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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 manner 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.

Ready for some “alone” time

I’m definitely an introvert…

We had a wonderful time in Reynosa this week at Casa Hogar Benito Juarez. These trips are physically and emotionally draining, but I never regret going. And even tho I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Mexico… I’m also looking forward to getting home, catching up on a couple of projects, and having some good “alone” time to process everything that happened this week.

Thursday morning, I had a chance to share a little bit during the devotional time at Casa Hogar. The last time I was in Reynosa, I learned a few of their favorite worship songs in Spanish… so I brought my guitar and played them this time.

I love Spanish worship… there are ways to say things in Spanish that just don’t work very well in English. As I’ve been learning, I’ve had to look up some words and phrases that I didn’t completely understand… especially where they use idioms we don’t have in English. But that’s been a good thing for me. When I listen to an English worship song, I’m just hearing things that I’ve heard hundreds of times before. I don’t have to think about it… so too often, I just don’t. The words (rich and meaningful as they might be) are just empty containers if I don’t put something of myself into them.

But when I’m learning a song in Spanish, because I don’t know the language fluently, I have to think about what I’m saying. And because I like to share things that are meaningful to me with others, I also think about how I would say it or sing it in English. And when I take the time to do that, even simple words and seemingly trite phrases come to life for me.

I need to get to the place where I can be that way… even with the songs I sing in English. But that can’t happen with an over-programmed life, without any time to just be alone with God and free from distraction.

Altar Call

I’m in Reynosa this week with a group from my church, and this morning we visited a small church not far from the orphanage. I had an opportunity to share a couple of worship songs that I learned in Spanish — and that was both nerve-wracking and really, really neat at the same time :) Brought back memories of a bilingual church that I used to attend in New York… and stirred up a few other thoughts as well.

The church wasn’t “in your face” Pentecostal, but it was clear that they were open to some of the charismatic stuff. At the end of the service, there was an altar call. It wasn’t the kind of high-pressure over-the-top thing that I’ve tried so hard to stay away from… but I was kinda surprised by how much I enjoyed it… and how much I missed that sort of thing. And frankly, I’m still not sure about whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing — to find myself kinda longing for something that I’ve also been running from for the last 5 or 6 years.

I shared this with someone, and they asked me if I missed being the person doing the praying or the person receiving the prayer. I answered “Both, I guess.” But after that conversation, I realized that I really need to change my answer to “neither.” Yes, there was a time when I was a part of prayer teams that prayed for folks on the road and in some of the big “hot spot” churches. And yes, there were times when I have been on the receiving end of things too. I have both fond memories and nightmare stories from both perspectives. Something that remains a great mystery to me is how on the same night at the same altar, one person could be (apparently) healed while another was (apparently) harmed.

But for the majority of the time that I was involved in charismatic/pentecostal churches, I wasn’t at the altar during prayer times. I was on the platform — leading worship or being a part of the worship team.

During “revivals”, the worship set at the beginning of the service was nothing compared to the worship time at the end during the altar call. It could go on for hours… and often did. I might not have been comfortable with everything that was happening at the altars all the time… but I loved that extended time of worship: not following a program… not worrying about whether or not we’d beat the Baptists to our favorite restaurants… just spending time in corporate worship and prayer.

And I think that’s what I really miss, what I’m really longing to have again. I just don’t know if it’s possible for a church to worship with that kind of abandon… and not also abandon orthodoxy.

Worship

The message this morning at Christian Challenge was all about worship. It was really good… and it is making me re-think a couple of things.

I came out of a manipulative church where people were judged by externals. Worship & altar ministry were super-emotional, super-hyped-up experiences. It wasn’t unusual for the leaders to ‘whip things up’ and give directions during the worship time. (For example, when they say stuff like “Everyone raise your hands,” “Let me hear you shout,” or “Get out into the aisles and dance.”) In a manipulative church, if you didn’t follow the directions, look happy enough, shout loud enough, jump high enough, etc, you were in rebellion or (at least) on a lower level spiritually than those who did. So now, even when the direction given isn’t nearly as extreme and the environment isn’t nearly as judgmental, there’s a part of me that gets very defensive / suspicious whenever any directions like that are given. I just cringe.

But I’m not in a place like that now. I trust my pastor, and I know that he wouldn’t try to manipulate our emotions. Yet I have to admit that this morning when he taught about worship, I was still a little uncomfortable when he told the congregation to lift our hands. I understood that he was giving more of a gentle suggestion than a judgmental direction (he even said, “if you’re comfortable, lift your hands…”), but it still felt a little awkward to me at first. I hesitated, but I did lift my hands — and even tho I was “following directions,” it was also an appropriate response in that situation (singing about surrender) and it wound up being a positive thing. When I began to participate physically (by lifting my hands), it helped me focus on what I was doing and why… and the worship was actually more real to me.

So why was this morning “real” while many past experiences seemed so plastic and fake?

First… I think the teaching helped. Everyone comes to church with their own concept of what “good worship” should look like. Those ideas are colored by past experience and style preferences… things that usually have nothing at all to do with the true definition of worship. Clearing out all that clutter helps a lot. To be perfectly honest, the style of worship at my church is not my first preference… and sometimes I have used that as an excuse to be more of an observer than a participant. The message this morning challenged that mindset.

Second… I truly understood that while I was being challenged to do some specific things, there would be no penalty for NOT doing them. If I had just stood there and NOT raised my hands, NOT clapped – even if I didn’t sing a single note – there would be no disapproving glances or warnings that I needed to shape up. It is much easier be genuine when you know you’re not being judged… and worship should never be about putting on a show for someone else’s benefit. It’s about you & God.

Third… there is a difference between giving advice and making demands. Because I’ve had bad experiences in the past, I tend to see all worship-related direction as a demand… but now I’m learning to see it more like advice or encouragement. And I say “learning” because I know that I still have a long way to go :)

And there’s still plenty more for me to chew on from this morning :) There might be another blog post coming…