The Worship T.R.A.P. is designed to be a quick read that touches on several important, but seldom discussed areas of worship leading. The Worship T.R.A.P. is not designed to be a theological or exhaustive study of worship. It will, however, offer a quick overview of what the worship leader needs to consider as he or she plans and leads worship in the local church. Through The Worship T.R.A.P., I hope to begin a fresh conversation about why we do what we do in worship.
As I write The Worship T.R.A.P., I feel the heart of the worship leader who is under pressure to grow the church and to “get things going.” He may sense personal failure because his church has not “caught fire” and grown exponentially like other churches. Perhaps, through The Worship T.R.A.P., we can begin to reframe the prevailing conversation about the true purpose of worship.
Through Worship Service Resources, I have been privileged to meet and talk with pastors from many denominations across America. For twelve years, the Lord has allowed my wife and me the opportunity to provide music for thousands of churches that do not have musicians for their congregational singing. I have served as worship leader in churches ranging in size from sixty to 3,000. Every church, regardless of the size or resources, has unique worship leading challenges.
Throughout The Worship T.R.A.P., I have provided discussion questions. I want this to be a resource to encourage dialogue with church staff and members alike. I hope to be a fresh voice of clarity and blessing as we carefully consider the worship ministry.
Chapter 1 - The Story
Let me begin by telling my story. I will keep it brief, but I want you to know about the person who is presenting this to you. I want you to relate to my experiences. I also want you to see my weaknesses as they were slowly developing through years of worship leading, outreach ministry, and business.
I grew up in a Christian home. As a five-year old in a revival service, I asked Jesus into my heart. My parents were the song evangelists and heard my first attempt at describing what it was to have my sins forgiven. Mom and Dad were trained musicians and led music in church for many years. As a kid, countless times my sister and I woke to Mom playing the piano as she and Dad rehearsed the music for Sunday church. Those are great memories!
I was a musically talented kid. I played lead trumpet in jazz band and orchestra and took piano lessons for years from gifted teachers. I actually enjoyed music theory! I won the orchestra award in high school and graduated from college with a degree in Music Education. My instrument was voice, and I was a talented conductor. I was one of those students who ate, slept and drank music. Through student teaching my last quarter in college, I learned that I did not want to teach, but I had my degree!
I married a talented girl who also majored in music. Her family background was very similar to mine. Her parents were church musicians, song evangelists, and she had years of church music experience. We were a “Ken and Barbie” couple to the local church. We could lead music, and with our family reputations, we were in demand.
I began a business career as well. As a young man recently out of college, I was privileged to be on the “ground floor” of a start-up company. I was instrumental in launching that company and making it successful. That was fun! I also had a successful career selling for a Fortune 500 company and making a good income. My wife and I were a successful couple.
Because I was in the business world and was an enthusiastic, high energy, positive thinking guy, I was asked to serve on numerous church committees and boards. My wife and I taught Sunday school classes, led youth ministries, and were in charge of planning the big programs for the church state leaders. In each ministry, the bigger the crowd, the more successful we were.
For years I served as director of music and outreach. I enjoyed watching ministries grow. I kept a focused eye on the numbers and was driven to reach more folks. Pastors were thankful for my support. In each endeavor, the ministry seemed to do well. I led with energy and enthusiasm. I was highly regarded and loved by congregations. Life was good. Are you seeing any potential problems yet?
I had been on staff for seven years at a wonderful church of about 400 when a major change in my life was about to take place. I had led worship at that church through three pastoral changes in seven years. What a time of transition that was! One day in my office, out of the blue, the Holy Spirit released me from my job. Yes, you read that correctly. There was no mistake about it. He clearly communicated that I was to resign and leave the church. I was stunned, and when I called my wife and told her what had just happened, she was floored! I immediately went part-time, handed off ministries, and within six months we left that congregation. That was a tough transition and in the middle of it, none of it made sense. Have you ever been there?
Now, I would like to pause for a bit and ask a question: Do you believe in the discipline of the Lord? Have you ever experienced it? If so, would you agree that the Lord’s discipline is strong, direct, and often painful? Would you also agree that the Lord’s discipline is very loving and full of grace? Our God is the perfect disciplinarian. Hebrews 12: 5–6 reads, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him, for the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son who he receives.”
Now back to the story. After leaving the church where we had been for many years, my wife and I began attending another church just three miles down the road. Let’s call it City Church. It was a well-known, large, non-denominational evangelical church. The sanctuary seats 5,000. As we walked into that huge facility, I looked the place over. I saw the elevators and the escalators. I saw the ornate furnishings and the flags. I saw the huge windows and the four-story galleria. I was thinking, Just look at this place. This is ridiculous! Look at all the money they have spent. How materialistic. This place, obviously, is all about the money, and they cannot be biblically sound. Yes, those were my thoughts. I was just a bit judgmental of City Church!
As we entered the sanctuary, we saw one of the largest pipe organs in America! It was amazing. The contemporary service was about to begin. I wanted to see what “contemporary” meant to City Church. We walked down the center aisle and sat toward the front of the sanctuary. As we were seated, I noticed that the sprawling platform had many instruments, a large choir loft that seated 150 and a nine-foot, ebony grand piano, but I saw no one on the stage.
After a bit, a tall, distinguished man wearing a black tailored suit came walking out and sat down at the piano. The sanctuary suddenly became quiet. The gentleman began playing the accompaniment to “The Lord’s Prayer”—you know, the old tune we have all heard at weddings for years. I heard his introduction and thought to myself, Wait a minute. I thought this was the contemporary service. I know that song and that is not contemporary. You have shown up unprepared and are shooting from your hip!
He began to sing “Our Father, which art in Heaven.” As soon as he sang the phrase, “Hallowed be Thy name,” I was made aware of the moving of the Holy Spirit. He was real. I looked to my right toward my wife to see if she reacted. I glanced back across that sea of faces and thought to myself, What was that? It was extremely intense. I wondered if anyone else noticed it.
The gentleman kept singing, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven.” It was at that moment my time of discipline was beginning, and my heart began to break. The Holy Spirit began to show me that for years I had been so focused on the crowd, on how full the sanctuary was, on competing with other churches, on creating the right atmosphere to grow the church, on succeeding, that I had all but forgotten Him. I had been horizontally focused, and I had all but ignored the unseen One in the room. It was in that moment the Lord began a long and sustained period of discipline that was directed toward my heart and my motives.
For weeks, Sunday after Sunday at City Church, the Lord showed me the sinfulness of my motives and the idols that were living in my heart. The discipline was very painful. You see, I had been so concerned about pleasing the congregation and growing the church numerically, that the church growth idol was the driving force and motivation of my ministry. The discipline was unforgettable and very effective.
After nine months of sitting on the pew and learning some difficult lessons from the Lord, I felt released to join the praise choir. Little did I know that two years later I would be directing music at that church, leading four services per Sunday and running my legs off. Regardless, after I had been disciplined by the Lord and after He taught me very potent lessons, I have never been the same.
Questions for discussion:
1) What were the warning signs of “heart trouble” for Tony?
2) What have you learned about the discipline of the Lord?
3) What does it mean to focus horizontally?
4) Why does the Holy Spirit discipline us?
Chapter 2 - Failure
I could not imagine that I would one day be leading the music for this very large, resource-packed, prestigious church. I had no idea the Lord was preparing me for this opportunity. I had learned much from the Lord’s discipline, but I had much more to learn about worship leading, and many changes were about to take place. I was about to face my own failure.
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