I find leading worship to be an almost disturbingly intimate activity – a sharing of my innermost emotions in front of others. When I first began to be the actual worship leader, center stage, responsible for the worship set, I felt naked and exposed as I poured out my heart. It was difficult for me to be truly vulnerable and expressive in front of others. It was an uncomfortable sensation for me. It has been a recurring struggle for me to worship with honesty while others are watching.
As difficult as I found this to be, it really paled in comparison to leading worship during times of personal brokenness. During the dark seasons of life, the feelings of exposure felt heightened for me. I’m sure you have had moments like this – times in your life when you’d rather have been anywhere in the world but on that stage responsible for leading anyone else to worship God. Moments you cannot bear the thought of anyone seeing what is happening in your own soul. This is particularly true when you may have been struggling to worship Him yourself.
Most of us – given enough time in ministry leadership – will deal with family issues, difficulties and conflict in ministry, the death of a loved one, depression, burnout or troubled relationships. Any of these (and more) can make leading others in worship an extreme challenge. It may not be that we don’t feel like worshiping God ourselves, although at times that may be true as well. It might be that we simply don’t feel able to lead anyone else at that moment. The guilt this causes can just deepen the feelings of hopelessness we might feel.
I’ve had several notable times in my life when I’d rather have sat on the back row, anonymous in my worship, able to simply sit in God’s presence without the pressure of leadership. There have been times I wanted to run away from leadership. Moments when stepping on the stage was painful. Worshiping in front of others seemed impossible. Trying to lead was excruciating. I felt like a hypocrite and a failure and felt empty and shattered – in short, I had nothing left to give.
I’ve led worship on the day my grandparents died, the morning after a friend’s suicide, and after 9/11. I’ve led worship at funerals for friends and loved ones. But perhaps the hardest times to lead worship were not in those intense moments, but in the seasons that followed when grief and brokenness and despair seemed like constant companions. Following complaints and criticism, it is hard to stand up before people and lead with both confidence and vulnerability. During depression, it’s hard to lead at all. And when family problems linger, a leader can feel like a hypocrite leading anyone else! If you’ve struggled with any of these, know that you are not alone. I have been there.
As I’ve walked – and led – through moments of deep brokenness, I can share with you some things God lovingly and graciously taught me:
1) Remember you are not alone. All ministers and leaders go through difficult times. Find a friend in ministry outside of your own church to share with if at all possible. You need support, encouragement, and the prayers of a peer in ministry.
2) Make sure to care for your own soul. Working harder will not help you. Neither will ignoring your emotions. You need to spend time at Jesus’ feet for the sake of your own soul and relationship with Christ. You will be unable to lead anyone else if you are are not leading yourself first of all. Spend time in personal worship, finding times for both personal and corporate worship where you are not responsible for leading. Take time for a personal retreat so that you can be alone with God. If your depression or difficulties are severe, perhaps a Christian counselor would be a wise step for you. (I’ve done this and been thankful for it!) If you need a short break, use your vacation days to get away and be rejuvenated. Have another team member or worship leader lead for you. Go take a nap! Only you can make any of these happen! You are responsible to take care of yourself. The best gift you can give your church is a healthy you.
3) Keep short accounts and take the high road. Many times in ministry our pain comes from church itself. Sad to say, but it is undoubtedly true. Forgiveness is crucial to our spiritual and relational health. I’ve learned the hard way that I cannot please everyone, but I can strive to be loving and kind in my responses. Forgiveness is a must for anyone, but failing to deal with issues can result in bitterness and cynicism in leader’s hearts.
4) Let your brokenness and desperation drive you to God. Seek God with all your heart. The gift of brokenness is a desperation for God that can move us to allow a deeper movement of the Spirit in our own walk with Christ. As for me, I thank God for being broken because it revolutionized my life with Him.
5) Remain authentic. When appropriate you might have the opportunity to share with your team, your leadership, and even your church how your struggles are impacting your worship and own spiritual journey. Sharing a Psalm you’ve been camped out in, admitting that at times it’s difficult to worship, and showing that you are human can actually speak louder to those you lead than pretending you have it all together. They can relate to brokenness more easily than to perfection.
6) Remember that faithfulness speaks loudly. When you choose to worship through the pain, not only does this sacrifice of praise change something elemental in your own heart, it models something significant for your church – that worship does not depend on how we feel, but on Who we worship. What a testimony when a leader chooses to remain faithful through difficult times! This shines the light of Christ brightly.
The truth is that we will all have days and seasons where worship leadership is just plain hard. Struggling well through these moments of our life may be the most vivid teaching we ever do. As we illustrate with our own lives what it means to praise God through the storms, the uncertainties, the fears, the pain and even the losses of life we prove with our lives what we believe about the love and character of the God we serve.
When has leading worship been difficult for you?
Do you have any helpful suggestions to share with your fellow leaders?