Fighting the ‘But Then’ in Student Ministry Worship

It’s 5:30 PM.  The service starts at 8:00, and rehearsal starts in an hour.  I’ve prayed, practiced, and maybe even fasted in preparation for the night.  Our ministry is growing, and I’m particularly excited about building on the momentum of prior weeks for what I anticipate will be a great night of worship. But then my phone rings and our electric guitarist can’t play…  All of a sudden, my sentiments move from anticipatory and expectant to disappointed and doubting. 

It doesn’t take a great theologian or academic to see that this is foolish and elementary. 

Was I planning and preparing a night of worship or was it something else – a performance? A sing along? A feel good service for yours truly?

As worship leaders we’ve all had our “but then” moment – we lose a guitarist or a drummer, the reverb or other sound specs aren’t up to our semi-professional standards, or maybe less than half of the students we expected actually show up.  The night that we have prayed for and committed to has fallen apart, and the service could not possibly be as “good” as we drew it up in our head.  What is wrong with us?  Or if it’s just me, what is wrong with me?

Focus On What Worship Is – Treasure the Gospel.

I know what worship is – a reaction to who God is, has been, and will be forever and who we are in Christ.  We have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1), and “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  This is a simple truth – it’s the Gospel.  It changes everything and should drive everything, and I know that.

I also know what worship isn’t.  Sadly enough my subconscious, but perhaps natural, tendency is to put the service, the sound, and maybe even my status in the eyes of the body over celebrating life in Christ.  This is perfectionism.  This is idolatry.  This is slavery.  This is death.  I need – we need – God’s grace to remind us that “for freedom Christ has set us free” and to therefore “not submit to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).  Thanks be to God who freed us from having to perform to earn love or righteousness.

Worship God, Nothing Else.

Are electric guitars, awesome sound systems, or crowded rooms necessarily bad things?  Absolutely not.  In fact, all of those things can help facilitate true and powerful worship.  But that’s what they are – facilitators, means but not ends. 

On the last page of my Bible, John, overwhelmed with what the things he had seen and heard, “fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to [him]” (Revelation 22:8).  The angel said to him “You must not do that!  I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book.  Worship God” (Revelation 22:9).  John’s initial reaction to the angel is, in a way, analogous to how I sometimes treat music dynamics, vocal arrangements, song selection, or a whole litany of other minuscule elements of a worship service.  The angel showed and told John unbelievable things about God, but all he did was facilitate – he was ultimately pointing John to God. 

I have experienced genuine and powerful worship through songs or sets that were incredibly dynamic and well executed down to every detail of my judgmental, worship- leading eye.  Consequently, like John who worshipped the angel who showed him incredible things about God, I sometimes find myself focusing more on the tools that I’ve seen God use in worship more than actually knowing and experiencing Him.  I’ll worship the sound or song that is supposed to point me to God instead of the King Himself.  The angel’s charge hits me between the eyes.  Worship God!

Worship Leading, At Its Core, Is Not Rocket-Science.

There is nothing novel about these concepts: remember the Gospel sets us free and worship God.  My goal is not to somehow reinvent the worship-leading wheel.  I also don’t want to discount the importance of being a good steward of musical gifts or spending time in preparation.  God has given you gifts for a reason.  This is more of a simple reminder of what truth should drive our leading and our lives: that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

How can we effectively lead if we are subconsciously (or consciously) in bondage to a sound, stage, or set list?  A missed chord, an average harmony, or an unplugged set will not thwart the Almighty’s plan for his people.  In our leading and our lives let us “rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11). 

Oh – and if we lead freely in response to who we are in Christ, our youth will benefit…Worship God!

Allen King is a musician who travels around the southeastern United States leading worship for conferences and retreats. He is a member and participates in the worship ministry at Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, AL. Allen is in his third year as at the University of Alabama School of Law and will begin work with a law firm in Birmingham in 2014.  Allen will be leading worship at Rooted 2013 in Atlanta on October 10-12.

More From This Author