the Body of Christ? You can’t.
Benefits of Community
There are many benefits to belonging to a community. I want to share about a few of the ways that I have benefited and experienced growth.
One of the difficult things that I had to work through when I committed to be part of a local church community was learning how to lead the same group of people in worship every Sunday. In the years prior, I was leading worship in a different church or meeting every week. This seemed to have some advantages. I was a guest. I was someone new. I was something different. I felt that this gave me an edge because people didn’t know what to expect from me. I was able to use the same setlist I had used the week before at a different place and no one noticed or cared. I could rehash old “spontaneous songs” and throw them in where I knew they would be the most effective. I was also able to push limits and boundaries without any fear because there was no one to hold me responsible if something didn’t work out. These perceived advantages went out the window quickly after a few weeks of leading the same congregation in worship. None of my old bag of tricks worked more than a couple of Sundays. I became aware that I needed to come up with some new strategies.
Leading a consistent group of people in worship forced me to learn how to build a culture of worship in my church. How? It started by consistently showing up and committing to grow together as a church. Rather than separating myself from the congregation, as I had done for years, and trying to be a hero, I humbled myself and became a servant and a son. One son of many sons and daughters all learning how to worship together.
What has developed in the years since, is the building of a history of worship together as a family. We have encountered God together powerfully. We have experienced breakthroughs with one another. We have discovered deeper revelation of who God is and enjoyed His manifest presence in our midst. We have also pushed through the failures and the hard times together. We have encouraged each other to press in for more and we have taken risks together. All this has been the process of developing and establishing a culture of worship and we are just getting started.
-Committed and Submitted-
I know that submission a word that many believers struggle with. It has been abused in so many ways throughout the history of the church that it has left wounds and a knee-jerk reaction. There is, however, a lot to be said for the power of submission. It’s all too common to hear of relationship issues and power struggles between a church’s Senior Pastor and their Worship Leader. I have experienced that rub a bit in the past but mostly I am aware of it from stories I have heard from friends. It has been the cause of many issues, including church splits. It’s a sad reality but not one that has to be.
I have incredible relationship with my senior pastors. Part of the reason for that is because they are both amazing people. The other part is that I am submitted to them. I believe that God led me to them and told me to serve them. How could I say yes to God and in my heart say no to them? That would be double-minded. When I submitted to my senior pastors I unknowingly began to grow in influence, favor and authority in our church community and beyond. Sonship always releases favor and influence. There is an incredible teaching series that explains why that happens by my friend Ian Carroll. You can get that here.
My "yes" to my Pastors was not only a yes to serving but also a yes to trusting them with my dreams, my vision and my heart. These two people have full permission to adjust me, correct me and call me up to greatness. In exercising that right, God has used them to provoke some of the most astounding growth I have experienced in my life.
I am also committed to my community. In the past when I was leading at different places all the time I never had to handle relational issues or face negative feedback. If I had an issue with someone at a church, I just stopped accepting invitations to lead there. If someone gave me negative feedback, I simply assumed they were wrong and moved on. Being submitted and committed has forced me to have to work through relational issues and learn from the negative feedback. Learning how to do healthy confrontation has been an incredibly difficult process for me but one that has helped me grow in so many ways as a leader.
This is another word that many believers take issue with these days. I know all the reasons and let me just say, that’s not the kind of covering that I am talking about. What I am talking about is the safety that I feel knowing that I have cover from my community. I know that I have people watching out for me, praying for me, cheering me on, encouraging me, etc. No one in battle should ever be without cover. When you are pinned down and low on ammo with the enemy coming from all sides, it’s empowering to know that you can call for cover. There is no place in the Kingdom for eighties movie, action hero, one man army, Rambo types. We are called to be part of the Body. We are called to community.
Sadly, accountability among believers has become mostly focused on keeping people out of sin. I suppose there can be some benefit to that for some people; but it’s not the kind of accountability that I’m talking about. The accountability that I have with my church family is one that keeps me accountable to my calling. Because the people in my community know me, believe in me and love me, they will not let me miss the mark of the call on my life. I am held accountable to every dream, every call and every prophetic word. When I find myself discouraged, they always pick me up and remind me who God says that I am. Then they lovingly help me to get moving again. They refuse to allow me fail.
There are some aspects of spiritual growth that can only happen in the context of community. I have shared a few examples of growth that I have experienced in community over the last four years but I am certain there are many more. Has being part of community helped you to grow as a worship leader? Please leave a comment and let me know how.