The Heart of Worship
Updated: Apr 19, 2020
I've been the worship leader at Woodville for . . . I don't even know . . . seven or eight years probably. While there have been a lot of changes to the team over the years, there's also been some consistency. I've had many of the same singers for my entire tenure and my electric guitarist - let's call him Todd - was on the team even before I was. But a couple weeks ago Todd called me to let me know that he and his family were changing churches. This was a blow to me I'll admit. I've typically relied on Todd to fill in and lead when I'm out of town or for some other reason unable to be at church. Todd was also our riff guy. If a song included a guitar riff, he handled it, and he did it well. We have other guitarists, but none that are "riff guys" so there's a definite void that's difficult to fill. I can play the riffs, but it's very difficult to do so while also being the vocal leader, so when Todd has been missing, I've sort of straddled the line. I'll play my electric guitar for upbeat songs, maybe play some of the simple riffs or change them to work them into my chord progressions to try to get the best of both worlds. But here's the truth: it's not the same. One guitar half playing a riff just isn't the same as a lead guitar playing a riff with a rhythm guitar rounding out the sound around it. For lack of better words, it sounds less cool. But this change is causing me to pause and reflect a bit on the purpose of worship.
I think it's appropriate to first acknowledge that this has revealed my own superficiality to me. I don't, by any stretch, think I'm the worst offender in this. I think there's probably a lot of worship team musicians out there who are playing primarily for the sound, for the love of playing an instrument, for the feelings it can produce in others, possibly for the nostalgia of some long defunct garage band in which they use to "rock out," and while I certainly enjoy playing, that's not my motivation. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't care if the music sounded good! Of course I want it to sound good! I don't necessarily think this by itself is shallow or sinful. Psalm 33:3 actually says, "Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy." It honors God when we use our gifts skillfully. But I can't deny that I liked what Todd brought to the team because it sounded good and made the songs we played cooler.
Don't misunderstand me. Todd is a friend, and I'll miss him and his wife at church, and I certainly enjoyed having him on the team for other reasons than just "he can play really cool riffs, man!" But my initial reaction to him leaving the team was pessimism: it won't be the same. It can't be. It will sound different. Maybe you see the flaw here. Different is not an inherently negative word. It doesn't mean, or even imply, worse. But that's how I was treating it in my mind. "We are diminished. We won't sound as good."
I think the thing that brought it all to focus for me was visiting my in-laws church. A friend of mine who also attends there was lamenting that they didn't currently have a drummer. I think what I understood from that conversation was that their drummer was having some sort of crisis of faith and didn't feel that playing drums on Sunday morning was something he should do. The worship team that morning consisted of a pianist and lead female vocalist, a male vocalist, an acoustic guitarist, and a bassist. Pretty sparse compared to what I'm used to at Woodville, where we routinely have 3 or 4 singers, 2 or 3 guitarists, a bassist, a pianist, a flautist, and a drummer. And yeah, if I'm being honest, the sound of that 4 person band was different - and I might even say thinner - than I like in worship. But it didn't affect the worship. That's the difference; that college band you were in was all about sounding good. That was the main thing, the raison d'être. And while that's not inconsequential for a worship band, it's not the main thing.
The main thing is worship. That's why we're the worship team. We lead in worshipping God. I am convinced that as long as the members of our worship team have hearts that seek after God, true hearts of worship absorbed in bringing glory to God, our music cannot fail to be good. I'll miss Todd and what he brought to our team, but his absence doesn't change our purpose or motivation, doesn't make God any less worthy of praise and adoration, and doesn't affect what happens in our hearts as we sing and play. It's not different. It only sounds different.