The role of a worship leader can be complicated and conflicting — at least it was for Aaron Niequist, who previously led worship at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids and at Willow Creek Community Church.
“There’s a part of the role I absolutely love. My job as worship leader is to focus people on God,” Niequist told BioLogos in a recent podcast. “And so what I do is get up on a big stage with lights pointed at me and my face on a jumbotron and me holding the microphone. In that context, I’m saying ‘hey, don’t focus on me, me, me.’ It’s a very conflicting thing.”
In his years leading worship at Willow Creek, which is one of the largest churches in the country, he felt like he had to “work against what the room was declaring really loudly — which is ‘focus on those people up on the stage in the lights.’”
When he spoke with fellow worship leaders, many of them also wrestled with questions about their role.
They struggled with “the tension of ‘I know how to rock the house every Sunday, is that making the world better? Is that what it means to gather as the body of Christ every Sunday?’” Niequist explained.
Worship bands and contemporary music exploded in popularity in churches during what some have called the seeker-sensitive movement from the ’80s and through today. It was considered a way to attract people, especially the unchurched, and help them turn to faith in Christ.
“If you’re trying to gather a large group of people, the kind of rock star worship leader thing is really effective,” Niequist acknowledged.
He doesn’t consider the approach wrong per se, “but we probably have to name what it isn’t doing — which is often forming people into Christ-likeness for the sake of the world, creating disciples.”
During his many years as a worship leader, he realized he was ultimately being asked to answer “how do we get the room fired up in the first 30 minutes of the service?” Again, he didn’t consider that wrong per se, but he felt there were more important questions to ask.
“If the question is ‘how do we get the room fired up,’ the answer is never corporate confession or extended Scripture reading or praying for our enemies,” he noted. “This wide array of historic Christian practices don’t fit.”
Niequist grew up in the church. Faith and music were a big part of his life. He first began to lead worship during his high school years at his church, where his dad and uncle were in leadership. By the end of college, he felt being a worship leader was “who God made me to be.”
But he hit a rocky point and had what he called “a real faith crisis” after college when he was around 22.
“There was just the growing sense that the faith that I had been handed didn’t work anymore,” he recalled. “It was like the air conditioner was only blowing warm air. It didn’t work. Why is this the story and why should I care? It was really weird.
“The experience of my whole life was being a Christian and suddenly I was wondering if it had run its course.”
The problem was, he was a professional worship leader at that point.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Sheryl Lynn