by Darcy L. Watkins
Anyone who is in a position of spiritual authority or influence over another should take their role seriously and act responsibly. This applies to worship leaders as well as to pastors. This especially applies to the area regarding emotional expression during praise and worship. We want to have a good line drawn between our desire to see all, in unity, worshiping the Lord with one voice, versus the negative counterpart which is
to hype up everyone in conformance of expression according to a fad.
Leading responsibly is like sport fishing with barbless hooks. The fish can bite the hook, say “ouch” and then back off and get free of the hook. Barbed hooks, on the other hand, have the barb which entangles the fish with the hook so it can’t get free, at least not without tearing up a big chunk of its cheek in the process. How we present ourselves and what we exhort people to do while we lead worship (or preach for that matter) must be done using “barbless hooks”!
In as much as possible we should encourage and exhort people towards what God is doing in the spiritual realm, and not coerce people to merely conform to an appearance. I don’t think that to hype things up a bit on occasion (e.g. cheerleading as part of a praise expression) is a bad thing to do. Ultimately what it boils down to is whether or not a person choosing not to participate will feel hurt, left out, inferior or backslidden.
Now there may be some insecure individuals around who will always feel that way no matter how you present something. I am not talking about them. They are oppressed either self-inflicted or by some other influence, not by you. But if you insinuate that non-participation with something associates a person with something inferior, then you are responsible for the offence. You have used a “barbed hook”! (… and I make no apology about using a “barbed hook” to say that you have used a “barbed hook” since you ought to know better <grin>).
Occasional cheerleading, harmless hype and fun, applied in good taste and appropriate to the order of the service is ok, but please do it responsibly. This same argument can be applied to a lot of other areas too such as preaching. I think we should all be excited in God’s presence. I’d love for everyone to experience the same extent of release in this regard.
Please understand that this will get the adrenaline going and we can run the risk of getting a bit undignified in God’s presence as we praise Him. Guess what!? Not everyone will like this, nor will all want to go to the same extent of being undignified before God.
We must be careful not to coerce or force people to move into a new direction or new experience faster than they are ready to assimilate it into their own experience and relationship with God. Ultimately each person is individually responsible for his/her relationship with God. Spiritual leaders are gifts to the church to help equip the saints. They are not there to prescribe conformity. The Kingdom of God is not a franchised operation churning out identical looking and tasting hamburgers everywhere.
Part of praise and worship leading is to challenge people to move forward into areas they have not moved in before (but of course not to force them to move). In some cases receptiveness to taking on a new expressive form opens us up to be more receptive to obey God in various areas of our lives. So our act of challenging people to go beyond their comfort zone is a tool we use to help equip and build up the saints. It is something we apply responsibly as part of serving God. It is not something we lord over others as a God given right.
When the apostle Paul, a prisoner, was asked by a prominent leader to give account for his imprisonment, he shared his faith. The leader’s response was, “You almost pursuade me to become a Christian!”, to which Paul’s reply was, “Except for these chains, I would have you to be just as I am”. Paul also exhorted believers to be followers of him so much as he is a follower of Christ. So yes, there is a sense that we grab a hold of something from God, and then we want to share this with others for their benefit.
I think it is ok to “push the envelope” (to borrow a flying term since we aspire to soar like eagles). I think it is even ok for people’s comfort zones to be challenged. We permit this for the preaching so why not also the praise and worship? However, it must be applied responsibly with the purpose being to build and uplift, not to conform to a fad.
Remember to lead praise and worship using “barbless hooks”! Let’s keep our inner hearts gentle and sensitive towards others even when the outward expression seems radical and passionate.