7 Warnings for the Worship Movement
Updated: Feb 9
Without being boastful, I like to think that I have a unique perspective on the modern worship movement. Having grown up in the church and been on a worship team since the age of 5, I have now ministered in the church world for 37 years. In recent years, I find myself in the amazing position of regularly ministering alongside of some of the founding fathers and mothers of the modern worship movement, including Paul Wilbur, Robert Stearns, Julie Meyer, Steve Swanson, Leonard Jones, Leon Timbo, Joann McFatter, and more. Concurrently, I am the worship director of Resting Place House of Prayer, a thriving, young adult regional collective movement of millennials just outside of NYC. This allows me to not only pastor dozens of young musicians, singers, and worship leaders, but also to interact with many of the well-known worship artists in the world under the age of 35.
Having one foot established with the fathers and mothers, and the other foot established with the sons and daughters, allows me to see a very broad, diverse, and multi-generational view of the current worship movement: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here are 7 warnings that I believe we need to be aware of as we look to the coming decade:
1. Sons and Daughters: Don't cut off the Fathers and Mothers
The enemy likes nothing more than to divide the generations, creating orphans. That's right. The enemy wants YOU as an orphan: alone, separated, isolated, and cut off, so that he can take you (and your generation's sound) out of the picture more easily. Very few of us have a hatred for the worship fathers and mothers that have gone before us. We will always honor them with kind words and platitudes. Yet we turn around in the next breath and say (or think) things like "that music is old", "that style is old-school", "that's an old wineskin", "I can't connect to that worship", etc. Don't let the enemy use the musical style of the '90s to make you an orphan. Research some of the pioneers of modern worship from the 70's, 80's and 90's. Study them. Worship to their music. Learn from them. Listen to their sound and anointing. Visit the wells that they dug, 20 or 30 years before you were even born, and drink from them. Contact them and ask them to speak into your life. It's not too late for us to embrace the fathers and mothers and to receive a true double portion anointing of what they started.
2. Fathers and Mothers: Don't cut off the Sons and Daughters
As I said before, the enemy likes nothing more than to divide the generations, creating orphans. One of the ways that I see the enemy trying to accomplish this is by stirring up jealousy in the hearts of musical elders, in the same way that Saul became jealous of David. We see young, gifted and anointed musicians and singers and we start to find faults. They're "too loud", "too immature", "too droney", "the chords are too simple". We subtly try to keep them under our thumb because of the threat of being replaced. For many, this threat is tied in with financial sustainability as well. We keep ourselves in the lime light and on stage as much as possible, because we have control over the scheduling and have seniority. What we don't realize is that the root of this mode of operation is an orphan spirit in us as well. Fathers and mothers, we MUST pour into, love, disciple, and raise up the next generation, as if they will go twice as far as we did... because they are supposed to, and that is what a double portion anointing actually means. Let's not pray double portion prayers for the young generation if we are not willing to see them far surpass us.
3. Poetry is not always Good Theology
We have a massive Biblical-illiteracy problem in the western church. This is largely attributed to having solid, Biblical teaching replaced with feel-good Sunday morning messages (another topic). The result of this trend has been a brand of feel-good Christianity that makes us emotionally satisfied but lacking a Biblical plumb-line. The same can be said of much modern worship music. There are two ways that I have found to guard against falling into the trap of leading theologically-lacking worship: Firstly, sing TO God ABOUT God. Keep the worship vertical: about HIM. Choose songs (and write songs) that talk about His attributes and that tell Him about His attributes. Secondly, SING SCRIPTURE. It's that simple. SING SCRIPTURE. I don't care if it's a 20 minute Sunday morning worship set or a 3 hour regional revival meeting - you can always sing scripture. Find a Psalm that fits the theme of your previous song, hold a 1 chord, and begin to sing. Perhaps nobody has done more to bring this revelation to light that Julie Meyer (refer to warning #1 about us needing worship fathers and mothers).
4. Power is not the same as Authority
How many times have we left a worship service or set and commented about how "powerful" the time was or the team was in leading it? Many times what we really meant was that it was exciting, energizing, and exhibited people that had incredible musical giftings and charisma. The band was tight, the sound was good, the crowd was engaged and unified, and the leader could have Platinum record sales, etc, etc, etc. But here is my question: Was there authority in the sound? Folks, principalities, powers, and demons love a good concert just like the next guy, but what they don't like is when a sound of authoritative worship gains supremacy in the airwaves rendering them helpless. We don't have time to have powerful worship meetings. It's time to have authoritative (Apostolic) worship meetings. The thing about authoritative worship is that you can't rehearse, earn, or plan your way into it - you have to die your way into it. The most authoritative worship leaders that I know have a proven track record of walking with God for years in this way: day by day, step by step, choice by choice, yes by yes. You get authority by spending time with the King and by surrendering your will to His.
5. Don't prioritize Musicianship over Discipleship
Jesus' great commandment to us in Matthew 28 was to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit". How often we have we minimized this scripture to mean that we should all be evangelizing and sharing our faith with the lost. But making disciples is so much more than helping someone come to a decision for Christ. It means being committed for the long haul to seeing the character of Christ revealed in every part of their life. It means walking with them and encouraging them to journey towards Christian maturity. It means teaching them, believing in them, and calling the inner purpose out of them that they might not even see themselves. How many times do we as leaders decide that the call to be a discipler it just too time consuming or emotionally draining? How many times do we decide that it's enough to use people for their musical gifts without regard to their spiritual health and growth? We have all done it. I have done it. But we must remember that people were always Jesus' priority, not ministry. Even if it means having a smaller team for the time being, we MUST prioritize true, Bibical discipleship in our worship teams. Otherwise, let's just call it what it is: a music school with weekly jam sessions.
6. Performance Hinders Presence
Lights, camera, action! The team has carefully selected and rehearsed 4 songs that will last a total of 19 minutes, and will execute said songs in the exact same format that was shown on Youtube (verse, chorus, verse2, double chorus, bridge, build, build, build, loud double chorus, big ending!!). After all, the YouTube version was so powerful (see warning #4 above) that if it is copied and executed in the same exact way, certainly we can expect the same results! We can chuckle at this scenario, but the reality is that 95% of churches in America follow this formula week to week, empowering a western culture of worship that is based on performance instead of presence. We have exalted the pursuit of excellent musicianship and execution above the very thing that is supposed to be our focus: encountering the Living God. If you do not have the ability to comfortably venture off of your song list, you need to prioritize getting comfortable immediately. Learn how to listen in the midst of leading a service. Learn how to discern the direction that GOD wants to take. I would rather have a musically imperfect worship service that runs straight into the heart of God, than to have a perfectly executed service that simply regurgitates the latest greatest pre-planned songs. This is the core of undignified, naked, Davidic worship and we need more of it!
7. Don’t Despise the Prophetic
Worship is a two-way conversation. Can you imagine if I came to my wife every time with a pre-planned conversation, written out and timed to the minute, and then never let her talk? That is not how conversation works, but we approach most of our worship services in exactly that way: we do all of the talking and expect God to do all the listening. What if God wanted to speak corporately in the midst of worship? He often does and it can be facilitated if we understand how to steward it properly. Prophetic worship is perhaps one of least taught, and therefore least understood, aspects of worship. All prophetic worship is spontaneous, but not all spontaneous worship is prophetic. Prophecy or the prophetic is simply defined as the word of the Lord being delivered by man. We must learn to allow prophecy through song and instruments to have a place in our worship settings. I cannot tell you how many services I have been in where a prophetic song comes out and the entire meeting is thrust into an entirely different realm of the spirit. So often we hold the prophetic windows closed with all of our human strength because we think it’s for the crazy charismatic conferences, we don’t think there is time for it, or we are just plain straight up afraid of the unknown. Whatever the reasons, it is imperative that we allow ourselves, our worship teams, and our churches to walk through prophetic doors so we are not trapped in one-dimensional worship.