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Worship & Worship Leaders

The topic of worship has been on my mind a lot lately… so a Facebook post on Mark Driscoll’s fan page really caught my attention this evening:

So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?

It’s quite a provocative question. I wasn’t sure if he was seriously looking for answer at first… but unlike (apparently, quite a few) other folks who follow Driscoll’s page, I didn’t read his question as “bashing” or being divisive for no good reason. In fact, a very specific example immediately came to mind. I’ve been involved in worship teams since I was in my late teens, so I’ve seen just about every church leadership stereotype play out before my eyes. Effeminate guys, manipulative gals, the affairs, the coverups, the stuff that goes on behind the scenes… it happens far too often.

In the ensuing comment storm, a few interesting things came out:

1. Even before Driscoll provided a definition for what he meant by “effeminate,” a significant number of folks had already assumed they understood what he meant and attempted to defend effeminate behavior, mostly with references to King David.

2. Many others skipped the question entirely, jumped to conclusions about Driscoll’s motives / integrity / spirituality / identity and just attacked him for posting it in the first place, or attempted to “pastor” him or “scold” him with their advice.

3. The vast majority of the comments either didn’t answer the question or answered by saying that they haven’t had an effeminate worship leader.

4. Those who did answer the question fell into three basic categories: Those who cited examples of worship leaders they considered effeminate but were good guys; Those who cited examples of worship leaders or worship leader behavior that they considered effeminate and made them uncomfortable or took away from the worship experience; And those who took advantage of the comment thread to call out specific leaders by name and criticize them.

It was an interesting (tho heated) thread, and definitely full of food for thought.

For my purposes, I’ll use the definition of effeminate that Driscoll posted:?1: having feminine qualities untypical of a man : not manly in appearance or mannerĀ 2: marked by an unbecoming delicacy or overrefinement.

But even though Driscoll focused on “being effeminate” as a specific issue that he has identified with worship leaders because it can discourage people — especially men — from attending a church, that’s a pretty narrow focus. Pride, lack of character, an apparent predisposition towards having affairs… there are plenty of flaws that seem common to Worship Leaders that can create problems for their congregations. Even in places where leaders aren’t necessarily “effeminate,” I think that a whole host of problems arise because there is a lack of strong & healthy male leadership.

I’ve seen a lot of church situations where the worship leaders have been far from ideal… but the worst have been in charismatic / Pentecostal churches. I’m sure that there are problematic leaders in all denominations. I’m also sure that this sort of thing would be extremely difficult to quantify since different people are going to define “effeminate” or “problematic” differently and tolerate different degrees of it. It’s impossible to make any kind of authoritative statement about one group being more prone to this than another… but I don’t think it’s merely coincidence that I’ve personally noticed this more in charismatic / Pentecostal churches than in other denoms. Yes, I would have noticed it more there because… well… that’s where I was! But I also think there are some traits that make it easier for “problematic” leaders to be appointed.

Part of it probably relates to the style and prominence of worship in “Spirit-filled” churches vs the style in churches where that is not as highly emphasized. My personal observation is that charismatic churches tend to devote more service time to music, use more emotional or evocative music, and value musicians more highly than other churches. This combination would naturally attracts folks who are a bit more demonstrative than the general population.

Part of it probably also relates to the teaching of the church. When you re-enforce emotional worship with feeling-centered teachings, it just intensifies the effect. When I was attending charismatic / Pentecostal churches, a theme that was often repeated was the church as the Bride of Christ. That led to all kinds of sexual imagery being used in the context of worship… and sexual language in worship songs… and since men were part of the Bride, it also made it OK for them to be more feminine… and perhaps more prone to affairs, porn, and other immoral behavior.

But I don’t think those factors alone account for the lack of strong male leaders in many churches. The biggest “unspoken” reason, in my opinion… is that the “alpha male” of the church chases all the other strong males away. Pastors who are controlling won’t let men be men. Their very style of authority creates effeminate leaders. A church cannot over-emphasizes submission to the pastor, or over-emphasizes the role of the pastor in the lives of his congregants, without effectively castrating the congregation.

Anyhow, speculation on Driscoll’s comment thread was that he might be preparing to teach on this subject soon. I’ll certainly be watching my FB feed :)

EDIT 7/8/11: One thing that I said in the “comment storm” and neglected to say here was that I thought the issue extended beyond leaders just being “effeminate” — there are lots of people in leadership in churches today who, frankly, shouldn’t be there… and their presence does a lot to deter folks who might otherwise attend a church. Too many church leaders lack character, lack backbone, or just plain lack the skills necessary to do the job. Unfortunately, leadership roles in many churches are more often determined by family ties and friendships than by ability and passion for God.

And one final thought — at one point in the comment thread, Driscoll responded:

It’s a real issue. Most churches do not have nearly as many men as women. Women tend to feel more comfortable in a feminine environment than men do in a feminine environment. Many churches that attract women repel men. Sometimes it has a lot to do with the guy up front leading the music. This comes out of a recent conversation with a blue collar non-Christian who wanted to learn the Bible but felt very uncomfortable with the guy on the mic leading worship so he walked out.

Demographically, there are definitely more women in churches than men. But Driscoll almost seems to be implying that more “feminine” worship leaders attract more women. I don’t think that’s a valid argument, because 1) Women outnumber men even in churches that don’t have worship leaders, and 2) I honestly can’t imagine that women enjoy seeing “effeminate” worship leaders any more than the men do.

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