When you’re a kid, you have big aspirations. You want to be a firefighter; an astronaut; the president of the United States—and nothing is going to stop you. And yes, I suppose I went through all of those stages, but for whatever reason, when I was kid, I planned on being a pastor. I know, it’s strange. Perhaps I just wanted to follow in the footsteps of my dad and my Grandpa, or perhaps it was an early calling that I didn’t understand quite yet. Whatever it was, I was pretty firm in it, but for some reason, I must have not told my parents until about 7th grade. I remember that around this time, I told my mother my hope to be a pastor and her face lit up. She seemed surprised and incredibly excited. Sometime later she had me explain it to my Grandpa and his face immediately lit up as well.
But then came the comedic timing. Sure, I had been pretty convinced I was going to be a pastor my whole life, but then I came into contact with something I had never come in contact with before: a guitar. And so started my journey to become a musician or a worship leader, before God brought me back to the desire to be a pastor.
I suppose I had always enjoyed music growing up, but I was a bit caught off guard when one day, I had the desire to play this instrument. After all, I had very apathetically tried my hand at music in the past. At our old house we had a piano that I would loudly bash on with both of my arms and I had always played trumpet in band class and didn’t really care for it.
One day, while my whole family was in the car, I told my parents of my hope to learn this stringed instrument and soon start a band. They seemed a bit surprised and reminded me of how I didn’t care for that old piano and how I didn’t even love trumpet. But for whatever reason, I was certain I would love the guitar. Maybe it was the allure of being in a rock band; maybe it was because girls thought it was awesome; or again, perhaps it was an early calling. Whatever it was, I was fairly hooked on the idea.
It wasn’t long before my aunt found out and loaned me her old Spanish guitar. It had a giant fretboard and plastic strings but I was determined to rock that thing out like I was a part of DC Talk.
And so with that, I popped open a beginner’s guitar book and went to work. Like every good musician, I learned the chords G, C, D, and… well that was about it. Fortunately, worship music at the time was just that: G, C, D.
Seriously. Every song.
I became a guitar beast in the worship realm the day I learned how to incorporate Em into that collection of chords. I was a bit slow to learn how to strum, but with the help of my youth pastor I learned quite quickly. It wasn’t long before my weak guitar playing abilities were incorporated into our ametuer youth group worship band. It was there that I began to just scratch the surface of what worship is.
2 Samuel 6:14-16
14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn. 16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart.
My first real experience with worship had been about a year before this time. It must have been the fourth time I got saved at Somerset Beach Campground. It was my first year in the teen tent and my mind was completely blown. For whatever reason, people had their hands raised during the worship time. I had rarely seen this before. On top of that, people’s faces looked desperate, as though they were encountering God or something. This was nothing I was too familiar with as I had grown up in quite a traditional church. We would sing a few hymns, have prayer and listen to a message, but the music portion never seemed too meaningful for anyone. It was like a duty or something. We had to do it in order to move onto the next part of the service. But at this camp meeting, people weren’t waiting to get to the message. They had to worship God. They had to show Him how desperate they were for Him.
At one point during this camp, the worship leader asked everyone to turn around and kneel at their chairs and worship God as they continued the music. This was perhaps my first moment of showing any kind of physical expression in my worship to God and so something as simple as taking this posture, moved me so deeply that I knew in that moment true worship required some kind of reaction on my part—whether it was giving or recieving. It didn’t have to be a physical reaction necessarily, but it did have to be a reaction.
Sure, these physical expressions of worship may sound minimal, but for me they were life-changing. And I blame my Bible teacher’s for that. See, I had always had this conception that worship in many churches was lacking and it largely came from being told the story of King David. You probably already know what story I’m talking about. It’s fairly popular.
David—a king—dances around in his underwear before God—and everyone else. What humility! I mean, seriously, who does that? No one at my church, that’s for sure. Heck, we just stood there like rocks and sung. It brought a whole new meaning to “the rocks will cry out.” I defintely never saw anyone start stripping in church because the worship was so intense.
My family moved shortly after this experience to a church where lifted hands was more the norm. It was during my time there that, as I stated earlier, I learned guitar. It was also during my time here that I saw the closest thing to David’s display of worship I had ever seen up to that point.
It was during a Sunday morning service like any other. The pews were lined with people and the upbeat, celebratory worship songs were being sung as everyone was clapping to the beat. Then, out of nowhere, this lady that I don’t think anyone had ever seen before ran up to the front of the Sanctuary and started dancing and yelling.
All of the sudden, I understood how awkward the people who saw David dance must have felt. How is it I could have nothing to do with this lady dancing, and yet feel so incredibly embarassed by it? It’s the same kind of embarassment I feel just about everytime Michael Scott talks on the Office.
No one knew what to do with this situation. I was at the front of the Sanctuary and therefore couldn’t see what I imagined were many disturbed facial expressions and hand gestures behind me. So we all just stood there and watched.
And while I was incredibly embarassed for this lady, I was also in awe of her. Truth be told, I was jealous—jealous of her unashamedness. Jealous of her courage. Perhaps even a little jealous of her dance moves. I had never met anyone willing to run up in front of hundreds of people and just let loose in worship to God. I could maybe lift my hands higher than everyone else, but that was about it.
Eventually the pastor approached her and whispered something to her. She then turned around and left.
Comfort then returned to the sanctuary—a sigh of relief if you will. The embarassing, radical, unashamed lady that I was strangely jealous of had left the building and now I could get back to worship—that is, if I could get past the conviction.
A while later I was removed from the youth band I played in for being prideful. Essentially, I didn’t look at the chord sheets very often as I thought I knew what I was playing and I screwed up a song pretty good one night. I was hitting wrong chords all over the place and was scolded pretty hard after.
This was the beginning of a long journey for me. Up to this point, I hadn’t really considered that I had been that prideful when helping out with or leading worship. I mean, I understood that there were moments where I was maybe thinking too much about the song we were playing and not enough about God or maybe about how I looked or sounded than about God, but those were things I was working on. I didn’t think that I was always intentionally being prideful.
But with the accuasation came a lot of hurt and pain and my worship life began to suffer and change. The conviction of pride followed me into every service. I couldn’t raise my hands without thinking that I was trying to get attention. I couldn’t fall to my knees without judging myself of trying to look holy. I couldn’t avoid a chord chart without thinking I was trying to show off my memorization skills. I couldn’t raise my voice without wondering if I was trying to impress people.
Pride followed me everywhere. I couldn’t escape it. I thought I might be a pharisee, though now I imagine that pharisees rarely questioned their motives behind things. I think that’s part of what made them pharisees.
Years went by and the pain of the constant question of pride followed me everywhere I went. In fact, it still follows me to this day. I am glad that it has caused me to truly examine myself as many a great leader has fallen from this issue, but the pain it has caused in my life has been more than I think it was supposed to be.
With this, another issue was brought to my attention: the issue of emotionalism. Before this time, emotion in worship was mostly genuine. Wherever you looked, people were being real in their surrender to God—ESPECIALLY the ones who were the most radical in their worship. Now, I felt like many were trying to convince me that this emotion was not the movement of the Holy Spirit. In fact, I felt as though I was being persuaded to believe that the more radical someone’s worship was, the more fake it was. Such emotion wasn’t people being overwhelmed by the Spirit, it was people being overrun by their emotions—fanaticism if you will.
All of the most intense worship moments in my own life began to lose value. Could it be that the best moments of my life with God; the most intense movements of the Holy Spirit in my life were no more than me acting out of my own emotion?
I could feel the validity of past experiences melt away. Soon I was no more than a prideful, emotionally misled individual who knew nothing about worship. Between these two aspects of my worship life, I really couldn’t worship at all. The questions were too confusing. I’d just find my thoughts yelling at each other constantly:
Raise your hands to God, show Him you care (No, don’t, people will look at you and think you’re prideful).
Sing loud and exalt His name (Careful, people might hear you. Worship in your closet).
You’re hungry, eat some bread (No don’t, bread makes you fat).
Okay, that last thought may be off topic.
But the truth is, these two questions of pride and emotionalism haunt my brain to this day—nowhere near as badly as they used to, but they still do.
A few years later, my family moved again and eventually, I ended up getting a job as a worship leader in Dearborn (about an hour away from our new home). Because of the hike, I was hired to fill in for about a month or two until they found a closer worship leader they could employ. Three years later, I was done with this position, and I had learned a few valuable lessons in relation to pride and emotionalism.
What I came to find in relation to pride was that the less I thought about it, the less prideful I was. One of the biggest problems with my pride dilemma was simply that I gave it too much airtime. If I just stopped thinking about it, it really didn’t become an issue. After all, pride is more or less you thinking about yourself in some way or another. If you just stop thinking about yourself and even about the issue of pride itself and just focus on God, it becomes much easier and authentic to worship. Sure, it’s not a bad idea to check yourself, but too much checking can almost be more hazardous than it is good.
On the other side of things I learned quite a bit about my struggle with emotionalism while at this church because I met a man with completely dead worship. He was the Leonard Nimoy of worshippers and it drove me crazy. Every Sunday he was there, he would sit right up front. And when worship had begun, he would stand up (perhaps hesitantly) and then cross his arms and stare at me, waiting for the music to be done.
I’ve come to find that the point of closing your eyes in worship isn’t so much to look holy. It’s purpose is more so you don’t see things like this. These kind of expressions are not only insulting, but a total killjoy.
But the thing that annoyed me most was that every Sunday, when the service was done, he would come up to me and tell me how much he loved the music that day. I’d smile and acknowledge his compliment and immediately walk behind a curtain and yell at God.
“I don’t care if they like the music! I’m not up stage for the sake of pleasing their eardrums! God, this is not why I’m in worship ministry! I’m here to teach people to draw closer to you! To be a living sacrifice! I’m not here to play good tunes!”
Truth be told, by the end of my time at this church, I had to go on a walk around the school in which we met in, everytime I finished a worship set. I was so angry. I felt like I was giving my all to lead people deeper in worship with God. Time after time I gave motivational speeches to show people how worthy of worship God was and saw little reaction of worship to anything I had to say or do. It seemed that the better the band sounded and the more professionally we did things, the weaker the atmosphere of worship was.
By seeing a lack of emotion in worship, I learned that emotion did, in fact, belong in worship. Thankfulness. Gratitude. Praise. Honor. Adoration. Love. Affection. All of these aspects of worship require emotion. And honestly, how can you worship without such aspects? Who wants to be emotionlessly loved? Can you even call love, love if love is emotionless?
Truth be told, I think God got sick of such worship centuries ago. Amos 5:21-24 reads:
21“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
As I said, after three years, I left this church. The people there were amazing and truly loved God and sought after Him. Unfortunately, I was a bit worn out from what was now an hour and a half drive, and after three years, I felt as though I was having little success in engaging people in worship. I refused to remain stagnant in worship and felt like I had poured my heart into it. I figured that either a different person could lead them better than I could or they simply didn’t want to engage worship. Either way, I felt that I had done my best and would perhaps be more helpful elsewhere. This is me being brutally honest with you right now. This is also me trying to figure out what exactly worship is and knowing that I had yet to find a body of believers that truly understood it.
And boy was I in for a treat when I began attending my next church.
The first time I moved, a friend of mine gave me a going away present. It was a super bright pink CD by the band Sonicflood. I had heard their two big worship hits, “I Want to Know You” and “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” but I hadn’t looked into them too much outside of that. Actually, they even one of the first bands I had ever seen live. They opened for the Newsboys at the very first concert I ever went to. They did a great job, but honestly, I didn’t understand them. They only had maybe a half an hour set and somehow only played two songs during it. Yes, somehow, the three minute radio hit, “I Want to Know You,” was played for 10-15 minutes. Having attended a small traditional hymn-singing church at the time, I seriously didn’t get it. But despite this, I gave that bright CD a listen to and quite honestly, it was the best worship music I had ever heard in my life. And to this date, it’s still one of my favorite albums.
Strangely enough, the songs on the album only got better when they released a live album a few years later. Yes, the long extended music I had seen them play in concert was now recorded on an album. And while I can’t say I totally understood it at the time, I was so incredibly attracted to it at this time in my life. I remember walking to church, air drumming and rocking out on the sidewalk. One of my favorite tracks was one entitled “Spontaneous Worship.” It hardly even had words! How could this be worship music? How could this be so attractive? Heck, if I did a guitar solo at church I was accused of being prideful or taking attention from God, but this track was like a 10 minutes jam session! Why was it so worshipful? Why did I love it so much? On top of that, the few words that there were on this song were being made up on the spot. It wasn’t necessarily easy to sing along with.
Yet somehow it was one of the best albums I had ever heard. I wore that thing down until it was scratched into an oblivion. The worship on it was so genuine and so desperate. Half the songs were over 6 minutes and I loved it! And I’m pretty sure the songs were only 6 minutes because they were edited.
I didn’t really come in contact again with worship music like this until my junior year of college. It was then that I discovered the band Jesus Culture.
It didn’t take long to realize it was similar to that of Sonicflood because the majority of the songs were longer than Sonicflood’s and just as spontaneous. They instantly became one of my favorite bands—and they still are today.
But here’s the funny thing. I wasn’t necessarily in love with all of Jesus Culture’s music. Truth be told, there are songs on most of their albums that I really don’t care for. As a musician a few of them really don’t grab my attention musically or melodically. On most albums, I’d skip songs like these, but for most the part, I would listen through these particular ones time and time again. But why?
I’ve come to believe that certain albums have a special anointing on them. There’s something beyond the music that grabs your attention in cases like these. It’s as though Heaven itself has been the recording studio and the Holy Spirit has been the producer. Sure, some songs are catchier than others, but who cares when the finger of God is all over the entire album? You just listen to the whole thing from start to finish and enjoy the presence of God as you worship Him.
After my introduction to Jesus Culture, I began to find artists all over the place with anointed albums—many of them coming from ministries that were connected to Bethel Church in Redding, California, the home of Jesus Culture.
And so I now was surrounded with tons of music in this stream of worship that I could listen to, but I didn’t always get a chance to play it. At this point in my life I was playing in Spring Arbor University’s chapel band and for the most part, we were limited on time. We typically had enough time to cover three songs a service, if we didn’t prolong any of them. And this was difficult for us, because many times you could feel the Spirit become more tangible in the room and we’d have to cut Him off.
But there was one time the Holy Spirit just completely invaded worship. And He did so in silence.
We were at Spring Arbor’s annual Spiritual Life Retreat at Somerset Beach Campground and chapel band was leading worship. At the end of one of our songs, the room went dead silent. The plan was, of course, to play the next song, but we just didn’t. Instead, the room just remained silent. I didn’t even go on to play any keyboard pads as I usually do in such meditative times.
Pure silence covered the room. Seconds turned to minutes and minutes turned to nothing. We couldn’t keep track of time anymore. It had flown out the window. The Holy Spirit was at work in everyone’s lives and it rendered everyone speechless—until after a long time, someone burst out praising God. Others joined in, desperate to worship Him and many started crying.
What was it about the extended silence that brought about such worship? I mean this time we weren’t even singing. We didn’t rev anyone up into this moment with a loud bridge or acapella chorus. It was just… silence. But it was there in that moment that Holy Spirit did His work.
Not too long after this I became great friends with Vicki, Leann, and Tony. The four of us led worship at a Pentecostal church that really knew how to take time to worship. All of the CD’s I had listened to over the years became reality as we would play worship music anywhere from 1-3 hours on any given Sunday. I’m pretty sure there were a few times where we covered 45 minutes with just one song. Sometimes we made up the music ourselves; sometimes we made up the lyrics ourselves; sometimes we stuck to the page. You just never knew what was going to happen.
Now to the average church-goer this sounds painful. After all, if you grew up in church, you are probably pretty used to singing 3-5 songs with no spontanaiety so that you could get on to what is considered the important part: the message. But honestly, that shouldn’t be how it is. Worship is not something we should have to zoom through. It should be our time to be with God. To lay down our lives as living sacrifices. To recieve what He has to offer. To love all that He is. Quite honestly, that’s difficult to do when the worship time becomes the methodical prelude to a message.
One of my favorite speakers once said something I disagree with. He more or less equated the music time of worship to getting on the same page with everyone about the story of God. Now of course this is true. You do sing to remember what God did for you, but that is not the only reason—I don’t even think it’s the main reason. That makes worship out to be a thing of the mind when really, worship should be a thing of the heart. Of course it shouldn’t lack mind, but what good is worship if there’s not heart. Knowledge is rarely moving on it’s own—it has to be coupled with heart. And when your heart overflows for God, it does not seek for the worship time to be over. It seeks to continually pour out because it can’t contain it. A waterfall does not simply decide to stop pouring over a cliff. It cannot. It will not. And when we come to God with a desire to do the same, we leave the opportunity to gush like never before.
So how was it that we could worship for 1-3 hours and few seemed to ever grow tired of it?
Well let me be straight with you. Worship is not about the music. I know that I tend to use the words “worship” and “music” as synonyms. But that isn’t really the case. Worship is much more than this, and I understand that whether I have come across that way or not. Of course, music is the common form of worship we use in most churches as much of humanity shares a heart for it.
But worship is more than a song. And I think we get that with our minds, but I’m honestly unsure if we truly put that into practice. The music portion of a service is your time to connect with God.
You can stand. You can sit. You can kneel. You can lie down.
You can find a group of people to sing with, or you can find a corner of solitude.
You can sing. You can pray. You can listen. You can be silent.
You can give. You can take. You can give and take.
You can seriously do, whatever you want in worship. The point, is that you focus on God.
The Bible talks often about waiting on the Lord and we do that in worship. Worship should not cater to the fast food culture for the Spirit does not take 3 minutes to heat up in a microwave. He has no method. There are no magic words you can say that will make Him more tangible.
What I’ve come to find is that the Spirit goes where He’s wanted. And sure, He’s in us and He’s everywhere, but sometimes He’s more manifest than others. And when people want to selflessly worship as long as it takes to find that manifestation, more often than not they find Him.
Not out of a method—but out of a desire.
Not in a strategy—but in our love.
This may sound weird, but it seems to me that God goes where He’s wanted. He shows up where He’s desired.
My point in making this video is not to find a creative way to say we will be worshipping for 1-3 hours for now on. Honestly, my hope is that you would entertain that idea should the Spirit move us in that way—but honestly, if we don’t worship during the worship time (whether it be 5 minutes, half an hour, or 2 hours) there is absolutely no point to have that time at all.
This video was made to poke and prod at us, whatever our worship journey may look like. There is always room to grow in worship. There are always inner rooms inside of us that could be more open to the Holy Spirit. There are always sacrifices we can make and there is always an abundance of goodness that we can recieve from God. Worship is ministry time. And worship is God’s time. We must pursue Him throughout the week in our own time, but we must also certainly pursue Him together, for what is a Christian community without that?