A few weeks ago I was discussing a chapter from Jeremy Begbie’s book Resounding Truth with the students of one of the courses I teach. In the chapter (which addresses biblical contexts of music and worship) Begbie discusses the ministry of the Levites and their relationship to their “congregation,” the nation of Israel:
“It is important to note that the Levites did not see themselves as offering song instead of the congregation but on behalf of the congregation, even if the congregation were not actually singing. They acted representatively for king and people.” (Jeremy S. Begbie, Resounding Truth, p66)
This same idea came up the following evening at the music team rehearsal at my own congregation. Questions asked and thoughts were posed about the relationship between the worship team and the congregation. Both of these incidents got me thinking about this post.
What should our relationship be with our respective congregations? Obviously we don’t want to be seen as their weekly dose of “holy entertainment,” nor do we want to act as filler in the service. We don’t want to do everything for the people (fishing for them, rather than teaching them to fish), nor do we want to throw them back on themselves during difficult times. What is a worship leader and team to do? I suggest a change of perspective…
When I was bishop-in-training (which it still feels like I am!) my archbishop, Quintin Moore, instructed me on how bishops should act, particularly how we speak and address our brother bishops. He said we are to speak “to, with, for, and from” each other. His point being that no bishop is an entity, or “island,” unto themselves; to be a bishop is to belong to a college, a brotherhood – a group of individuals who seek the good of the group over individual preferences. I want to use those four terms (to, with, for, from) to inform this article.
“to – used to indicate the place, person, or thing that someone or something moves toward.” (“To,” Merriam-Webster.com, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/to)
People can react oddly when spoken “to.” “I need to talk to you.” “Talk to the boss.” “Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to you.” – These phrases can conjure up any number of feelings, including nervousness, fear, anger, or ambivalence. As a bishop there are times when I speak to my brother bishops. When I do, it is done in an attitude of love and mutual respect, knowing that I am not superior – I am just offering my part of the puzzle.
When it comes to the praise and worship of God, there may be times when we need to be sung to, “worshiped to,” or “praised to.” There may be times when someone in your congregation needs to be reminded of the goodness, love, kindness, majesty, etc. of God, and you have the opportunity to directed those things towards them, again, in an attitude of love and mutual respect. Remember, we don’t hold all the answers; we serve the God who does.
“with – used to say that two or more people or things are doing something together or are involved in something.” (“With,” Merriam-Webster.com, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/with)
With. Do you enjoy doing things with people? I like to get a cup of coffee, share a meal, watch a movie, and have a conversation with people. There is something to be said for coming together for a purpose and sharing a moment with people. As a bishop I speak with the other bishops. We dialogue, converse, fellowship; we share moments of God-discovery and self-discovery. It forms us as group.
When you worship with others, whether as leader or congregant, it is important to remember it is a group effort. I have experienced one-sided “worship monologues” and multi-voice “worship conversations.” Conversation relies on a mutual “exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.” (Merriam-Webster.com, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conversation) The music team, the congregation, the pastors – all have a part to play in this worship conversation. The question we must ask as worship leaders is, “Are we listening for the congregational response?”
“for – in place of; on behalf of.” (“For,” Merriam-Webster.com, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/for)
“Don’t speak for me!” How many times have you heard that sentiment in a movie or television show, or perhaps in the midst of a heated conversation? The reverse of that would be if someone asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” For many people when something is done for them it can be taken as an experience of weakness or subordination, neither of which is usually preferred.
Worship leaders should realize there will be times when people come in to their congregations who have had a week peppered with bad experiences. Those people may feel they can barely lift their heads up, let alone their hands. In those instances worship leaders and teams should be prepared to worship on the behalf of others. When we worship for people our attitude must be one of humility and humble service that is founded on a relationship of love and respect. When we do this we become like Aaron and Hur, lifting up the hands of Moses during a long battle, for those people (see Exodus 17:10-12).
“from – used as a function word to indicate the starting or focal point of an activity.” (“From,” Merriam-Webster.com, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/from)
While we can, and should, worship on our own Scripture is very clear about the necessity of corporate gatherings for worship. The author of Hebrews wrote, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV) St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (1st Corinthians 14:26, ESV) Jesus told us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20, ESV)
When we worship from we are worshiping out of a context of fellowship with a group of like-minded believers who have gathered together to hear the word of God, declare his greatness, and received the sacraments so they can go out into the world to share the reason why they gathered together in the first place – the Gospel and love of Jesus Christ! In some way the to, with, and for find their fulfillment in the with. As I worship to my congregation (and they, consequently, worship to me!), with my congregation, and for my congregation, I find myself wanting to worship from my congregation – taking the message of the Gospel out as Jesus said in the Great Commission.
As we plan our worship services – whether they be the weekly Sunday or Wednesday services or special services – let us seek ways we can worship to, with, for, and from others. In our seeking to do so, let us approach this awe-inspiring task with reverence and humility, armed with the knowledge that Jesus, our great High Priest, is the worship leader par excellence who will perfect our faith and worship.
The Lord be with you…
Bishop Ryan Mackey is a contributor for TalkingWorship.com. Mackey is Professor of Music History and Technology at Central Christian College of Kansas and an Auxiliary Bishop in Province USA of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches. His passions include teaching on and incorporating the historic traditions of the Church in contemporary practices.