I dig John the Baptist. I actually think I might be scared of him were we to meet in person. I have this image of him as kind of a UFC-looking, bulky, hairy dude. I imagine myself being nervous and saying something awkward and sarcastic (my default) and his head would just whip around to glare into my soul through my eyes with his fireball vision and my bowels would just release on cue. Clearly what I’m saying is my imagination could do with some qualified care ministry. I also like him because he, as my dad would say, called a spade a shovel. He told it like it was. He wasn’t intimidated by anybody and said cool stuff like, “You brood of vipers!” (Luke 3). I confess, sometimes I even imagine him cussing at people. But that’s probably not right and I really do likely need to spend some time under the wing of a trusted professional.
On a more serious note, I also love J the B because I think he’s a great role model for worship leaders. “But Jeff, he didn’t play guitar or wear Toms!”, you say. True, but you could argue his physical description might translate to modern-day hipsterism. Bushy beard, sandals likely akin to Birkenstocks, and the animal skin likely had a deep V. He ate organic, I think…locusts and all-natural honey? Ok, I’m digressing again. I can’t help myself. Please stay with me, if you haven’t moved on already. How’s about we look at something actually worth reading for a sec. Check out this bit from John chapter 1:
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
The big lesson from John for us worship leader-types can be summed up in 3 simple words:
I. Am. Not.
Jesus said “I Am”, John said “I am not”.
We struggle with and talk a lot about attention in modern worship. We say things like, “We need to become invisible” and so on. I get that, I’ve said it myself. The truth is our churches really aren’t set up for us to be invisible, strictly speaking. The stage, lights, and sound system kind of work against us there, no? I think there are some pitfalls to that, certainly, but I also don’t think it’s all bad. What I see in John the Baptist is not a guy who was ashamed of attention. He was ok with people noticing him, seeking him out and wanting to hear from him. If he wanted to blend in and not be noticed, he could’ve made a few different wardrobe choices. If he wanted to be a ghost, he may not have chosen to call people snakes. Just sayin’. Heck, he was known as, “The voice of one calling in the desert” for crying out loud (see what I did there?). Seems like he made his peace with attracting the occasional glance. His brilliance came in his understanding of the stewardship of that attention. What does he do? He points to Jesus every single time.
Every time he was questioned about himself, his answer pointed to Jesus.
We tend to have an internal struggle (at least I do) about the balance of not wanting to appear as though we’re metaphorically shouting, “Hey, look over here!” when we lead worship. When I read about John the Baptist I get the sense that, “Hey, look over here”, is kind of ok. It’s what comes out of our proverbial mouths next that’s really important. What did John say when all the eyes were trained on him? “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
I guess what I’m suggesting is that we might need to make our peace with a bit of attention. I think we might even need to embrace it. But please hear me right. The danger is that we start to like the attention, believe that it’s about us, and crave it – or worse, hoard it. The responsibility lies in what we do with that attention – and who we point to. The stewardship is in pointing the captive (or rather “captivated”) audience to the real focus each and every time: The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The challenge is not to make sure no one ever sees you, notices you, or knows who you are. The challenge is to make our leadership, our presence, our ministries, and truly our lives scream, “I am not! Look, the Lamb of God!”.
I was part of a band who put out an album some years ago entitled, “The Origin of Moonlight”. I came up with that title after hearing David Crowder talk on TV one time about the whole rock star tension. He said something to the effect of not wanting to be stars because stars generate their own light. He said he’d rather try to be a moon, because moons have no light on their own, they simply reflect the light of the sun. You can see where he was going with that. It reminds me of something I heard Matt Redman say (honestly, I’m really not trying to name-drop here, just giving credit where credit is due). He said the most important question he asks himself when he’s making decisions in his leading is: “Whose kingdom am I building – my own or Christ’s?”
Here’s the beauty of all this. Check out another portion of John 1, a little further along in the story:
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
What happens when we point to Jesus at all times? People come to Jesus. Amazing! Just look at the domino effect that started by John faithfully pointing to Jesus over and over and over. Look at the guys who were led to Jesus by their experience with “The Voice”. Imagine the ripple effect those few guys and their encounters with Jesus has had down through history – even to your church and my church today! When we choose to point to Jesus in our leading, people will come to Jesus. How novel.
So, my challenge to us all is to be like John. Let’s examine every note of every song, every word of every interaction, every choice and decision we make and ask ourselves: Am I shouting, “Look at me!”, or, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”?
I Am Not.