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Hearing the Song Again

Today I bring to you a guest post by my friend Alise, the driving force behind the Not Alone project. She has an incredible voice, both written and musical, and has helped lead song services in churches for years. She wears grace learned by navigating the uncharted waters of a marriage that began in the same faith and now has become interfaith. As a fellow church musician, I asked Alise to contribute her thoughts to my recent series on worship.

Joannaphoto © 2008 Simon Bleasdale | more info (via: Wylio)For as long as I can remember, music has been a part of my church life. Growing up, I sang in and played the piano for my church choir.  In college, I studied music and played the piano at the school’s Newman Center. As an adult, I have played in churches of all kinds, from a fledgling start up with just a few families to a packed service that has 2500 people in attendance. Church music is woven into the fabric of my life.

But there was a season where that fabric had a hole. One season where lies eclipsed my passion. One season when the song was silenced.

We were active in the worship team of a growing congregation. We had encountered some push-back regarding musical choices at this church in the past, but things had been very positive for about a year. The team was really coming together and the level of musicianship was going up a notch. I was excited in the direction that the team was taking both musically and in passion. As that summer progressed, it was fun to see people working to improve their craft.

And then it happened. The worship leader was heading out of town and several of us who were “younger” (in our 20’s) were tasked with leading a worship service. We worked on the set, wanting to put forth our best musical and spiritual efforts. We chose songs that we felt worked together well and that showed the excitement that we felt for Jesus. We knew that it was a little bit edgy and mentioned this to our pastor, but were told that everything was fine.

Needless to say, it was not fine. The service went well from our perspective, but within a few days, we were told that we were needed for a meeting. The primary purpose of this meeting? To tell us that in our “youthful zeal” we had developed a “spirit of performance.”

Desiring excellence in our music was suspect. Wanting to play our very best was showy. Casting abandon aside and playing with our whole selves was simply a performance.

I left the meeting absolutely crushed.

I prayed for weeks after that, asking God to show me any places where my heart was wrong, where I was putting music above Him. But all I could hear were the words of my accusers. Their denunciations drowned out any ability that I may have had to hear Truth.

Lies do that. They crowd of the voice of Truth. They tell us that our dreams are selfish. They tell us that our questions are symptomatic of deeper problems. They tell us that we’re not talented enough, not attractive enough, not smart enough, that WE are not enough. Mixed with just enough reality to make them believable, we trust these lies and they can shut down the music of our lives.

Friend, hear me well. If you are trusting voices that leave you feeling guilty or condemned or abused, they are not Truth. The discord that you are feeling is not what you were created for. We are told that in Christ we will have an abundant life. There is no abundance in guilt. There is no overflow in condemnation.

Let us embrace wholeness. Let us embrace abundance. Let us embrace the song.


What do you think? How do we walk the line between excellence and performance? How have you responded to being misjudged and falsely accused?


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  1. I just loved this. …well, I don’t love that it happened to you. But, you’ve nailed that experience of being “knocked off your pins” by criticism that is off-base.

    Being misunderstood and judged accordingly is painful. It’s made worse when it comes from an authority figure.

    While I’m all for personal reflection, questioning oneself (motives, ideals, goals, actions) is a whole ‘nother thing. It throws you off-balance.

    “Lies do that.” I woud add one word: believing. Believing lies is when you really get into trouble. So, while it’s uncomfortable to be told/judged/whatever, it’s an opportunity to re-examine ourselves & the voices we choose to listen to.

  2. kit hogan says:

    Wow, so much to talk about in this one. Lies, yes, I believed lies for much too long. Still trying to shake some of them but by the Grace of God and a wonderful husband, I am finally seeing that I am worth something.
    But mainly, I want to say how this reminds me of the video you posted about the handicapped boy that was “escorted” from a worship service. People look at people and see what they think is the truth, worship being distracted or worship being a show. God sees the reality of the heart and soul.
    Love you and your writing. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Janna Venturini says:

    I’ve been struggling lately with my faith and how I’m teaching my daughter to walk with God. I’ve been told I’m doing it wrong. I have prayed and thought long and hard on this judgement of my parenting, and I simply can’t agree with it. Though it still bothers me, and leaves me questioning myself often. It’s been on my mind all morning long, and then I come to read your post. Your post has left my heart feeling secure and I thank you deeply for that.

  4. Oh, ouch, Alisa. I am so sorry this happened to you and I wish I could say it’s a rare thing – sadly, no. An early commenter nailed it, though – the really meaty heart-of-the-matter question is: do we believe the lies we’re told? It’s almost supernaturally easy for us to immediately be cut to the quick by criticism – and to believe that somehow, those critical, judgmental words must be justifiable and true. NOT always so. In fact, I think I can safely say: critical remarks are generally UNtrue.

    For in reality, only those who know and love us well can offer honest critique, especially about something so profoundly personal as how we either lead in or practice worship. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could think swiftly enough in the moment to respond to words like you were subjected to with something like: “May I gently interrupt you here – I need to say, from the bottom of my heart, that all of us were primarily primarily concerned about worshipping God well on Sunday. We do not feel we’ve crossed any sort of invisible line between worship and performance – in fact, we feel quite the opposite. We truly believe that using the gifts we’ve been given and using them well is how we worship our gift-giving God. Do you not think that God calls us to do this very thing? Such a beautiful God we serve – and offering back to him whatever beauty we can muster is the least we can do, right?”

    But of course, in the moment – we’re too stricken and too embarrassed and to non-plussed and too insecure to ever speak back such truth. Lord, preserve us in the midst of the enemy’s camp – because sometimes that’s who we are to each other. How I wish it weren’t so.

    Thank you for sharing this sad-but-true story and reminding us all that words are deeply dangerous things. They can be used to wound or they can be used to heal. I am so sorry that these words wounded your sweet spirit and your faithful heart.

  5. Well said Alise. Condemnation and guilt are terrible tools that are used to many negative ends inside and outside of the church.

    I fought in the worship wars and just wanted to get away from it all. I feel like churches really drain their musicians and so many messy things happen on worship teams. At this point I prefer to just let performances stand on their own and not get wrapped up in complicating things too much when we gather together for a worship service. I don’t say that by way of condemning anyone. I’m just saying that’s where my experiences with worship leading have left me. Someone will judge or complain or ask you to keep doing it over and over again without thinking about your family.

    I come from a different perspective now because I’m more of a simple church/home church guy these days. I’m a big fan of keeping the church service itself simple since so many tastes and styles are represented. When I meet with a small group and we sing together, it’s much easier for me to worship God.

    Not to be “that guy” who plugs his blog in the comments, but my blog post today fleshes out my perspective a bit more, though I tackle it more from the standpoint of theology and our church meetings.

  6. As a worship leader I feel it is my responsibility to constantly be working on improving my skills as a musician. I know we walk a fine line of worship vs performing, but honestly God knows the intentions of our hearts and I lean heavily into that. We should seek excellence in everything we do – especially in areas of service to the Lord. It saddens my heart when our critics pick apart rather than celebrate others that step up to the plate of their calling. The view from the cheap seats can be distorted. Thanks for the encouragement!

  7. Kadijah says:

    I think you really hit the nail on the head with your words about lies crowding out truth. That really spoke to me. I think it’s easy for us to forget that “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1) Sometimes I think we as individual Christians and we as gatherings of Christians forget that and also forget to watch that we ourselves can become a source of condemnation for others. And I know for me, I have to take care that condemnation that comes my way does not trigger self-condemnation.

    Thank you for posting.