Recently I was on vacation in Florida. My wife and I, along with my sister and brother-in-law, had gone down to visit my parents who spend a month or so down there each year. It’s kind of a Canadian ritual. Pasty white Canucks making their pilgrimage out from under the snow to get sunburns and dumb-looking Mickey ears to wear in the airport on the way home.
While we were there, my best girl wanted to do some shopping. We were in one particular large, national-brand type store and I decided to tap out and wait the rest of the time outside in the sun while she did her thing. I gave her the nod and wink and was making my way out…or so I thought. Pretty sure I did 3 full loops of the store – the store I had just walked into 5 minutes earlier – before I found my way out. There were several doors, each more confusing than the next. I wandered around like a tool for what seemed like an hour before I finally recognized a Keurig coffee display that I’d seen on my way in. I spilled out the door into the blistering sun like I’d escaped from Alcatraz. Basically, I guess what I’m saying is I’m a bit of an idiot. But that’s not all I’m saying.
I’ve been thinking about the difference between a map and a compass when it comes to direction. They’re basically both tools (not the me kind of tool) to aid in navigation, but they each approach it from a different side of the coin. A map gives you the lay of the land, some detail of all the surrounding area, roads landmarks, and so on. What it doesn’t do is tell you where you are or where you’re headed. A compass doesn’t tell you where you are, what’s around you or any of those things – but it does tell you where you’re headed and which way is up.
I like rules. I would never phrase it that way (well, I guess I kinda just did) but the truth is I like them in a certain sense. I like to know that if I do this a certain way I will always get this result. I like to know that if I avoid A, B and D then I will achieve C. I think most of us prefer some black and white answers in at least some part of our lives. One of the things about leading worship is there aren’t that many. There are lots when it comes to God and Biblical truth, certainly. There are plenty of obvious, common sense type stuff on the practical side as well, sure (“Always wear pants when leading worship”).
In a lot of ways, though, there are some things about leading worship we just need to navigate through. Some of the best blog posts I’ve read are built around this list trend. “Top 5 Things to Do to Make You a Better Leader Today”; “7 Things to Say to Your Team”; “48 Foods that will Transform Your Guitar Playing Today”, you know they kind. I think what’s happening is those writers are tapping in to a bit of our desire for lists and rules – for maps essentially. The thing is, I think often times we don’t get a map. What we need is a compass.
When you look a little deeper, those posts I alluded to (the best ones) aren’t as simple as the form they take. They’re often just putting on that cloak in order to deliver their wisdom. The truth is there’s a lot about being a worship leader, both on and off the stage, that is tough to arrange in a task list or put into yes or no questions. Heck, there’s a lot about being in ministry, and even just in being a Christ follower that falls into that same description.
I remember taking a course on youth ministry some years ago, and we were discussing how to help parents with their teens’ music listening choices. One of the things that came up was the idea that parents are better served by not pouring their efforts into trying to keep up with every new and popular song and artist in order to formulate a “yes and no” list for their kids. Rather their best course would be to put that effort into instilling a set of values in their kids as to what’s ok to put in their ears and minds and why. The theory being that will carry them beyond the walls of their parents house and beyond the scope of what their parents can keep up with and mitigate on their behalf. (I’m not a parent, so I hope that didn’t come across presumptuous.) Basically what we were talking about there is teaching the kids to use a compass rather than giving them a map.
That’s what I think we need to do as worship leaders. We face choices and courses of actions on a weekly basis both in the practicalities of our job and in the inherent relationships that are part of what we do that don’t come with a map. I think the answer is a compass. I know the easy answer would be to say, “And the Holy Spirit is our compass. The end.” Not that that’s wrong, obviously, but I thought I would at least take a crack at explaining what this compass thing looks like for me.
It’s kind of tough to explain, but it’s more than just your gut. I don’t know about you, but my gut will lie to me. It takes some work to discern what is the Holy Spirit and what is the onions I ate last night. I probably don’t need to explain why it’s probably not best to simply feel our way through thing. Just because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right call. All that glitters isn’t gold, and all gold doesn’t always glitter.
It’s about tools not rules. This is an idea I lifted from Andy Stanley. I think the best thing for our development is to accumulate tools to help us navigate whatever situations come than it is to try and write a rule for every possible situation. That means they won’t always be 100% applicable to every situation and they require some wisdom and discernment to apply. Andy would call these “principles” rather than rules. Like he says, sometimes we encounter things that are not “a problem we solve, but rather a tension we manage”.
“Sounds like Jesus”. This is one I use a fair bit, at least in my own head. Sometimes when I encounter a problem, a decision, an opportunity, a course of action or whatever, I’ll ask myself, “Does that sound like Jesus?”. What I mean is, based on what I know of him, does this decision, word, thought, action, choice seem like one he’d do, make, say etc? Sometimes this will be just the reset I need to bring me out of a fog and back to the heart of an issue. Or maybe it’s the kick in the pants I need to snap me out of a stupid course of action. The implication here, as you may have guessed, is this idea is only as strong as the degree to which I know Him. I can say, “Oh, that’s so something Matt Redman would say,” but if I’ve never met the guy, spent any time with him, or even read or listened to anything he’s written, well, it’s not likely to be too accurate. The answer here is obvious. I just wish it was a little more obvious and came easier to me, sometimes. Spend the time with Him. Pray. Read. Worship. The more you know Him, the better equipped you’ll be to arrive at a situation and say, “That sounds like Jesus”.
Ask “Why?”. A lot. Ask why about new things. Ask why about things you’ve never done. Ask why about things you know for sure. Ask why about things you’ve always done. Not in a cynical way, but in a self-examinatory way (I just created a word). “Why do I want to choose this song for this set? Why do I feel like I need to avoid this person? Why do always start a service this way? Why do we use drums, bass and guitar every week? Why do we always do a slow song after the message? Why did I say that to her?” The answer you give yourself maybe what you already knew, and that’s fine. But at least you’re not on autopilot. And once in a while you might catch one that snuck through.
Hold on to True North. The thing a compass does that a map can’t is tell where you’re actually going. You may think you’re headed in one direction, but the compass won’t lie. It will always find true north. Sometimes we find ourselves in deep water. I guess I should say “a thick forest” for the purposes of this analogy. You know the times. You change your mind 3 times an hour. You don’t sleep at night. You can’t focus when people talk to you. You’re confused, torn up, scared, frustrated, unsure, on and on. These times can bring with them questions about everything we ever thought we knew about ourselves, others and even God. When these times come, some one once told me the best thing to do is to hold on to what you know to be true and pursue those things until you come out the other side. These are the times I find myself reverting to the simple truth I learned in Sunday School songs.
I think we’re better served for the long haul as leaders by spending time learning to employ our compass than we are by studying cartography (or accumulating a set of rules).
Rock on, Magellan.