An Open Letter to Worship Leader Forefathers
Reaching out to the patriarchs of worship music as we know it.
Dear worship music patriarchs,
I grew up listening to your cassettes and CDs. I watched your tutorial VHS tapes. I went to the conferences where you led and taught. I sang your songs in my bedroom. I led them in my youth group. I cut my teeth leading them on Sunday mornings. I wouldn’t be where I am today without your influence. Worship music wouldn’t be where it is today without the foundation you laid.
Thank you. Thank you for paving the way. Thank you for giving to the church a repertoire and a vocabulary to sing heartfelt songs of praise to God. Thank you for taking risks. Thank you for taking a lot of the bullets during the “worship wars” of the ’80s and ’90s as pastors, musicians, theologians, congregations, organists, choirs and bands all tried to figure out what in the world God was up to.
Now it’s 2013. Now you’re surrounded by new trends, new fads, new songs, new albums, new singles, new sounds, new everything. Your role has shifted. It seems to me, from my vantage point, that you’re trying to figure out exactly what your role is now. I’d like to offer a few suggestions.
As a young guy who grew up influenced by you, here is how you could continue to have influence.
Don’t try to be cool. It looks kind of silly when you try to pull off the skinny jeans and scarves and hats. Most of us aren’t really into all that stuff either.
Be an open book with us. Tell us where you’ve made huge mistakes. Tell us what you regret. Tell us what you really think about what you’re seeing in the worship world today. Warn us about pitfalls you see us heading toward.
Demonstrate humility. When you retweet every single compliment about yourself, it makes us think maybe that’s what we should do too. It makes us think that we should be pursuing fleeting fame.
Get on our level. OK, so you’re working on a new album. So you’re singing at a festival. So you’re touring China. So you’re co-writing with Charles Wesley himself. Big deal. How do I deal with my bass player who just wrote me a blistering, critical email and copied my whole team? How do I deal with my micromanaging pastor? Help me out.
Write good songs. Maybe all of you could lock yourselves up in a room for two weeks and churn out 10 really good (I mean really good) songs. That would be really helpful. You guys obviously know how to write songs. We could use good ones out here.
Be accessible. Are you the kind of guy who’s accessible only to the rich and famous? Or, if I have a ministry question or a leadership question, can I call you on the phone sometime? Could I bring you to my church for a weekend or do I need to jump through your manager’s hoops? Can I talk to you over Skype sometime? I could really use your wisdom, if I don’t have to pay a whole lot of money in order to get it from you.
Show us how to spend our 50s and 60s well. When I’m your age, is the pinnacle of my worship leading ministry only to be realized as an itinerant, touring, conference-speaking, pseudo-celebrity? That’s what I think sometimes when I see what you’re up to. Or, is the pinnacle of my worship leading ministry going to be realized by hunkered-down, not-glamorous-but-more-rewarding-and-stable service in a normal, local church? I’m interested to see what you do.
Use your platform to exalt Jesus. There’s a whole lot of fluff out there right now. An awful lot of hype. Could you please use your platform to influence the whole worship music industry and movement to retain a Jesus-centrality? Use your platform, your articles, your teaching, your albums, your Twitter feed and your life to point to Jesus.
Don’t think that your best, most-influential days are behind you. They don’t have to be. A whole generation of worship leaders that grew up listening to your stuff is still looking to you for cues. What cues will you give us?