Guest Post by John Martin:
As senior pastors, if we are fortunate enough to have a praise and worship person who really wants to do a quality job, we often breath a sigh of relief and say, “I’m glad that is taken care of. It’s one less thing for me to worry about.” Then each week we faithfully email our sermon notes, review and approve the order of the worship service(s), and evaluate how well everything worked. We ask questions like, “Are these songs setting the mood for the sermon? Were all the PowerPoint slides in the correct order and were all the words spelled correctly? Did the tech guys turn on the correct microphone and were the lights dimmed and brightened at the right times?” Then during our Monday morning staff meeting we are quick to debrief our praise and worship leader and offer him/her some constructive criticisms on how the service can be improved. This is what we see our role to be as the church’s “chief worship leader,” and we are more than happy to do our job.
Indeed, overseeing and evaluating the worship environment is part of our role as pastors. However, as a senior pastor I have had to realize and admit something: I am not the worship leader of the church. I am not equipped to actually stand and lead the music properly. Rather, I am to be the lead worshiper within the church. Pastor and author John Piper said that worship leaders are “lead worshipers who lead while worshiping, not instead of worshiping”. I agree whole-heartedly with that statement. And by the same token, we who are senior pastors must understand our role in the worship service. We are lead worshipers who should worship while leading or influencing from the front row, if you will. The role of a senior pastor must be to set the example as a worshiper who participates in the praise as the musicians stand before us to lead the praise.
As a pastor I have been guilty of sitting in a service and going through my sermon notes “just one more time”. But let’s face it guys, if we are not prepared for the sermon by the time the praise service begins, we are not going to be any better prepared when it comes time to preach. I have also been guilty of looking at my watch to make certain that the worship leader is not eating into any of “my” time. I have sat and made notes about lighting, PowerPoint slides, sound issues, and how much the choir smiled. All of this during a time when I want my team to inspire the congregation to praise our God! Yet I, the chief worship/praise leader of the church, am guilty of doing everything except focusing on praise. Honestly now, how many of us pastors want our praise teams to be sitting in the pew going over next week’s sheet music during our sermon?
Pastors, we cannot lead our people anywhere that we ourselves have not already been. We cannot teach our people to bring to God their sacrifices of praise in and during the corporate worship time if we are not taking advantage of the opportunity before us to engage in corporate praise and worship as well.
Too Busy to Praise…
When I was growing up, music was a very big part of my life. I loved to sing and attempt to play my guitar. Many nights I would go and sit in the yard of my childhood home, look up at the star-filled sky and spend hours playing and singing my praise to God. I would lie in my bed at night and think about those songs that I had been singing and I would praise God for His goodness and His grace. But after I began pastoring, praise became less and less important. I all but gave up the guitar, and I became far too busy praying for “fussy church members” to spend a lot of time praising God. While I had enjoyed praising God when I had the time, I had to focus on much more “important” items such as sermon preparation and delivery, hospital visits, budget requests, quarterly reports and statistics, and those all important committee meetings. I just did not have the time or the energy to invest in praise and worship. Besides, that is why I hired a praise and worship guy right? Wrong! God had to “hit me over the head” to make me realize that as a senior pastor my priority and my passion must be an active pursuit to praise God.
In February of ’05 I began to have a slight tickle in my throat. Over the next few months that tickle developed into a cough and my voice grew more hoarse and weaker with each passing day. By June I was struggling to make through each sermon and after preaching on Sunday I was not able to speak much above a whisper on Monday. I tried voice rest for a few weeks with little or no improvement. I then saw a specialist who noted that I had a “growth of concern” on my right vocal chord. He stated that while he did not think it to be cancerous he could not be completely certain. He did however know that it had to be surgically removed. Talk about being scared, I was terrified.
I began to pray and seek the Lord. I would cry out in the wee hours of the morning saying, “God if you take my voice what will I do? How can I preach? If I lose my voice, how will I serve you?” God spoke to me very plainly and in my heart I heard Him say, “Your service to Me has never been dependant upon your ability, just your availability. Child, simply make yourself available to Me, and I will take care of the rest.” I gave it over to the Lord and in August of ’05 I had surgery to remove the growth on my right vocal cord. To make a long story short (if that is possible at this point), while I had to take a six-week sabbatical with very limited talking (talk about torture!), the growth was removed and although it contained a few abnormal cells was declared benign! But during that time God really spoke to me concerning my call and my commitment.
In the year or so preceding my surgery God had started dealing with me concerning my priorities. I was doing all the right things, but I wasn’t so sure that I had the right focus. Then I was able to go through a nine-week Bible Study written by a dear friend of mine, Dwayne Moore. This study, entitled Praise More Powerful, has helped me to articulate all that God had been trying to tell me and what He finally had to “shut me up” for six weeks to get me to hear. The focus of my life is not pastoring or preaching. These are tools and gifts that God has entrusted to me to aid me in my journey, but my focus and the focus of each and every one of us is to bring praise and glory to Him! No matter what work that God may have me involved in at any particular phase of my life, my priority and focus is to be an instrument of His praise. As a pastor one of the most important things that I can do while leading my people is to worship our God and King!
Lifting Hands Instead of Watches…
Guys, let me be frank with you for just a moment. If you want your people to experience life-impacting corporate worship, then you as the senior pastor must be actively participating in corporate worship. You are the lead worshipper of your church! What kind of example do we give our people concerning corporate worship when they see us “studying” sermon notes rather then singing songs of praise? What are we saying to them about praise when they see us lift our arm to glance at our watch rather than lift our hands in worship?
So, the next time you go into the sanctuary for corporate worship don’t focus so much on the idea of leading your people to worship, but rather allow your thoughts and your heart to focus on God, and then lead your people through your own worship of our Lord. It will change your heart, and it will change your church! I know. It has changed mine.
John Martin is pastor of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Waycross, GA. You may contact him via email: john at pvbcwaycross dot org