The one thing I want to say to worship leaders everywhere

My husband is an extremely wise man. He says things that often make me stop and think. I love engaging in conversation with him because I know that he’s going to challenge me.

One day, while I was sharing some of my worship frustrations with him, he made a simple, yet profound statement.

“Worship leaders, stop leading me into worship. Create an atmosphere I can worship in.”

Wow. I don’t think I could say it any better.

I’m tired of being pulled into worship before I’m ready, of being forced into “feeling” worshipful. I want to get there on my own. Being “led” into worship doesn’t always feel genuine. Instead, if you create a safe atmosphere that I can relax and be myself in, I can’t help but worship.

I think if I could say one thing to worship leaders everywhere, it would be this statement. Create an atmosphere I can worship in.

If you could say one thing to worship leaders, what would it be?

When I feel like Cain

I’ve always been slightly troubled by the story of Cain and Abel. I feel bad for Cain… that is before he killed his brother. That was kind of uncalled for.

The part I’m talking about is when the two brothers brought their offering.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Genesis 4:2-5

There is more to the story. You can read it here.

Worship involves bringing our best. Between Cain and Abel, Abel brought the “better” sacrifice, which I’ve always taken to mean he brought the best he had, while Cain might have been holding out. When we worship, we should offer God the absolute best we have and not hold back. Okay, that’s an easy lesson.

But what about when the best we have to offer isn’t very good?

When I first read the story of Cain and Abel, I was puzzled. Cain was a gardener and worked with plants. So, he brought plants and the fruits of the ground to God. I like veggies, so this seems like a good gift to me. But God doesn’t “look with favor” on his offering; he “looks with favor” on Abel’s instead. Is God a carnivore? Not too hip on salad? What was it that made Cain’s offering not good enough?

When I took religion classes in college, I learned about the importance of blood sacrifices and how crucial it was to an acceptable sacrifice. It seemed that one reason Cain’s offering wasn’t accepted was because there was no blood involved (this is my simplified understanding). Perhaps he knew better, and that’s why God refused. Like I said, there is more to the story, and the Bible doesn’t really give us much detail on the state of Cain’s heart. He might have begrudgingly brought his offering while Abel brought his with a joyful heart.

All we know for sure is that he was a gardener. That’s what he did. He brought the fruits of his effort to God’s feet. And he was rejected.

I think I understand why he was a little peeved.

Sometimes I feel a little like Cain. Like I’m trying to bring the best I have, but because I’m not doing it like everyone else around me, it’s not being accepted. Like I need a little more blood, sweat, and tears in my worship.

I know this is absolutely ridiculous. But when I’m totally, completely honest with myself, I struggle with these things. These things that I feel I shouldn’t struggle with, but for whatever reason, I do.

I’m not good enough.

I’m not trying hard enough.

If I worshipped like this, then God would accept my offering and I’d feel better about this whole worship thing.

In the very pit of this struggle, on those Sundays when I’d drag myself to church with every ounce screaming internally, “DON’T MAKE ME!!!” I would sit in the pews, feeling very little. I’d listen to the music and feel unmoved. I’d hear the sermon and not be able to relate any of it to my life. Communion would begin, the most holiest of times that I used to love and anticipate every week. I’d still feel nothing. Tears of frustration would sting my eyes, because surely I should be getting something out of this. I’d be afraid to approach the communion table because I didn’t feel my heart was prepared or worthy enough.

So I would eke out a prayer.

“God, I am not feeling anything right now. I’m numb. I’m tired. I’m frustrated. I want to feel and worship and be excited and I just can’t. All I have is this half hearted feeling. I’m trying. I’m struggling. And that’s all I can lay at Your feet.”

And you know what? He accepted it. I realized that that was enough. I trudged myself up that aisle amongst all those happy Christians who were squealing with joy over all God had done for them and I dipped my bread into the juice. I accepted Jesus’ gift and thanked God for the little bitty bit of peace I managed to scrape up.

Sometimes our best doesn’t seem so good, but I believe God wants us to bring that. I truly believe He will accept it and honor it. Some days barely okay is the best I have, and I’m learning that’s okay.

Question: Have you ever felt like Cain?

How do I connect with a worship song that I just can’t connect with?

When I hear a worship song that I don’t connect with, this is what goes through my mind, not always in this order.

“What a hokey song. I really don’t like this.”

“It’s not all about you. Get over it.”

“Worship is not about style. Don’t get hung up on how they’re doing a song.”

“What are the words trying to say? I don’t know that I totally agree with this song.”

“That vocalist is getting way too excited about this song.”

“What chords is the guitarist playing? I bet I could play this song; not that I’d want to.”

“Phew, it’s over…”

Sometimes the thoughts vary, but this is the basic gist.

I know that I can’t connect with every worship song. It’s just not going to happen. There are going to be songs I don’t like, music that is hokey, or words that seem weird. I suppose my problem is trying to figure out what to do when I hear a song that I can’t connect with. If I continue having the above train of thought, I’m pulling myself into myself and focusing on me quite a bit, which isn’t what worship is supposed to be about.

Do I just sing along and pretend I’m into it? (I’m not real comfortable with that.)

Do I shut off, stop singing, and wait for the next song which I might connect with? (That doesn’t seem like a good way to worship.)

Do I attempt to pray and focus on God even though all the lights and sounds around me are distracting me and making it really hard to? (I think I’m becoming ADD as I grow older.)

How do you deal with a worship song that you don’t really connect with?

Introverted Worship

I have made an eye opening discovery recently.

I am an introvert.

That’s not the discovery, I’ve known that for years. The discovery I’ve made is how it relates to worship and church.

I am an introvert trying to worship in an extroverted church.

I recently stumbled upon this blog and got so excited. I’ve been reading posts here and there and will be ordering the book. There are others out there just like me! As I’ve read a bit, I’m realizing how much the modern day church is built around the extroverted life.

I am not loud and boisterous and being around people that are exhausts me. It’s the same thing with worship. Being around loud, boisterous worshipers is kind of tiring. Some days (most days) I just want a quiet, simple, introspective sort of worship.

Would I rather worship in:

a) A big, full sanctuary filled with loud music and people clapping and jumping.


b) A quiet hike through a beautiful forest, alone with my thoughts.

I think I’ll take option b.

I have my extroverted moments, and sometimes I really enjoy loud music and being with people. But at the end of a long week where I’ve already spent all day long with people, I’d rather be alone. If I want to genuinely worship, I need quiet.

It explains why I so long for quiet from the church.

It explains why I often shut down when the music gets louder and I’m told to put my hands together.

Perhaps I’ve just been hard on myself, forcing myself to be comfortable in a situation that I simply cannot be comfortable in.

Question: How do you think the church can make introverts more comfortable and offer more introverted moments of worship?

Cheesy worship

One of my biggest hang-ups about worship is that it’s cheesy. I long for more depth and complexity in the songs. They’re often trite and predictable. I long for authenticity and not just the sing-songy melodies that always seem to accompany worship songs.

And yet, I’m finding that sometimes those songs fit perfectly.

A few months back, I went to a funeral for one of my residents. I shared recently that I work in a retirement facility, and one of the sad parts of the job is the unavoidable death. I sat in one of the back pews with a co-worker, and I realized too late that I had neglected to bring tissues. She fumbled through her purse and found two. I tried to ration it, knowing I only had one for the entire service. The thing was soggy within two minutes.

Family members stood up and shared stories, while a slide show set to music showed my resident in her earlier years. A nephew stood up, acoustic guitar in hand, and performed “I Can Only Imagine,” a song that I feel has been vastly overdone. Suddenly, it was no longer cheeseball. It fit perfectly.

A church employee stepped to the piano and performed a beautiful rendition of a Chris Tomlin song. Chris Tomlin, although a good musician and songwriter, is one of the most overplayed Christian artists, in my opinion. Therefore, I usually roll my eyes when his songs are done. Yet, once again, at this memorial service, it fit perfectly and even brought more tears to my eyes.

Christian and worship music is cheesy. I’m finding that sometimes it’s okay. Sometimes the simple, cheeseball songs bring comfort that is desperately needed.

Question: Has there ever been a time when a song you thought was cheesy or overrated was suddenly perfect?


A friend recently posted this picture on Facebook.

I immediately burst out laughing, because I have this thought every time I see a large, overpriced church.

I think this is one of those controversial topics within the church. I am so mission minded that every time a church gets hung up on seemingly commercial items, I think, “Shouldn’t we give this money to the poor? Feed the hungry? Something Jesus would do?”

Years ago, when I still sung with the church choir, new choir robes were being purchased. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat every time the topic came up and they passed around a shiny catalog of choir robes going for $200 or more. I wanted to shout out, “WHY DO WE EVEN NEED THESE???” It seemed so frivolous. Was Jesus really going to care what I was singing in?

When this picture went up on Facebook, one person defended the megachurch, saying that her church fed and taught many people in the community. They were doing great things. This is true. We never really know what’s going on the rest of the week until we get involved. I ought not to be super critical.

Super expensive things in worship still make me uncomfortable. I know we need to love on Jesus and part of that is through His building that we worship in, but when is it too much?

I think of this story.

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper,  a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Matthew 26:6-13

I so would have been one of the ones on the sideline yelling, “Hey! What gives? Why the waste?” And then I would have been shocked when Jesus criticized me.

It’s such a fine line. Where is it too much? What do you think? Do megachurches make you uncomfortable?

Church people

Church would be a wonderful place if it weren’t for all the people.

I’m coming to grips with the fact that I have resentments toward church people. I thought I had processed through some of it, but I’m learning that it comes back and bites me in the butt when I least expect it.

Like many others, I’ve been burned by people in the church. Church committees that make stupid decisions I can’t get behind; friends that have been used and abused for their talents; a vicious rumor that someone (I don’t know who and it’s probably a good thing) decided to start about me and someone else.

Each little hurtful thing that church people do builds up. That wall of resentment I have inside was built up brick by brick, resentment by resentment. Now it’s really hard for me to trust people. I don’t know who is safe to trust. I don’t who I should let in.

I know it’s wise to not let everyone in. People have to earn your trust. I carry it to the extreme, and shut out everyone. I retreat into myself, which turns into a scary place of bitterness and cynicism. Once I’m trapped inside, I don’t know how to get out.

I know it’s unreasonable and impossible to have church without the people. It’s part of the package. The church is the people. As much as I don’t want to deal with the shiny happy Christian or the overbearing Christian or the Christian that I just don’t get, it’s all part of it. It’s part of this messy journey called faith.

I have heard it said that hurt people hurt people. I so often forget that every Christian that crosses my path is broken in some way. They’ve been broken hearted, abused, neglected, beat down, and hurt. We don’t always figure out healthy ways to process all that gunk and sometimes (unintentionally), we take that out on those around us. I’ve been guilty of it too.

Grace is such a needed trait in all of us. We need the grace to forgive those around us. We (I) can’t expect to never get hurt if we (I) want to fully engulf ourselves in this community. I struggle with showing grace to those around me sometimes because I focus so much on the injustice done to me.

It’s time to let that go. I’m still not entirely sure how, but as always, I’m learning as I go.

Performing vs. giving God your best

When I’m on stage leading worship, I try to focus on offering to God the best of my musical abilities. I don’t want to offer a half-heartedly sung song. I want to put everything I have into it and not hold back. It’s my gift to God and it should be the best it can be.

When I’m out in the audience, it can feel like American Idol. It’s big, it’s flashy, it’s showing off. The guitar riffs and the vocal divas can give me headaches.

There’s a fine line between performing and worshipping.  When I am up front leading, are people wondering the same thing about me; why am I turning worship into a production?

I believe God wants our best, no matter what our gift may be. Some of us have been given musical gifts and we need to offer them back to God like everyone else. So in singing/playing/leading worship, that’s what we try to do.

Where is that fine line? At what point does our worship turn into a performance, a production? What if my heart is in the right place, but someone in the audience perceives it as a production? What if my “performance” obstructs someone else’s worship? Is that my problem or theirs? Do I tone it down for them, or is it something they need to work on? I don’t want to get in the way of someone’s worship, but I don’t want to give God something half-hearted.

I’ve struggled with this for years. I’ve known musicians who love Jesus with all their heart lead worship. At some point in the worship leading, it shifts to performance, at least in my eyes. As they’re up there lost in the Spirit, I’m lost in the congregation, shifting uncomfortably. When they’re done, people say things like, “Wasn’t that SO spirit filled? What amazing worship!”

The best I can sometimes offer is, “Meh…”

So then I feel like a bad Christian for not getting into the worship that was a little too showy for my taste.

I really have no answers on this one. Take out all the stage lights and fog machines because, honestly, they’re just too much? Go back to organ music because it’s less pretentious? (I went to a classically trained music school… organ music can definitely be pretentious… so that’s not a good answer.) Stick to simple acoustic songs because they’re less showy?

I wish I had a better idea to offer, but this is probably my biggest worship struggle. Anyone else have any good ideas?

Worship pet peeves

Lights dim, an energetic drum beat begins, and the congregation is on their feet. I’m starting to feel the music, let go of my week, and worship.

Then out of nowhere I am ripped out of my reverie.


Y’know what drives me crazy during worship? Too much instruction. I hate being told to put my hands together or raise my hands in the air. In fact, if you tell me to do any of those things, I’m likely to be stubborn and stuff my hands in my pockets. I’ll show you

In all seriousness, I really don’t want to be told how to worship. I just want an atmosphere created that will allow me to worship. Get us started, then step back and let the Holy Spirit work. Let the music (or rather the Spirit) move me, not the words of your mouth. If you want to clap because the song is upbeat and energetic, then by all means, clap. I might even join in. If you feel the Spirit moving and want to raise your hands, go right ahead. Just don’t tell me to. Raising hands is not a way I worship. I’m not any less of a Christian because of it. Now I just look like a rebellious heathen because I’m the only one with their hands not raised to the heavens.

I was reading Stuff Christians Like recently; about raising your hands in worship. I was chuckling my way through the post and comments. I ran across a comment from a worship leader that stated that she was one of “those” worship leaders who rarely talked.

Another commenter posted this in response to her comment:

“Rarely talking is great! I am there to be in communion with God, not me and God and the worship leader. Ours thinks he is contributing when he is really interfering. His heart is in the right place but Jesus is our priest, we don’t need anyone else to lead us to His presence. I prefer a Music Director, The Spirit is the worship leader.”

I remember years ago, first starting out as a worship leader. I was young, naive, and impressionable. I took my lead from other worship leaders and did what I saw them do. I felt like I was supposed to spout out worship directions; or at the very least, some thoughtful, holy words, such as, “We love You, Jesus… we worship You, Jesus…” But anytime I tried, it felt forced; unnatural.

A dear friend of mine and fellow worship leader introduced me to the “strong, silent” type of worship leader. During the music, she didn’t say anything. Not one word. She would invite the congregation to stand and join in worship, and that was it. Then she merely played the music and sang. No instructions, no holier than thou words. Just the music. She led the congregation by example.

At first, this felt a bit weird. There are awkward instrumental parts where it felt like there needed to be some filler. I got so used to being told what to do, and now there was silence. It was uncomfortable. Soon, I realized I was being given freedom to worship as I wanted to.

This is the kind of worship leader I evolved into. It’s not my style to shout instructions. I merely introduce the song, sing it as simply as I can (I try very hard to control any vocal aerobics that emerge from my vocal cords), and let the congregation worship as they desire.

It just seems more natural that way.

Kids in worship

This post might get me into a little trouble.

I shared this blog before and how I so agreed with it. Except for one thing. The whole fussy kid thing.

I actually applaud a church that won’t hesitate to ask disruptive children to leave.

Don’t get me wrong; I love kids, but I also love being able to go to church and listen to the sermon without distraction. It seems like parents with really rowdy kids always seem to pick the seat next to or behind me.

Let me share a story.

In one church I attended, there were a couple of comfy couches in the back. One morning my husband and I noticed they were open, so we grabbed one. A few minutes later, two very rowdy little boys sat on the other couch next to us. I’m not talking whispering or fidgeting… I’m talking throwing pillows at each other and screaming into cushions and laughing loudly and running in circles. Then I realized mom and dad were sitting about four rows in front of them. NOT COOL. We ended up getting up and moving to the overflow room. It was that bad. I left church that day (Easter no less) feeling angry and frustrated. I wished that there had been some church bouncer that would have made the kids (and parents) move to the overflow room rather than my husband and I having to. I honestly remember nothing else from that service.

This is why I applaud a church that will escort rowdy children out. It’s hard to worship and be “all there” when all I can think about (or hear) is some loud child near me. Especially when they should know better.

Before you judge me, a childless woman of almost 33, please don’t. I have “mothered” much over the years. Call me a “mother of the heart.” I spent three years working with the African Children’s Choir and learned much about parenting, discipline, and the capability of children to behave. Don’t let them fool you. They are capable of much more than you might think.

It’s not that I want to deny kids the chance to worship, but for most of them (especially if they’re only three or four), it’s unfair to ask them to sit through something that’s way out of their attention span. In a church I used to attend, children sat with parents for the worship time, and then went to the front for a brief children’s sermon. After that, they left the sanctuary to go to a more kid’s oriented church time. It was the best of both worlds. They got to be with Mom and Dad for worship time, and I didn’t have to sit gritting my teeth while rowdy children kicked the back of my chair throughout the sermon.

I understand some families want to worship together, and for some, that includes the sermon. Fine. If that’s the case, teach your child to sit still. Sure, there are some extreme cases, like the boy in the blog that has cerebral palsy, but for the most part, children are completely capable of sitting still and being quiet. I think most parents don’t hold their kids to a high enough standard.

It makes me angry when parents think their kid’s “aren’t that bad,” or let their babies cry for minutes on end without making a move to exit the sanctuary. Just because you’ve grown immune to the sound of the cry does not mean the other 200 people in the building have too. Please be considerate of those around you.

While we’re on the subject, this is my favorite video involving kids in worship.