Fulfill Your Calling-Not Someone Else's
In my early 20's I served as an intern pastor in two different churches where both the pastors were very gifted. They were skilled teachers and had the ability to draw large numbers of people through their teaching and their charismatic personalities. During that time, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with my life. I thought that perhaps I was headed for full-time ministry. But when I compared myself with these gifted leaders, I couldn't see how I would "make the grade" in the ministry. I couldn't see how my particular mix of spiritual gifts would enable me to excel in pastoral work.
In those years I led small groups, taught Bible studies, counseled younger Christians, and led worship. I did reasonably well in these areas of ministry, but I wasn't setting the world on fire as an evangelist or drawing great numbers to the groups that I led. My greatest strength was always in music, and I had lesser gifts in the other areas. I wanted to be faithful to use my gifts to the fullest to serve God, but I just didn't see how I could possibly fit into a church staff position. I also wondered if my quiet personality would be a liability to me as a pastor.
In the midst of this time of struggling and soul searching, I was invited to join a church planting team in Langley, British Columbia. Linda and I had met Gary and Joy Best the previous summer on a ministry trip, and had struck up a warm relationship with them. After checking out the area where Gary and Joy were planting and getting know the leadership team, we decided it was the right thing for us to do.
In my staff position at Langley I majored in worship while working in various other areas of ministry. All of a sudden I found myself in an environment in which I thrived. I was encouraged to develop worship leaders for small groups and Sunday services. I enjoyed doing this; I had some success, and I've been doing it ever since. I was amazed at the turnaround I saw in my ministry in such a short period of time. Even though I wasnt a dynamic speaker with a magnetic personality, God could use me to impart the heart and skills required to be a worship leader.
This was the first of many experience Ive had in learning not to compare myself with other ministers. I was measuring my worth and calling as a minister by the gifts and calling that God had given to others. I began to see that all I had to do was minister in the gifts and strength God had given me. Take it from the apostle Peter: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:10-11)
This scripture contains essential lessons for the worship leader. First, we all have different gifts. Although we can sharpen the tools God gives us, we cant determine what those tools are. Our tendency is to see a greatly gifted person and ask, "Why couldnt I have been given that ability?" Over and over again I marvel at the sovereignty of Godthe way He calls and endows each person uniquely.
Many times I've had to repent of jealousy of another's gifts or position, and realize that God is the boss. "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service but he same Lord. There are different effects but he same God works all of them in all men" (1 Cor. 12:4-6). He is the only source of our gifts. If we forget that every good gift comes from God, we are liable to stand in awe of the gifted leaders around us, rather than give glory to Him.
In this world where success is defined by climbing the ladder to gain power and influence, we must re-educated ourselves according to Gods values. Peter tells us that if we are faithful to give away whatever God has given us, we have found success. Success equals obedience. All I have to do is minister in the strength God provides for me, not the strength He gives to another. When we arrive in heaven and see Jesus, He won't ask us, "How many people did you minister to for Me?" He'll ask, "Were you faithful to use all the talents I gave you for My Kingdom?"
My problem of comparing myself to others didnt stop with round one. The more worship leaders I was exposed to, the more people I saw who had grater expertise that I dideither vocal or instrumental ability, or skill in songwriting. I had a hard time not being envious of the things they could do.
Confessing my weakness to God and others, I gradually learned to rejoice in the success of others and thank God for raising up other gifted people.
God began to plant in me a generous, unselfish heart so that I could be genuinely happy when others around me were reaching new heights, in worship leading. I dont think there was any magical moment in this process. It was simply a matter of being relentless to gain the heart of God and turn away from my self-centeredness.
It all comes into clear perspective when we "use whatever gifts we have to serve others, faithfully administering Gods grace in its various forms." I like to think of it as being a mail carrier. I pick up the packages at the post office and simply deliver them to the people. I can be careful in the way I deliver the packages, but I cant determine whats inside of them. Im simply giving away whatever I get from God. He determines the size and contents of the gift.
On this "mail route" of worship leading, I sometimes encounter rain, sleet, snow and even the occasional angry barking dog! But just like they used to say in the days of the Pony Express, "The mail must go through!"
In small group meetings, I've had to contend with all kinds of interruptions during worshipphones ringing, little kids running around the room, latecomers disturbing the worship time. In larger settings, Ive experienced conflicts and misunderstandings with other worship leaders and pastors before and during worship times. During these times I am reminded that worship is all about Him, not me. I'm not there to play my guitar so that people will marvel at my musical gifts; Im there to serve the people and the Lord.
I've found worship leading to be like the opening section of the old version of ABC's "Wide World of Sports." Sometimes we experience "the thrill of victory" and sometimes we suffer "the agony of defeat." When the Presence of God is strongly in the room and the people are all intensely engaged in worship, theres nothing better! But when it doesnt seem to "happen," its like rowing upstream . I still have great days and so-so days in worship leading. In the midst of the mediocre times of ministry. I can keep on ticking because I know that as a servant, I really cant demand anything. Im there to serve not matter how I feel, no matter what the circumstances.
God never promised us that worship would always be an ecstatic experience of His loving Presence. Feeling His Presence is a wonderful by-product of worship, but it's not something we can control or manipulate. Its our job to exalt Christ; He decides how much of His Spirit Hes going to pour out on any given day.
Over the years I've learned to resist the tendency to judge the value of worship set on the basis of what I feel. Early on I would agonize over my "mistakes" after the set as I sat and listened to the message. Then I realized that the motivation for this critical analysis was really just a great concern over how good I looked, rather than a jealousy for Gods glory. So I stopped navel-gazing!
In the past 20 years I have attended and led worship in six different churches. Some of these have been new church plants, some have been large established churches. I've worked with all kinds of musicians in all kinds of church meetings, conferences and retreats. Each situation calls for a slightly different approach, but all of them require the attitude of a servant.
I also like to think of worship leading as feeding the sheep with nutritious foods that suit their needs. I find that different flocks feed on different kinds of food. They all have the same basic diet, but they also have their favorite dishes. My challenge is to serve an edible and enjoyable meal while trying to get as much direction as I can from the head Chef.
It's not as simple as feeding them their favorite dish at every meal. The Lord has a long term diet plan that includes all kinds of food. Among the basic food groups are celebration, consecration, repentance, and intimate love songs. Sometimes the people have to try something new and it takes them awhile to get used to the taste of it. So their response isn't always overwhelming. On the other hand, I try to give them some of their favorite songs at every "meal"-if I didn't, I end up with a flock of unhappy sheep staring at me!
Lastly, I find worship leading to be like a balancing act between the pastoral and the prophetic. I am called to tenderly care for the flock, leading them patiently as they grow in their knowledge of God. If I see a lack of responsiveness in the people during worship, I accept them right where they are and do my best to take them one step further.
But I also have the responsibility of giving expression to whatever God is saying. As worship leaders, we must call the people to commitment and consecration. For example, some of the songs we sing point out the gap between God's calling to us and our present level of obedience.
Consider the lyric from the song "By Your Side" by Noel Richards: "Jesus, lover of my soul, nothing from You I withhold."; Sometimes we do withhold things. But if we as leaders will listen to Him during worship, He'll show us what those things are. Then we can lead our people into releasing those things to Him.
If I do my best to serve with the strength God provides, He will be praised. Sometimes I hit a home run in worship leading sometimes I just get on base. Occasionally I fell like I strike out! But as a servant, I continue to do all I can to "administer God's grace." The results are up to Him.
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