I’ll never forget the phone call. A local church called and asked if I would open for a “big-name” performer they were bringing in for a concert. It didn’t pay, but it was a great opportunity.
I immediately said yes.
But they had one other favor. Could I sit in on acoustic guitar with their worship band that night? The worship team was gonna’ lead a few songs before I opened and they had recently lost their acoustic guitar player. I had been leading worship for quite some time and figured it would be similar to the team I led at my home church. I was very, very wrong.
This band was amazing. Their electric guitar player was in his late-40s and could play hundreds of songs, note for note, from memory. Their drummer had come up in the bar scene and had an impeccable sense of timing. The whole team knew more songs and styles than I imagined and their sense of dynamics was intuitive and smart. I had a blast playing with them, but later that night on the way home, I started feeling awful.
The praise band back at my home church was a joke compared to these other guys. Me and my team had been fooling ourselves. Compared to this new band, we were amateurs! It was so depressing. All week long, I dreaded going to my rehearsal and sure enough, I was proven right the next time I led worship back home. We sucked.
But the truth is that this new band experience only reinforced something already in my heart and head. If you had asked me the following questions around that time, I could have rattled off answers instantly.
“Who’s got the best drums/bass section in town?”
“Whose worship team is known as the one that ‘flows’ the best?”
“Best church sound system?”
I had answers to all of those questions, but not because it's important to know your fellow church leaders. No, I knew them because I wanted to be them. My motives were pure - I wanted to be great at this, so I studied the greats, obsessed about them, and even idolized them. But that didn't work. Because obsession leads to one place eventually - unmet expectations.
I made the mistake of thinking that to be great, I had to imitate the greats. But that'll never work. My band was a unique collection of individuals with gifting and passion who worked very hard to make worship excellent. But they didn't sound like the other people, and that made me frustrated. Because my expectation wasn't being met. And when expectations go unmet, all that idolizing turns into jealousy.
I don't think any worship leader starts out jealous. But a lot of us get there. Let's get our eyes off what other people are doing and focus on we're called to do. Let's forget about who's better or how much we can mimic some other guy and do the hard work of leading our people with our people. God's Word is pretty clear - if something's tempting you, cut it out. Maybe it's time we stop watching everybody else and just be faithful where we are.