After some thought, prayer, and input from others I was led to edit this post slightly. Here it is...
In 2007 Eric, Alvis, and I travelled to the Music City for a youth ministry conference. I have many fond memories from that trip including trying to keep up with traffic in my Neon at insane highway speeds, the biggest rack of ribs I've ever eaten, and trying without luck (and without a map) to find Music Row from our hotel. Heck I even met Winnipeg Jets legend Randy Carlyle in the conference hotel lobby. My most profound memory however came one evening in our hotel.
No, this had nothing to do with praising our Creator, but it was worship. It was the worship of people's talent and the worship of the human spirit. As Christians we sometimes make the assumption that worship only happens in a church and that the rest of the world doesn't know how to worship. Experience seems to tell me that it's not a matter of the world not knowing how to worship at all, but merely a question of what or whom is being worshiped. Knowing whom we are worshipping means that we must be on our guard to center that worship around Him and not the experience, as our worship services can easily become centered around the experience itself if we are not careful.
The lights, the smoke, and the screaming music can be exactly what you would find at your standard run of the mill rock concert- we must be discerning in how we use them. Images overwhelming our visual sense can be no different than going to an art exhibition if we are not careful. Even basing our worship services around the music itself can be dangerous, whether it's beautiful four part harmony or lush instrumentals, if we allow them to be the primary focus. Sometimes we even center our worship around emotional cues, the same ones we can find in romance novels or watching Oprah swoon with arms in the air to Josh Groben singing "You Raise Me Up," and we must be so discerning.
I want to be clear, I don't believe any of these things are bad in themselves. As a wise friend of mine pointed out to me, they are valuable tools and they are a gift from God. However, when they become the centre of a formula for worship there is the danger that the true purpose of worship will be forgotten. As soon as the worship service becomes a show it's purpose becomes compromised, and as finite imperfect human beings, us worship leaders must be in constant prayer as we discern how to plan our church services and our worship events so that God remains the center of our worship.
This has all been on my heart lately for a number of reasons, but mainly because I feel such a burden of responsibility as a worship leader. I serve a church of so many different ages and cultures, and sometimes it's slightly overwhelming discerning how to serve them all. There are so many questions I don't have answers for lately, but all in all I do believe it's a good thing, as it reinforces my need to rely on God's Holy Spirit to guide me.
John 4:23-24 NLT "But the time is coming- indeed it's here now- when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth.