The meaning behind the tag line

The tagline on my blog is “Thoughts from a Recovering Worship Leader.” I haven’t talked much about that and what I mean by it. A large part is feeling burnt out by this whole worship thing and needing to take a step back. When I led, I often felt empty and dry, like I had nothing to offer to people. It was like my well inside me was sucked dry. I served until I had nothing left.

The last service that I led worship for was a recovery service called Celebrate Recovery. I walked into that service out of curiosity, not addiction. I was a relatively well adjusted church girl with no issues (how naïve I was). I had heard great things about the service and what they were doing, so I began attending. Long story short, I took part in the small groups and a step study and realized I wasn’t as well adjusted as I thought. I uncovered feelings of fear and insecurity. I found safety in that service, along with real, genuine people. I highly recommend Celebrate Recovery to anyone, not just alcoholics and drug addicts.

I was approached about leading worship for that service, and after some prayer, accepted. I was hesitant, because I was starting to feel the struggle of worship that plagued me and still plagues me. I felt like a fake up there, because I didn’t have it all together. But then I realized that nobody in that room had it all together. I was in good company.

I led worship there for a little over a year, and greatly enjoyed it. I was able to process through a lot of my struggle, and found that it’s hard to be judgmental of worship leaders when you are one. Eventually, the stress of life got to me and I stepped down from the position.

I’ve grown comfortable with the phrase “recovering.” It used to imply alcoholic or drug abuser. Now I know it can apply to anyone struggling with life change.

So here I sit, a recovering worship leader, trying to make sense of all the junk I’m unpiling out of my head. Half of it I don’t know what to do with, but I’m learning as I go. It’s a daily process.

As always, thanks for following me on my journey.

Worship in spirit and truth

Two of my guest bloggers over the last couple weeks used the same scripture for their post.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

John 4:23

This verse comes up a lot when it comes to worship. What does it mean to worship in spirit and truth?

These verses are words straight out of Jesus’ mouth, spoken to the Samaritan woman at the well. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, read the whole thing here.

I love this story. I have a fond appreciation for stories of Jesus speaking lovingly (and in this case firmly) into a woman’s life. In a culture that looked down on women, I love seeing Jesus’ interaction with them. Add onto that the fact that she is a Samaritan, someone that Jews (like Jesus) do NOT associate with.

Jesus asks her for some water, calls her out on her promiscuity, and somehow switches the conversation around to worship, stating that location doesn’t matter for worship. Jews and Samaritans worshiped at different places, and I think Jesus was trying to say all that was about to change. And that’s where the above verses come in.

I have a Greek/Hebrew study Bible, so I can nerd it up in my quiet time and look up the original meanings of words. When I looked up the Greek word for spirit (pneuma for my fellow Bible geeks out there), it gave about an entire column worth of definition. When I scanned through it, I read this:

In John 4:24, in spirit and in truth means with a sincere mind, with a true heart, not with mere external rites.

It sounds to me like Jesus is trying to say rituals and the WAY you worship isn’t the important thing. HOW you do it is what matters. Are you merely going through the motions because it’s what you do at 11 a.m. on a Sunday? Is your heart really in it?

What does it mean to you to worship in spirit and truth?

Let’s all praise the… Oooo! Shiny!

I never thought I had ADD until I had a house to clean. I start in the kitchen, load the dishwasher, then take a dish towel to the laundry room and notice that I need to start a load, and then I remember I had another shirt I wanted to wash, so I walk to the bedroom to get it, then I see how much dust has accumulated on my nightstand, so I go to get a duster and notice the pile of mail I hadn’t gone through yet, then walk to the kitchen to get my letter opener and wonder why I never started the dishwasher.

I’m starting to wonder if I have worship ADD. It kinda scares me. All the “shiny” things around me distract me from what I’m really there for.

Do any of your churches have the fancy new backgrounds for the worship lyrics? With wispy clouds drifting by, or a cross stuck in tall grass that’s gently blowing in the breeze? Maybe random geometric patterns flying frantically through the air? I gotta admit, I don’t really like them. No, actually, I can’t STAND them.

Perhaps these things are adding to the worship experience for someone out there, but for me, it’s just one more shiny thing to pull me out of the worship zone. Instead of focusing on the words I’m singing, or thinking about the God who deserves all my praise, I get distracted watching colorful circles pass by the screen. I count how many times it repeats, because I’ve been distracted enough to notice that these screens are on a cycle.

I honestly would prefer a plain, black background. Because then there’s nothing to focus on but the words. All the fancy stuff added to worship lately doesn’t make it any more worshipful, in my opinion.

Question: Have you ever suffered from worship ADD?

Trying to get there

Sometimes I walk away from worship and think, “Well, I just didn’t get there today.” Better luck next week.

Where am I trying to go?

As if worship is a special destination, a road trip of the mind that we have to take every time we walk through the sanctuary doors. I feel like I have to “feel” a certain way and have certain emotions to worship properly. If I don’t get to that special place, there was really no worship.

One Easter Sunday, a couple years back when this worship struggle was fresh and still really tender, my husband and I walked into our usual church service. I was less than excited about being there because I was tired of not feeling. There was this dull void when the music started and I was exhausted from trying to convince myself to “get there.”

I got through the music without crying in frustration, which was a feat at the time. I was still feeling nothing. The time for communion came. Communion is something that I don’t mess around with. The Bible talks very seriously of this holy sacrament, and I don’t take it lightly.

And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,“This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

I Corinthians 11:24-27

If I don’t feel that I am properly prepared, I don’t hesitate to not take communion. If there feels like there is something between me and God, some unresolved conflict, I am not putting the elements in my body. I take time before each communion to pray, confess my sins, and thank God for all He’s done for me. I strive very hard not to take it because everyone else is doing it.

For these reasons, I hesitated to take communion that Easter morning. There was that unexplained ick lingering over me, unresolved issues that were swallowing my brain. I tried hard to pray, and still came up dry.

The pastor that morning shared how taking communion was another way to worship. Then he said something earth shattering (at least to me).

“Even if you don’t feel like it, come and worship.”

Now, I don’t think that was permission to throw caution to the wind and dance up the aisle, taking communion nonchalantly. Instead, it spoke to my heart and said, “Stop trying so hard. Stop trying to get to that place. Come as you are.”

So I did. I eked out a prayer that essentially was, “I’m sorry, God. Help me.”

And I went and worshipped. I didn’t get to that special place, and that was okay. God took me as I was.

Do you try too hard to get to a certain place, feeling, or emotion in worship?

Entertain me

When we launch into a worship set at church, I uncomfortably think, “Are we worshipping? Or just entertaining the church?”

When I led worship (I’ve stepped down for a bit of a sabbatical lately), I used to get really nervous before stepping up on that stage. I know that’s normal, and anyone who does any sort of public speaking or singing will tell you that they always get at least a little bit nervous. It’s natural.

Some days I was way too nervous. I realized that instead of focusing on that audience of one, I was focusing on the couple hundred people out in front of me.

Worship leaders are supposed to be focusing on God, and on the worship aspect of all that we do. It might be best if we just ignore you completely. You can come along with us if you’d like.

It’s really hard to not focus on the people.

Usually, when you’re on stage looking out, the first people you see are the overzealous worshippers. Those that fight for the front row and have hands raised high the entire service. They may even drop to their knees a time or two. You could probably do If You’re Happy and You Know It and these people would be happy.

Then you look past them and see the rest of the congregation. There are a few that genuinely worship, but the majority stand there looking bored, arms crossed, stifling a yawn. (I confess, this is often me.)

“Alright, here we are. Impress us. This better be good,” their intense stares seem to say.

All eyes are on the worship leader, when they should be on God. Lead us into God’s presence, and make sure the music doesn’t suck while you’re at it.

No pressure.

Worship leading is a tough job. There’s a lot of pressure put on their shoulders. When I’m out in the congregation, struggling with my worship issues, I remind myself it’s not always the worship leader’s fault. Sure, there are some legitimate worship issues, but if it’s just “I’m not crazy about this song,” I shouldn’t blame the leader.

I try to put myself back in their shoes. It’s scary up there.

Church, worship leaders are not there to entertain you. It’s not the purpose of worship. If you just “didn’t get into it”, I’m so sorry you missed the point of worship.

Just yesterday, I was guilty of all this. A song was played that I’m a little bit tired of. I confess that I had a slight eye rolling as the first verse started and I thought, “A-GAIN?”

I forgot what the point of it all was as I was lost in the “entertain me” mentality.

Forgive me Lord, for getting lost in myself one more time.

Question: Have you been guilty of the “entertain me” mentality?

No better worship than wonder

Last week, my husband and I took the second of what we hope becomes an annual trip to a beautiful mountain cabin. It’s a glorious retreat, with a breath-taking view off the balcony that I spent as many minutes possible soaking up.

The cabin even has it’s own library. When you walk through the french doors, there are two walls covered in books from floor to ceiling. Last year, on our first visit, I spent a few minutes browsing the titles, looking for anything that seemed intriguing. My eyes fell on the spine of Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I had been meaning to read the book for years and had heard nothing but good things from everyone who had read it. Now was the perfect time. I just needed to finish it in a few days, as I couldn’t take it with me.

It proved not to be a problem. It was as good as everyone said. I devoured it in about three days, reading most of it in the sunshine on the porch, taking in the glorious view. When we were returning to the same cabin this year, I decided I wanted to re-read the book. I devoured the book for a second time.

One of the last chapters is entitled Worship, The Mystical Wonder. I knew that if I read no other chapter, I needed to be sure to read that one. Since starting this blog, I’ve been curious to look into other people’s insights into worship.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t revolve around musical worship. It spoke of worship in the sense of being in awe of God. How this whole Christian belief rises above reason and can’t be explained. How God is so much greater than we can begin to comprehend and understand. How the author takes great comfort in that, because the thing that created us needs to be greater than us, greater than we can wrap our minds around.

I don’t know if I ever thought of worship in that way, but it makes sense.

Jesus and reason don’t mix well. I have a couple of friends that are struggling with that, wondering how they can in good conscience believe this thing that is so completely insane, that honestly cannot stand up to reason. I have days like that. Where I look up at the ceiling and wonder if my words are really making it past the ceiling fan. Days where there is no way I can tell others about Jesus, because the whole thing is just ridiculous. How can I convince someone to believe this thing that I’m not always so sure about myself?

But then I look at something like my mountain view from last week (I call it mine because I really wanted to pack it up and take it home with me) and I wonder how I could ever doubt. Sure, this doesn’t make sense, but that’s part of what faith is all about. Choosing to believe in the midst of all the crazy.

And that’s when we worship. When we choose to set aside all our reason and boxed in answers and say, “God, You are real. And awesome.”

Here is what I’ve started thinking. All the wonder of God happens right above our arithmetic and formula. The more I climb outside my pat answers, the more invigorating the view, the more my heart enters into worship…

At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.”

Donald Miller

I wish the church would just shut up

The following is a post that I originally wrote last year, inspired by a vacation trip to an amazing mountain cabin. Today, my husband and I are returning home from our second trip to this beautiful mountain refuge.  I was reminded once again about the importance of quiet in all of life, and especially in worship. 

I hope you enjoy.


“Be still and know that I am God…”

Psalm 46:10

I know this verse well. Got it memorized. But guess what? The application of this verse? I suck at it. Totally suck.

I can’t keep still. I have always been the type of person who runs a million miles an hour and never stops and then wonders a) why I’m so tired and b) why I can’t fall asleep at night.

My husband and I took a vacation this year to a beautiful, quiet, mountaintop cabin with the sole purpose of resting; i.e. doing nothing. No sight seeing, no driving all over to visit new places, nada. We promised each other that we would do this and not get swept away with the sparkly draw of souvenir shops and quaint mountain towns (this might be more my weakness than his).

We did it. With the exception of sneaking away for an hour of fishing (my hubby wanted to use the rod and reel he’d bought years ago) and a couple outings for necessities, we did it. We stayed perched in our mountain top view and rested.

It was REEEEALLY hard. Sitting still for four days nearly killed me. I got restless. I got bored and was desperate to get out and explore those mountain towns. But we pushed through and rested.

By the end of the week, I didn’t want to leave. I sadly bid goodbye to my window seat perch and days of journaling and coffee. I tearfully packed up the car, and reluctantly headed back into my hectic life. I was able to be still, but I had to be forced to do it. The end result was awesome.

I would love to have more stillness in my worship. But in most of my church worship experiences, there is none. It seems that every moment of quiet is filled. There is pre-sevice music. The service begins with a loud, energetic song that builds up in volume. Announcements are done by some energetic staff member or volunteer who barely leaves room for a breath. More loud music. Instrumental interludes are filled with some dramatic thought by the worship leader. Even the prayer time isn’t allowed any quiet. Out of nowhere, soft keyboard or strummed guitar comes through the speakers. Sermon time is (usually) good, but it doesn’t allow me time alone with my thoughts as I’m busy processing the lesson. Even communion time isn’t given the quiet it deserves. It seems much communion time is filled with singing or some sort of special music. Then as we leave, there is a reprise of one of the worship songs.

Not a single moment of stillness. Not a single moment of quiet in which to sit alone with my thoughts, process what’s going through my brain, and offer up what’s left to God. I walk out feeling no more refreshed then when I walked in. Often, more exhausted.

If being still is a command of God, why isn’t the church making stillness more accessible to us? If people are anything like me, they need a little encouragement and prodding toward the quiet. Our lives have made it incredibly difficult to find it ourselves.

My cry and plea to the church is to stop doing and help us just be.

What the heck IS worship?

As I continue to write about worship, I keep coming back to one question.

What IS worship?

I’ve googled it a couple times and looked up some verses about it.

I found a general definition.

(noun) The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity: “ancestor worship”.

(verb) Show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites.

One of the top google hits had this to say.

 The English word “worship” comes from two Old English words: weorth, which means “worth,” and scipe or ship, which means something like shape or “quality.” We can see the Old English word -ship in modern words like friendship and sportsmanship – that’s the quality of being a friend, or the quality of being a good sport.

So worth-ship is the quality of having worth or of being worthy. When we worship, we are saying that God has worth, that he is worthy. Worship means to declare worth, to attribute worth. Or to put it in biblical terms, we praise God. We speak, or sing, about how good and powerful God is.

I found Scriptures about worship.

O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before our Lord our maker.

Psalm 95:6


God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.

John 4:24

This all still leaves me puzzled. Technically it answers my question but I’m still not happy with the answer.

My absolute favorite devotion is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  It’s the devotional I always return to and it usually kicks me right in the butt. I found that he had this to say.

Worship is giving God the best that He has given you.

I don’t know that I’ve heard it put any better way. Nor could I sum it up any better.

God has given me much, and He expects much in return. The gifts He has given me, I am expected to turn around and give them right back. For me personally, this involves

  • Music
  • Love
  • Grace
  • Compassion

What’s the best God has given you?

Being led by the Spirit can harm worship

Being led by the Holy Spirit seems like it would be a good thing, especially when leading worship. Being open to the Holy Spirit’s leading is something we’re called to.

But I am beginning to wonder if this “creative liberty” is harming worship more than helping.

Years ago, when a worship leader went “off script” in my worship experience, I found it slightly refreshing. “Ah,” I’d think. “He/she isn’t letting the Holy Spirit be boxed in. They’re allowing the Spirit to move.”

Now, it just annoys me.

When worship leaders start leading a song that’s off script, it can make for a really awkward situation, for several people.

If the band doesn’t know what you’re about to lead, how are they going to follow along? Sure, you might have a few really talented musicians who can jump on in and improv with you, but if they’re anything like me, not so much. I have got to have music in front of me, or my guitar ain’t making any chords. I am just not that good. So, instead of playing along, the band stands there, waiting for the worship leader to wrap it up.

And the poor person doing the slides. Oh, that poor person. I pity them the most. I have done that job. There’s nothing worse than 50 heads whipping around, giving you the evil eye because there are no words, or the wrong words on screen. My husband, the sound tech, wanted to make a sign that said, “NOT MY FAULT!” to flash when everyone turned to look at him. When the road map is changed or a new song added without any notice given to this person controlling the slides, what are they supposed to do? Read the worship leader’s mind? Usually this person is a nervous volunteer, and when people start staring at you because the slides aren’t right, it’s hard to think under pressure. Being led by the Spirit is not a worshipful experience for that poor person behind the computer screen. (Let me insert here a huge thank you to all those volunteers who control the slides during worship. Yours is a noble task.)

Then we have the person out in the audience who is relying on the words on screen. Suddenly, they’re now left on their own. Sure, some are comfortable ad libbing or closing their eyes and getting lost in the moment, but then there are others who are just standing there, wondering what to do. Even if it’s a “well known” song or hymn, I don’t think it should be casually thrown in. My very wise husband made a very wise comment recently.

Assuming that everyone knows the song you’re leading is dangerous. There could be that newcomer who has never heard it, and now they’re completely left out.

Some creative liberty is okay in a song, like deciding to repeat a chorus an extra time. But to completely switch gears and throw in a new song in the middle of the set doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. I believe in being open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, but as a worship leader, I am a stick to the script kinda gal. Maybe I’m just boring. What do you think? Do you like when worship leaders are led by the Spirit? Or does it just leave you annoyed?

Music is dangerous

Music is passionate. It reaches to the depths of a person’s soul. More can be said through music than through mere words alone. Music speaks to people in ways that words or actions never could.

Music is powerful. It makes us relive certain moments in our lives, brings back memories that have laid dormant. It makes us play through imaginary scenes in our heads. I listen to some music and feel like I’m in a movie scene, dramatically acting out the character’s part in my head.

Music is emotional. It tugs at different emotions, depending on the sound. Major keys make us feel happy, at ease, like all is well with the world. Minor keys can make us feel sad, introspective, and moody. A diminished chord makes me feel like something is terribly, horribly wrong.

Music is a lot of things. I would hate to live in a world without music.

I believe all of this is why music is so closely related to worship. God gave us the gift of music, knowing that we could express so much through it, feel so much through it, and love so much through it.

You know what else music is? It’s dangerous.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re all just getting caught up in the emotions of the music, being manipulated to feel certain things that the music is supposed to make us feel. Is it really genuine? Or are we just getting swept up in the emotions that go along with it all?

Are we prepared to sing something so emotionally charged that, come Monday morning, in the silence and drudgery of life, we are not ready to live out?

I know that I have been guilty of getting swept away in the beauty of the music being played before me, and lost sight of what the music was supposed to be glorifying. It became all about the warm fuzzies and good feelings I got out of the song. I’m currently struggling with how to use the worship song for what it is; a tool to  worship God with. The song and chords that make it up are not what my affection should be aimed toward.

Have you ever struggled with getting swept away in a song?