Where’s My Sacrifice? Thoughts on Worship Leading in the Modern Church

A story from the bible that has always haunted me occurs at the end of the 2nd Book of Samuel. King David wants to build an altar to God on some land that belongs to a guy named Araunah. Either because David is King, or because Araunah is generous, or some other reason, Araunah offers to give the land to David, but he refuses, saying, “I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

As I survey my own worship ministry, I am convicted and challenged by David’s words. What I often hear (and feel myself) is musicians desperately wanting to express themselves in worship: “How can I inject a little of my personality into the music we are playing on Sunday morning?” “Where do I come in to the music we are playing?”

It’s the artistic drive, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I believe that God honors the arts and enables people to produce beautiful and moving creations for His glory and to tell His story. Two early instances come to mind, when He chooses Bezalel and Oholiab to design and craft the many items around the tabernacle in the desert (Exodus 31), and also the early assignment of musicians to Solomon’s temple (1 Chronicles 23). I’ve been blessed to participate in a few ministries that carry on this tradition of craftsmanship and musicianship, and those experiences are dear to my heart. I think they’ve blessed God’s heart as well, and they have helped many of His children to come home to their heavenly Father.

Moreover, in many of our churches today, there is a strong desire to become “more creative”, to present the Gospel in new and exciting ways, to keep pace with this culture that is increasingly becoming oriented toward the visual and symbolic. There are vital ministries that are determined to redeem the arts for God, and to show the wider culture that Christians can be creative; that worship of God is alive, dynamic, and compelling. I also think this is a good thing.

However, as an artist and a worship leader, and in light of the previous two facts, David’s statement troubles me. When you combine the drive to be artistically relevant with the sometimes highly individualistic and personal nature of Western Caucasian Christianity, I think it’s entirely possible to miss the aspect of “sacrifice” in our worship (from a worship team/worship leader perspective). While we acknowledge that part of our sacrifice as worship leaders is our time and preparation on our instrument, I’m afraid that the benefit of playing music at times far outweighs the cost of rehearsal time. We get more out of worship than what we put in, and I’m not talking spiritually. I’m taking for granted—assuming—that the spiritual blessings God gives us in worship are richer than anything else we could find. I’m talking musically, artistically. In its mission to make the arts more compelling and exciting, we are in danger of cultivating attitudes of personal artistic fulfillment and reward. Lately I’ve been feeling like one of our ministerial responsibilities as worship leaders is to mitigate these attitudes, to head them off as we see them emerge on our teams, as we hear people say, “I get frustrated when I don’t get to put enough of me into our music.” Or “When can we play a song that we get to rock out on?”

Even if we are not hearing overt frustrations, I think the question for us is, “How am I leading my team towards attitudes of willing sacrifice? How can we say, as David said, ‘I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.’”

For those of us who are in ministries that are blessed with some exciting musical/artistic happenings, I think we need constantly find ways to lead our teams to sacrifice. Cultivate a willingness to lay down – not just our “selves”, but our “artists” (which is considerably more difficult). Needless to say, it begins at the “top”, with me.