In my last post here at the Worship Collective, I talked about the importance of seeing oneself as more than a worship leader. Our mission in this world is more than music, though music may certainly play a significant role in how we fulfill it. Instead, all of us are primarily called to be followers of Jesus, disciples who are walking with him and calling those around us to do the same.
I always begin here with my own worship team members: you are not a musician who follows Jesus – you are a follower of Jesus who happens to make music. This idea can come across as cliché or a game of semantics if we are not careful. We can easily assume it as “understood” instead of diving deeply into it with our people. Think about it. Picture yourself standing in front of your worship team and you say something like: “Jesus has to be our number one priority.” Or, “what matters most as we worship is the posture of our hearts before God.” Who on your worship team would disagree? Yet consent to those ideas as true is not usually the issue…
I have played my share of church services, with all types of musicians, from talented to well-intending, from hired guns to volunteers, and I know incredible musical experiences can happen in church with a stage full of musicians who are on task and still miles away from desiring to truly follow Jesus. I can say this because I have been one of those musicians. My words sounded holy but my heart was full of rebellion. I played with excellence, but not to the glory of God. And the problem wasn’t that I didn’t know that I should probably be a better follower of Jesus – it was that, to me, following Jesus wasn’t that important to the task of making music in the church.
I was a musician who should be following Jesus. I wasn’t a Jesus-follower who made music. And until I learned to see myself differently, I could play music in any church situation and ultimately never have to deal with the obvious contradiction between my task and my heart.
The Vine and the Branches
The truth that opened my eyes came from Jesus’ parable about the vine and the branches in John 15. In it Christ explains the relationship between himself and his followers like the relationship between a vine and its branches. Everything that comes from the branch comes from the life it is being given through its active, abiding relationship with the vine. The fruit from a branch’s growth is only there because it is regularly receiving everything it needs to live from the vine. Christ promises to be the source of everything we need as we remain in him, and that all the fruit that should naturally come from our lives – things like faithfulness, love, obedience and the like – will indeed grow from our lives as we remain connected to him.
If I am a branch (a person in relationship with Jesus), all of my doings in this world, all of the things that could be considered fruit, grow out of his life in me. This includes things like making music. It’s a part of what I do, but it’s not the chief characteristic of my life (not anymore anyway). We are chiefly defined (and shaped) by the life of the vine into which we now are grafted. If we are in Christ, we are now branches whose doings in this world overflow from that one critical and life-giving relationship that redefined us.
In Worship, Commmunity, and the Triune God of Grace, James Torrance talks about worship in a way that really resonates with this vine/branch imagery. Instead of worship as reaction to God, done simply to please or honor God, he argues that “ in worship, Christ himself comes to live in our hearts by the Spirit and draws us into the very life of God.” This highlights how a life of worship is inherently a life of abiding participation. It is more than a response to who God is and what God has done; it is an invitation into a transformative relationship. All we do flows out of this, and we must choose and lead our teams to choose to define ourselves primarily as participants in the life of God.
My Aim is Not Fruit, but Life
We are followers first. We are disciples. We are branches of the True Vine. And we lead worship out of the life he has given us. But my aim is not fruit. My aim is life. If I abide, fruit will come.
This kind of thinking will change how you lead because your leading stems from your abiding, not your musical ability. And you’ll find that the more you live out of this, the more your whole life, including your leading, will be shaped like Jesus.
- In my own life, I have to stop and ask: is my life of obedience the fruit of abiding, or is it something else? Am I leading worship as a true participant in the life of God, or am I singing good songs? Am I overflowing, or am I pulling it off? Do I define myself by this vine/branch relationship, or by what I do when I’m on stage?
- In the life of my team, I have to stop and ask: Am I setting them up for growth or just a good performance? Am I pastoring them to follow Jesus or play well? Are they followers of Jesus who make music, or are they musicians that I hope and pray are faithful?
I’ve found that these kinds of questions have made me a better disciple of Jesus and a better maker of disciples with the people with whom I’ve been blessed to make music. And I think that’s where the real mission for my life fleshes out. We are more that worship leaders; we are followers of Jesus who have been invited to join Jesus as he makes more followers of Jesus out of the people around us. What’s truly amazing, though, is that when we see this as our primary calling, worship leading can become a powerful tool in the disciple-making process.
But that’s for a future post…