A guy named Tim Lambesis recently hired a hitman to kill his estranged wife. He paid the man a thousand dollars and promised another $19k once he’d confirmed his wife was dead. He gave the hit man specific times that his children would be alone with him, to be sure they were safe and that he had an alibi. When it turned out that the hitman was actually an undercover detective, Lambesis was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison.
This probably wouldn’t have made national news coverage, except that Lambesis was the lead singer for a popular “Christian” band.
Shortly before his trial, the singer gave an interview and explained how he and his bandmates had become atheists throughout their years of touring. In order to maintain record and concert ticket sales, the band decided to continue marketing themselves as “Christian.” In the interview, he shared openly about his struggle to be honest and the “cowardly” way he handled it. He talked about the Christian music scene and said “9 out of 10 ‘Christian’ bands we toured with weren’t actually Christians.” Lambesis’ cautionary tale reminded us of a gross reality within the Church:
You can totally fake it.
Actually, you can totally fake it and loads of people won’t even know that you’re faking it. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between who you really are and who you pretend to be on Sunday morning. And if Christian rock stars can get away with faking it, couldn’t worship leaders as well?
Granted, most of us have never tried to hire a hitman. But that doesn’t mean we don’t fake it sometimes. In a culture that places appearance before substance, it’s really tempting to get caught up in the constant rat-race of image management and pretending to be something we’re not. Like me, maybe you’ve done this in a thousand subtle ways. Maybe you’ve manicured your social media accounts to death. Or worried way too much about your clothes and hair on Sunday mornings. Or pretended to be really into worshiping God and belted it out like a Disney princess, when really you were dry and lifeless on the inside.
If we’re honest, most of us are pretty good at faking it when we want to.
And people are onto it. With so many Christian-posers out there today, people are understandably skeptical. We live in a cynical and jaded culture. We’re obsessed with fame and popularity and advancement but suspicious about everyone else’s ulterior motives. This church-going generation, who grew up with incessant commercials and product placement and political sex scandals and corporate corruption, hates anything remotely phony. And with Christian singers hiring hitmen and priests molesting children and pastors having affairs, who could blame anyone?
That’s why I think the most important dynamic between you and your congregation is trust.
I’m not talking about “trust” in the sense that your church can trust you not to steal the grand piano or play a Tupac/GWAR mash-up during worship time. That’s probably a given. What I mean is, your congregation needs to feel like it’s safe to follow you. They need to know you have their best interests at heart and that you’re not faking it. They need to know that you care more about their relationship with Jesus than you do about your “image.” We all know people fake it sometimes, and your congregation wants to believe that what they see on Sunday mornings isn’t just you putting up a nice worship pastor front.
I think the key is adopting a posture of honesty and humility. If your schtick is that you have your act together all the time, it’s going to get real tiring real quick. A friend of mine compares this to a game of cards. He says a lot of times in the church, it’s like we only lay down our high cards. We look around the table and and we’re all holding the rest of our cards to our chest. And we know everyone’s holding their 2’s and 3’s, but we just pretend like they don’t exist.
We have to be willing to lay down our low cards and lean into Jesus. If we can lead with this sort of honesty and humility, we’ll be inspiration for others to do the same. Our churches desperately need a culture of brokenness, and we can be on the front lines of that. We have to trust the power of the Gospel, which gives us permission to confess our fakeness and embrace the ultimate realness of Jesus.
It’s okay to be broken. It’s okay to be the guy who loves Jesus but still has doubts and fears and insecurities. It’s okay to confess that you struggle with vanity and image-management. It’s okay to admit that you’re not always the strong, confident, smiley leader people think you are. Let your life be living proof of the Gospel. Then you don’t ever have to worry about being exposed as a fraud, because you’ve already admitted that you are.
If people know that you care about them and that you’re not faking it, it builds trust. When people begin to see the connections between the “grace” you sing about and the way you’re dependent on Jesus, the words of your worship songs will come to life in new ways.
As a worship leader, you have permission to be real, to be human, to take chances and to fail sometimes. But you do not have permission to fake it. You don’t have permission to be a poser. You don’t have permission to live like hell all week and then walk out on stage Sunday morning and pretend to praise God, just because you have musical gifts and a privileged position.
How long could you fake it and no one notice? How much do you depend on Jesus in your day-to-day tasks as a worship leader? How much of your work could you not accomplish if Jesus was absent? If you became an atheist but kept leading music time on Sunday mornings, would there be any major difference?
Nick Morrow is a worship artist, songwriter, and pastor at Common Ground Christian Church in Indianapolis, IN. You can find him at www.nickmorrowmusic.com.