What I couldn’t figure out on my own

Throughout this worship struggle, and really all of life, sometimes I find myself struggling with problems I just cannot voice. Things bugging me that I cannot quite pinpoint. I love when I find an article, video, or even song that puts my unvoiced thoughts into perfect words.

This blog was one of those times.

I think the part that I especially connected with was this:

… When the gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.

When my church added a fog machine to the worship experience, my stomach literally turned. Fog machines are great in concert venues, but in church? Really? In addition to feeling like a show, it makes my eyes itch. Do we really have a need for this? Couldn’t that money be better used for other ministries, like feeding the homeless?

Church is trying too hard to be cool. And in my opinion, often failing miserably. Christianity is usually two trends too late. I end up rolling my eyes at whatever cool tactic they’re trying this week. Stop trying. Just preach the gospel.

I understand the need to make things relevant and accessible to everyone. I get that. But perhaps relevant and accessible is best portrayed through love, grace, and acceptance.

(I will add that although I see her point about disruptive kids and that the story about the boy with cerebral palsy is sad, I don’t completely agree. But I think I’ll save that for another post, rather than jump on my soapbox.)


I have a confession to make.

When I lead worship, it feels like I’m putting on a show, like I have to impress the people in the congregation. Because if I don’t, they’ll probably let me know. I get way nervous, worried that my pitch isn’t just right or that I’ll strum the wrong guitar chord. I worry that people are judging me for my musical talents, or because I don’t look worshipful enough. Maybe I’m not saying the right thing at the right time.

When I’m on stage, worship simply feels like a show.

I have another confession to make.

When I’m in the audience, when I’m supposed to be worshiping, it feels like a show. I judge the leader by all their musical mistakes, or sometimes lack thereof. If they’re too good, I think they’re just showing off. If there’s a typo in the powerpoint, I’m gone. If the worship leader says too much I get distracted. If he’s too confident, it seems like he’s just using his talents and not relying on God.

When I’m in the audience, worship simply feels like a show.

When did congregational worship become such a production? I’m all for rock music and giving the worship set all you’ve got, but sometimes I think that’s all I’m doing. Giving it all I’ve got without a second thought about God.

When I’m overwhelmed by electric guitar riffs and choking fog, I want the floor to swallow me up. I want to be anywhere but in that worship space. I start fighting back the tears of frustration because I’m not feeling it. I look at the people in the front row with their hands held high, blocking the power point for everyone behind them. They obviously “get” it. They’re not comparing this to a rock concert.

And then I glance at some of the people around me. Some are barely mumbling along to the words. Some have hands stuffed in their pockets. Some are gazing down at the floor. Some have their arms crossed in front of them and look very unimpressed. I’m obviously not alone.

When I’m on stage leading, sometimes I can’t see past the excited people in the front row. I am thankful for those that keep the energy up and are visibly into the music. But sometimes my gaze falls beyond them, to the people in the back, who look like I must look when I’m out there. And my heart goes out to them.

And I feel bad that I’m only putting on a show for them.

How to “label” worship music

Though not a South park fan, my husband is. He occasionally makes me watch an episode, and I confess, I have laughed. No harder have I laughed at an episode though than Christian Rock Hard. In it, the boys try to start a band, and Cartman decides to start a Christian band; because Christian music is easier to break into, and because it’s easier to write Christian songs. He then takes a pop song and plugs “Jesus” into the lyrics. Voila. Instant Christian classic.

This makes me wonder… does a song have to mention Jesus to be a worship song? I have heard discussions on Christian radio where people have tried to remove certain songs from the station because it didn’t mention God or Jesus. Never mind the positive, encouraging message it was communicating. Apparently that’s not enough.

I confess, I used to be of this mindset. I didn’t really want to listen to a song unless I was sure that it was talking to or about Jesus. My intent was to protect my mind from some of the crap that is communicated through much modern music, but I took it to the extreme. All of a sudden my music tastes became incredibly narrow-minded. Even my pastor encouraged me to branch out.

Now I’m discovering that worship music doesn’t have to be so limited. I just read this article on Relevant Magazine’s website and was impressed by the band interviewed.

This was my favorite quote:

Writing music, you can write any sort of music, and that can be a sacred act; it doesn’t have to be Church music. That was a theological shift for me, personally, seeing it wasn’t about me having to put enough crosses in every painting I paint, enough Jesuses in every song I write. Not that you don’t ever do those things, but it broadened the scope of potential human work that could be sacred.

More than praise and worship music can be sacred. That’s a freeing thought for me. The simple act of writing a song from the soul is a sacred act. It doesn’t need to mention Jesus.

This song doesn’t mention Jesus, but I challenge anyone to say this isn’t worshipful.

And what about instrumental pieces? There’s no mention of Jesus’ name, yet there are so many that are mysteriously worshipful. Granted, this one is based on a classic sacred melody, but the way he plays with such passion just screams worship to me.

My mind is open to so many other musical options, and I think it’s opening wide the avenue for worship again.

Mediocre Worship

I didn’t get along well with my first voice instructor at Florida State School of Music. Don’t get me wrong; I liked him. He was an interesting fellow. He told me countless stories that made me chuckle; many of them centered around his marriage. He proudly told me how he had been married for some 40+ years and announced this:

“We never once considered divorce… murder a couple of times, but never divorce!”

An old joke, I know, but it was new to me at the time, and I appreciated his efforts to make me feel more comfortable in his voice studio. Our problem was that his teaching style and my learning style never quite “meshed.” I spent a semester in frustration trying in vain to connect with the pieces he gave me, and he spent week after week trying to get through to me. It was a frustrating experience for both of us, and I ended up switching teachers at the end of my first year.

Nonetheless, I am thankful for the time he invested in me, and I have a few memories that stick out to me. Here’s one.

In the midst of another frustrating lesson, my teacher takes a deep breath and pauses. He seems to be thinking as he gazes out the small window of his office door. He strokes his beard for a moment and then looks at me. I am looking down at the music stand in front of me, hoping desperately that the notes on the page will sink into my subconscious, and then flow out of my vocal cords with ease. No such luck yet. Afraid to meet his gaze, I bite my lip and continue to stare at the stanzas in front of me, pretending to scribble notes in the margins. He decides to change the subject.

“You sing in your church choir, right?”


“Are you doing anything special for Easter?”

“Yes. We’re working on our cantata for Palm Sunday.”

“Are you doing any solos?”

“Yes!” I finally meet his gaze. “I have two solos.” I had been listening to the rehearsal tape for weeks and had been diligently practicing.

“Why don’t you bring those in next week? I’d like to hear them.”

I break into a big smile. Anything to get away from the Nymphs and Shepherds song I had been trudging through for weeks with no breakthrough.

The following week I bring the music. My accompanist plays the intro (we had practiced earlier in the week and she had complimented me!) and I launch into it. I finish to the sound of no applause. I was getting used to that around this school.

He made a slight nod of approval. “Your voice certainly blossoms with a song you connect with.”

See! I think to myself. I knew I didn’t totally suck.

Then he frowns.

Uh oh.

“What bothers me is how churches are performing this mediocre music.”

My heart falls. Mediocre music? What?

I don’t remember his exact quote, but it was something pretty close to that. And at the time, I totally didn’t understand him. I was just offended that my singing was not being praised. I thought he was being super harsh and critical.

Now I get it. Now I agree with him.

In his world filled with Bach cantatas and Mozart requiems, this cheesy little church cantata I was bringing to him didn’t even come close. And it couldn’t. It’s really kind of unfair to compare the two.

I cannot recall the name of the cantata or the title of my solos. The melodies have since left my brain. I’m sure the composer worked very hard on that cantata and I honestly couldn’t come close to putting together a work of that magnitude. But my voice teacher’s question lingers in my brain.

Why are churches performing mediocre music?

In a world where four chord songs reign, it’s hard to find worship music that contains real musical depth. And as a worship leader working with volunteer musicians (and being a pretty mediocre guitar player myself), I understand the need for those easy to pick up four chord songs. But does this have to be all we’re doing?

As much as I never thought I would admit it, sometimes I miss those difficult, sacred pieces I used to perform in music school. Those demanding melodies that required hours of practice and work. I spent hours upon hours perfecting pitch and getting tone just right. I can’t say I’ve ever done that for any worship song.

If worship is all about giving God our best, then why aren’t we doing that?

Christmas Eve tradition

Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year. I much prefer it over Christmas Day. The sacredness of Christmas gets lost in scraps of wrapping paper and tangles of ribbons. The excitement of the morning and family time is glorious, but sometimes I get discouraged by the materialism of it all.

Christmas Eve is different. It seems like when the sun sets and darkness swallows the busy day of finishing touches, peace comes upon the earth. It’s like everyone can take a communal deep breath. Preparation is done and we can finally focus on that sweet baby in the manger.

I have many memories of Christmas Eve traditions from growing up.

  • Holding a lit candle with wax dripping down my arm while singing Silent Night.
  • Driving around admiring Christmas light displays.
  • Cheese and crackers with the family.

When I got married, I looked forward to the traditions I would begin with my husband. There is one that I wasn’t expecting, but it is the one I am most looking forward to.


Every year, after the Christmas Eve services come to a close, my church opens the sanctuary for communion. They bless the sacraments, then leave them on the altar for people to come and take in their time. There is a note on the door to be silent, and the building is completely quiet. No music playing. Lights are low, with one small light aimed on the porcelain manger set and the Christmas tree softly lit in the corner.

My husband and I walk in, find a quiet spot (usually by the Christmas tree, given my love of them), and sit for as long as we feel the need to. Sometimes I gaze at the lights on the tree, sometimes at the manger. Often I pick up a pew Bible and read through the Christmas story (It’s sad that I usually find myself so consumed during the Christmas season that I don’t take time to meditate on these Scriptures.) Sometimes we hold hands and just quietly sit.

It’s wonderful. With the exception of the year that some people decided to come in and whisper LOUDLY to each other for five minutes, every year has been blissful. (My husband tried to give them a friendly note to let them know that we could hear them, and to gently tell them they were disturbing our moment of quiet. They became very offended and gave him a very rude note back and left in a huff. So annoying. And discouraging. We tried to be nice.)

It’s the Christmas Eve tradition that I never expected to create. I never realized how much I long for silence and stillness in my life until recently. When my husband and I began talking about upcoming Christmas plans, that was the one definite thing we both mentioned. We could take or leave most anything else, but that silent Christmas Eve communion seems to be a given now.

Is there a Christmas Eve tradition you are looking forward to?

Something missing

In the bustle of the Christmas season, my husband and I received several invites for Christmas parties and get togethers. We turned down all but one and attended on Saturday evening. It was filled with much “merriment” and we did not return home until almost 1:00 a.m. After winding down, we did not fall asleep until after 2. We decided to skip church the next morning and get some needed sleep.

This is nothing new. I must confess; I use any and every possible excuse to sleep in on Sunday. Many of our excuses are completely valid. In the past month, both my husband and I have been sick, and totally exhausted. My hectic schedule as of late has left me with little to offer on the weekend and I usually want nothing more than to hole away at home.

But I must confess again; often I just want to skip church because I really don’t have much desire to be there. I know that more times than not, I will stand there lost in the crowd, wishing desperately that the music will speak to me while it just becomes nothing more than noise. It’s easier to avoid it than attempt to deal with the problem.

Before anyone tries to tell me how important it is to be a part of the body of Christ, let me clarify that I have not completely walked away. I attend a Friday night service at my church. I fellowship and connect with the body of Christ. This service has become more like church to me than typical Sunday morning services. A lot of Sunday mornings, I really don’t feel the need for church, because I’ve already had my church for the week.

Yet, I still feel that I’m running away from my worship issues rather than facing them head on. It’s easier to turn the alarm off on Sunday morning and roll over than walk into church, asking God to meet me there and help me through this mess. Most mornings I wake up with absolutely no desire to go.

Except yesterday morning. I knew we weren’t, but I woke up with a strong desire to go to church. I realized why. Because it is Advent and I miss all the elements of the Advent service. I miss the Advent candle and the carols and the Christmas story read from Matthew and Luke and holly hung throughout the church.

I told my husband that I would like to go to church next week. A few years ago, we decided to attend a different church the week before Christmas; an older church downtown with a huge pipe organ. We’re usually not big organ fans, but there is something about hearing the classic Christmas carols done on organ that just feels more Christmassy. I told my husband that I would like to do that again this year.

It was relieving to wake up with that empty feeling inside me, like something was missing. Sometimes I just feel like a complacent mess, because I can feel nothing more than apathy. Something is missing, and I am glad that I am feeling that.


“Thanksgiving includes gratitude.   In fact, thanksgiving is but the expression of an inward conscious gratitude to God for mercies received.  Gratitude is an inward emotion of the soul, involuntarily arising therein, while thanksgiving is the voluntary expression of gratitude.”

E.M. Bounds

One of my favorite practices is to create a gratitude list. It pulls me out of myself when I’m feeling sorry for myself and renews my perspective. I thought it would be appropriate to offer one on Thanksgiving.

  1. My faith. As much as I struggle, especially with worship, my faith in Jesus runs deep.
  2. My husband. He is faithful, loving, patient, and awesome. He supports me and my creative endeavors, and is awesome tech support and website designer. I love you, baby.
  3. My family. I grew up in a loving, supportive home. My mom’s always been one of my biggest cheerleaders. Thanks guys.
  4. My family of choice. I have a set of friends that my husband and I have lunch with on a weekly basis. We call them our family of choice. They’re a fun bunch. I feel even more grateful for them this week as one of our members suffered a heart attack last week and is now doing fine.
  5. My health. As much as I complain about my little ailments, I know I am blessed.
  6. Creativity. I am thankful for a creative spirit and ways to release that creative energy.
  7. My blogging community. I love the people I have met through blogging. I love the amazing blogs I run across. You guys are too cool.
  8. Employment. I grumble about this A LOT. I am not in my dream job, but I am in a job. I have a paycheck, and even though it doesn’t always stretch very far, I know I am blessed to have any income coming in.
  9. My home. As cluttered as it gets and as much as it does NOT look like the Better Homes and Garden model, it is cozy, comfortable, and mine. I have traveled enough to know that being in out of the cold, rain, and elements is a huge blessing. I also went long enough without a home of my own to know how awesome it is to have one.
  10. My African Children’s Choir kiddos. I’ll be sharing more about them soon in my worship journey. I miss them like crazy and hate that they’re not in my life anymore, but I am so proud of the hard work they do in school and I know they are going to do great things. I pray to have the chance to return to Africa soon to visit them again. I’m way overdue on hugs.
What’s on your gratitude list?

I wish the church would just shut up

“Be still and know that I am God…”

Psalm 46:10

I know this verse well. I even knew the reference without looking it up. 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 most 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 too.

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.

“Worship” music

I know I’m not being original by saying that Mumford & Sons is an amazing band. They’re all the rage right now. Their unique rock/folk style is taking us by storm. Honestly, I love bands that can rock out with a banjo.

I have heard of some churches using their songs in worship sets. This is two things to me: awesome and weird.

Why it’s awesome: I think it’s awesome that churches are using the songs that can speak to even the “unchurched.” Familiar melodies may draw more people in. These songs will likely speak to them more than Open the Eyes of My Heart ever will. Plus, Mumford & Sons lyrics have more depth than the typical praise and worship song. I appreciate songs that make me think and dig down for the real meaning.

Why it’s weird: Part of me thinks that anything the church gets a hold of instantly becomes uncool. Will Mumford & Sons lose their luster because Christians are taking it and running with it? There’s also the question of how “theologically sound” the songs are. I don’t know how much I get behind this, plus I hate theological debates. I’m sure there’s several people out there getting upset at the use of “secular” music within the church.

What I know is this: in my personal life, their music touches me. I don’t know if I’m “worshipping,” but the music inspires, energizes, and challenges me. That’s more than I can say of any worship song at the moment.

Lyrics like these show a surprising amount of spirituality:

Love that will not betray you,
dismay or enslave you,
It will set you free
Be more like the man
you were made to be.


But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand


You told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals

So I will continue to let their music inspire me and touch me. I’m encouraged that I’m still able to find any connection with music. A fellow worship leader shared in the comments of this blog how he was reconnecting with music after doing the job of worship leader for so long. He stated: ” I am rediscovering my love of music in general and the inward solace it brings to me.” I think I might be finally getting to that point myself.

This article makes some interesting points about music like Mumford & Sons. It is extremely well written and it sorta puts what I just wrote to shame. I really can’t put it any better than this writer did.

This is why I write

Walking into the dimly lit sanctuary, I find myself coughing from the fog that is descending upon the space. Colored lights are set dramatically at different angles on stage. I hear someone comment behind me, ?Is this worship or a Pink Floyd concert?? They laugh at their joke, but I am uneasily asking myself the same thing.

Worship begins. Low mellow music fills the air for a few measures while the stage lights slowly bring the band into view. Electric guitar riffs blare through the speaker directly over my head and catchy drumbeats cause everyone to rise to their feet. The sound of hands clapping fills my ears. The worship leader takes center stage and shouts, ?WE WORSHIP YOU JESUS!? The congregation roars in approval.

I stand alone in the crowd, feeling like I?m being swallowed. Tears prick my eyes, but these are not the tears of gratefulness that I used to offer in worship. These are tears of frustration. I feel no worshipfulness. I feel empty.

?God,? I whisper to myself, ?Where are You??

I know He?s probably here somewhere, but I can?t seem to find Him. I can?t connect in worship anymore. As soon as the music starts, the wall goes up. I try to connect, but most feeble attempts are just that and nothing more. The words mean nothing and become a jumble on the PowerPoint screen. The band soon becomes nothing more than loud noise. It all starts to seem so showy.

So instead of worshipping, I find myself becoming cynical and critical. I stop singing. I judge every typo on the screen (Your all I want? Really? Who?s proofing these things?) or missed note on stage. I walk away wondering what the point of it all was.

It wasn?t always like this. I used to thrive on worship. I am a vocalist, and used to be one of those peppy singers at the front of the stage. If I wasn?t on stage, I was in the front row with hands raised high to the heavens.

So where did this disconnect begin happening? Why has it happened? Is there something to this, a lesson to be learned? Do I have a message to share with the church or simply gunk to work through in my own life? This is why I will write; to discover all that is going on under the surface. I will sort out the good and hopefully sift away the bad.? I will learn as I go and maybe share something of value.

Hopefully I will be able to look at worship in a whole new light and emerge on the other side of this vast valley.