I lead worship. Have for a long time. The first time I led worship was from behind a Yamaha 56-key synthesizer at FBC Ruston, LA on a Wednesday night when I was 13. The songs included "Sanctuary," "Lord I Lift Your Name on High," and a stirring rendition of Steven Curtis Chapman's "When You Are a Soldier." You only wish you were lucky enough to have been there.
As I think back over the past 17 years of leading worship, I think the greatest challenge I've had to overcome is internal fear. There's always a voice in the back of my mind saying, "What if no one follows you? What if you are completely wrong in the direction you think we should go?"
My fear came true once. It was terrible. "It" happened during my sophomore year of college, in a worship service called "Thursday Night's Together," a gathering of 300-400 college students. Back then we would have an extended worship set each week after the message. This particular week the feel was particularly intimate, and we were finishing up a slow song. I instructed the congregation to spend a few moments in silence, meditating on God's nearness and the truth that we just sang about. And in a moment that I will forever ask "what was I thinking?", I thought it would be a good idea for everyone to shout for joy at what God has done for us. Honestly, I thought it was right. And I thought people would follow. Wrong and wrong. I yelled, "Let's just shout to God!!!!" Then time stood still. An outcry bellowed from my loins, up through my diaphragm, lungs, into my throat. By the time the guttural shriek produced sound, I realized that no one else would be participating in my shoutfest. My scream ended much more quickly than it started, as I tried to play it off. It ended up sounding like part's of Dana Carvey's "Chopping Broccoli." As you can imagine, no one bought it. And I felt like a doofus. The Supreme Doofus.
Was that leadership failure? If that question means "did I make a poor decision?" then the answer is yes. But I don't know that I failed as a leader.
I've been reading in Leviticus, and I came across the Year of Jubilee that Israel was to celebrate once every 49 years. (Chapter 25) On that year, all slaves were freed, and all land went back to the family that it was originally allotted to. The Year of Jubilee would ensure that no one in Israel would ever be stuck in poverty. All bets were off, and people celebrated freedom and forgiveness.
Great idea - but no one followed. We have no record of Israel ever celebrating the Year of Jubilee. God spent all that time, ink, and paper - or chisel and stone - to lay out the call for Israel. But they sat silent.
Did God fail? Of course not. So maybe success in leadership isn't based on whether or not people follow. The greatest failure in leadership is not leading. It's way better for me to fail, admit it, and move on, than for me to never challenge people to go anywhere.
In worship leadership, the fear can be paralyzing for me. "This is different from what they're used to. What if they don't like it? What if they leave me hanging and I fall flat on my face?" All those questions are still there. But if I'm called by God to lead these people, then I must lead, regardless of their response.
What fears keep you from living out your calling?