A Response to Mark Gungor

Last week a friend of mine shared Mark Gungor’s post titled Attention All Worship Leaders. Musicians and Singers.  In it, Gungor identifies four “big problems when it comes to music” in the church today.  While I agree with some of what he says in the post, I believe he’s completely off base in a major way when he talks in big terms about the role of music leaders in the church.  Some of what he says is, well, just down-right disheartening and, to be quite honest, I’m glad I don’t attend his church – and if I did, I think after reading this post I would have to seriously reconsider whether I did or not.

My major disagreement with him starts fifth paragraph of his second problem.  He writes,

In my church, musicians are on the stage for one reason: They can sing or they can play—period.  They are not pastors, apostles, prophets, evangelists or teachers—they are musicians. They hold no special status like that of an elder or deacon. Quite frankly, their spiritual status is of little matter and in some cases, not required at all.  We don’t put the musicians on our platform through a spiritual filter anymore than we would ask that of the construction workers who built the building.    We do not hire a construction worker based on the condition of his heart, but on the status of his skill.  So it is with our musicians. (emphasis mine)

I can not disagree with him more.  The spiritual status of the musicians on his stage are of primary importance.  Gugnor’s position here reflects a key misunderstanding of the role of music in worship.  Let’s assume for a second that everything is about the music.  If that’s the case, then Gungor’s position is perfectly defensible and even understandable.  If what you are looking for is people to lead and perform music, then, yes, find the best musicians you can find regardless of their character.

But, if you are looking for worship leaders to lead people then character is the utmost importance!  Here’s the point: worship leaders are not called to lead musicthey are called to lead people.  Now that doesn’t mean they have to have “special status like that of an elder or deacon,” nor do they have to be “priests of worship” or have a special “anointing” or “power”.  What they do need to understand, though, is how to relate to people.

If you think I’m misunderstanding him, read these excerpts from his post:

It is always ideal and preferable to have a committed believer lead the music; one who understands who God is and what it is we are trying to do.  But at the end of the day they are up there for one overwhelming reason: They have musical skill….Again, our singers and musicians are up there because they can sing or play—period, not because they have some unique Old Testament version of an “anointing”. (emphasis mine)

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not suggesting that you can put someone on stage with no musical skill who has a deep walk with the Lord, because both are needed.  What I am saying, though, is that musical skill does not trump one’s walk with the Lord or their leadership ability (though one’s walk with the Lord should certainly trump musical skill, contrary to what Gungor says).

While he’s got plenty of other statements in his blog post that I disagree with, my point here is not to go line-by-line in rebuttal of his position.  I will ask this final question, though, and I’d honestly love to hear (or read) the answer…  Gungor writes,

[C]onsider this: Many (if not most) of the musicians you hear on Christian recordings are not believers in Jesus at all.  Some of them, frankly, are quite accomplished heathens and pagans (I know—I’ve met them).  You think when you hear that big string section on your favorite worship CD that they are all committed followers of Christ?  Hardly.

I’d like to know who he’s talking about here – which artists that I listen to are accomplished “heathens and pagans?”  I’d honestly like to know.  This is not something you can say without actually backing it up with some truth.  And I’m curious, has Gungor called them out on their “heathen and pagan” practices?  Does he pray for them?  Has he challenged them?  Has he brought other believers in to hold these people accountable since due to their hypocrisy they will actually suffer even more in Hell than if they just lived in open rebellion to God?

Again, Gungor’s position is, at it’s heart, a basic misunderstanding of the role of the worship leader in the church.  If leaders are called to lead music then, yes, he’s spot-on in his arguments.  But leaders are called to lead more than music.  They are called to lead people.  And that, Mr. Gungor, is a completely different role than the one you apparently desire at your church.

If you’re looking for proper perspective on the role of the worship leader, I would recommend avoiding Gungor’s post and instead reading the post entitled 4 Characteristics of Great Worship Leaders by Laura Singleton.


Authentic, Engaging, and Responsive Worship

Note: Based on a devotional I wrote for my church choir, which is posted on Grace Notes

Last week I introduced you to Soulprint by Mark Batterson.  I’m going to continue sharing some insights I’ve gleamed from his book today. Last week we specifically looked at what I called “Undignified Worship”, so let’s pickup where we left off…

I asked the following question: “Why are we so afraid to demonstrate our love, praise, and worship of God in physical actions?”  and I also asked what it means to look desperate for Christ (remember the song we sang this morning?)  This morning at my church we sange Breathe, which contains as it’s chorus, “And I, I’m desperate for you.” I found it ironic that as I stood up on the stage this morning and looked over the congregation there were a good number of people who actually did not sing that particular song (many who do normally sing), yet the song was one of the louder songs that was sung this morning by the congregation – even though fewer people sang!  Now there are many reasons people won’t sing, including not knowing the song, and I’m not judging their choice to sing or not sing as right or wrong or good or bad. What I want to focus on is the physical posture people took as they sang (or didn’t sing) this song.  There were people in the congregation with their hands up, others had their hands out in front of them with palms up, some were sitting, some had their eyes closed, and some just stared and looked forward.

While I can’t judge people’s hearts and attitudes in regards to the words they sang, I can ask the question, “Does your physical posture reflect the words you are saying (singing)?”  And for some the answer will be “No”, and for some (but not all) of those whose answer is “No” the reason is fear.

Remember the reference last week to 2 Sam 6:22 when David was caught dancing in the street in response to the return of the Ark of the Covenant?  Some people didn’t really appreciate how he demonstrated his excitement regarding what God had done for Israel – they even ridiculed him for it.  Batterson writes,

“When you get excited about God, don’t expect everybody to get excited about your excitement.  Why?  Your intensity confronts their passivity.  When you completely yield yourself to God, it convicts the unconsecrated by disrupting their spiritual status quo…After all, it’s much easier to criticize others than it is to change ourselves.”

Here’s the point…  I have noticed a marked – and I mean a marked – transformation in my church choir over the past several months.  We’ve spent a lot of time looking at what it means to worship individually and as a choir, moving towards becoming a worship leading choir instead of a performing choir (some of the devotionals I’ve written for the choir can be found by clicking here or here).  They are beginning to truly worship during the service, at least when I can see see them (only the Call to Worship and choir anthem, since the rest of the time they are behind me as I lead my congregation).  The looks on their faces as they sing communicates more about the message of Jesus than any words in any song I choose.  When they look up (instead of down), when they smile (instead of frown), they communicate a love and passion for Jesus that goes beyond the words you say.

As choirs model worship for their congregations people will follow, and the same is true for worship leaders.  Don’t be afraid to smile, get excited, or even raise a hand now and again.  Put down the music/hymnal and don’t worry about singing in parts – just look up and sing the words.  Let the congregation see a choir of worshiping musicians and not just a choir of performing musicians – for there is a huge difference.  This whole worship thing starts with us.

Don’t be afraid to allow your posture to reflect your heart – even if it might seem a little uncomfortable at first.  And don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel like people are following you.  Remember whom you worship and sing for – and it’s not the congregation.

Here’s what I believe: as the choir leads in authentic, engaging, physically responsive worship, others will follow.  And God will smile.