leading worship with awesome hair :: God, humility… and lasers

January 20, 2010

Christian hair has taken on new meaning. What follows is an honest, amused ramble through a minefield of questions I have about the current state of worship leading and those who lead worship in our contemporary Christian churches in America.  For full disclosure:  I am one.

I actually grew up using the term “Christian hair” as a somewhat deragatory, yet playful descriptive term for the over-eager bouffant coiffure of the professionally religious.  Think Benny Hinn meets Roy Orbison meets an oscilating fan and a gallon of Aqua Net.  On steroids.  Bingo!  Christian hair.

Now the scene has changed.  And while the aforementioned variety of Christian hair can still be spotted occasionally in the seventy+ crowd at Denny’s and on TBN, there’s a new ‘do taking the hip church scene by storm.  It’s equal parts, “heck yeah!” and “did you mean to do that?”  I affectionately call it “The Pete Wilson.  For full disclosure:  I totally love Pete Wilson.  His blog is fantastic.  His ministry is biblical, powerful, and Spirit-led.  And his hair does things my thinning mane of glory dreams about as I sleep.  Further, he’s a Senior Pastor – not a worship leader – so he’s out of bounds for this discussion.  And yet…

Fellow Lead Worshippers, help me understand…  What’s with the hair? I’m not talking about simple personal style choices here.  You can effectively lead worship with almost any kind of hair… spanning the panoply of the style choice rainbow.  From the sleek simplicity of  Carlos Whittaker to the crazed fro-tee combo of David Crowder.  And yet…

I’m in a minefield here.  I can feel it.  I’m asking deeper questions about heart conditions and motivations which are not so deftly disguised as style questions.  Skipping stones off the surface to see what lies beneath.  Fellow Lead Worshippers, help me understand…  Without an accusing tone – without any self-righteous pride – and without a sense of smug superiority masquerading as humble opinion – some of what’s happening in our contemporary churches makes me go, “hmmm.”

Several years ago I was asked to be the Worship Coordinator for the national youth convention of a conservative church association.  As our Board discussed some of the feedback that had come back from the previous convention, we were literally asked to consider hiding the worship team behind a screen, so the focus could remain on the Lord during worship.  We politely declined the request – but the fact that it was suggested I think establishes a POINT A for the extreme conservative position when it comes to contemporary worship leading:  We would prefer no contemporary leader at all (“After all, there’s no ‘Worship Leader’ position in the New Testament…”), but if you must be up there, please lead quietly… and off to the side.

POINT Z on the style scale is usually found in the “Seeker Sensitive-ist” of contemporary churches.  And I don’t use that term with even a hint of negativity.  Rather, as a means of identification.  These are churches who have invested a healthy sum of resources into a projection system and theater lighting that rivals even the hippest of pop-culture bands touring today.  Here’s an excercise for you.  Look at the picture at the top of this post for 10 seconds and see if you can positively ID the scene as a Country Music concert or a high-tech contemporary worship setting.  Go!

It wasn’t until I spotted the bouncers in the front of the stage that I was sure this was an entertainment venue and not a contemporary worship setting.  Although, if Tomlin was leading, the bouncers MIGHT be necessary, so…  Well, point made.

On the style scale between the ultra-conservative POINT A and the hippest of techno-pop POINT Z churches, our church is probably at about the QRS level.  A mix of hymns and choruses and creeds and prayers, both loud and quiet, both tender and rocked out.  No suit coats.  No designer jeans.  No Christian hair… and no Christian hair.  We sometimes wear Levi’s.  We like to dim the lights when we use video clips.  But no lasers.  No fog machines.  No flashpots or strobes.  We are trying to be authentic in our worship, honest and complete in our presentation of Biblical truth, and welcoming to both the seasoned church attender and the non-church types who are simply curious about Jesus.  We think this neighborhood will connect best to about a QRS on the hipness scale.

And I guess there’s my question for those of you farther down the alphabet.  For you XYZ types.  Are we trying to inspire the Church to focus their attention on the Lord?  And if we are, how exactly does the hip hair and the designer jeans and the breathtaking lightshow NOT distract the worshippers?  It’s an honest question.

Before I became a worship leader by occupation, I attended an amazing church – a large church with several thousand attending each weekend.  Their ministry had a HUGE impact on me as a worship leader, not because it was flashy, but specifically because it was not.  It was authentic.  It was excellent musically.  And it was SIMPLE in it’s presentation.  Lights down before the service.  Lights fade up as the service begins.  Simple wash of the platform.  And then worship happened with deep reverence and genuine humility.  And just regular guy hair.

I don’t claim to have a corner on the market of what is the BEST way to lead worship.  I’m just a dude leading a group of Jesus-loving artists who lead a Jesus-loving congregation.  And I always watch what other leaders are up to.  I learn from you.  Constantly.  But I wonder sometimes why you do the things you do.  If you saw me, you’d have a pile of questions, too, I’m sure.  So from one brother to another – from one Levite to the rest a y’all with a ton of grace- help me understand the grandiosity and the flash.

Where does your ministry fall on the style alphabet?  And more importantly… WHY?


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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

16 responses to leading worship with awesome hair :: God, humility… and lasers

  1. OK. I’ll comment.

    Todd and I attended an Easter service once that had the whole “show” going on. Lasers, strobe type lights, etc… I remember focusing on the effects and not the meaning. In fact, I recall wondering why we needed to add so much glitz….wasn’t the amazing truth about Easter enough? It was distracting. The focus seemed to be less on praise to Him and more on self.

    Having led worship for 15 years I can remember pondering the focus. It can be very easy to allow self and show quietly slip into the forefront. Many times, less and restraint is more.

    Great post, Josh. I just needed to ponder your words for a bit. As a fellow musician, I want you to know I appreciate the balance of Living Hope. QRS is a great spot to be in.

  2. Thanks Rachel. I agree with you here >> “Many times less (and restraint) is more.”

    There are some GREAT churches who have a lot more splash and mood lighting and hipper hair than we do. 🙂 And people really love Jesus in those churches – and healthy worship really does happen. Maybe once I got used to it the lighting and flash wouldn’t distract me so much. On the othewr hand, I find myself asking, what is it for in the first place?

    Of course, you’ve got to have a healthy budget to buy the newest gear. You’ve got to have adjustable lights to have hipper lighting. And you’ve got to have hair to… well, nevermind.

    • I absolutely believe that real worship can happen with all the flash. I’ve been in a church where that was the case. Number one, as you said, it needs to be Christ-focused. Just as we are to be examining ourselves, I believe that we need to examine our motives behind worship. That Sunday where you preached on David’s dance was awesome. You spoke about the heart of worship–the meaning behind the dance.

      I think part of the extras added to worship are simply due to our culture. Our culture is loud, flashy, etc…. I know that if we compared our QRS worship to worship in previous years it wouldn’t match. And does it need to? No. Again as long as the focus is on the absolute adoration of Christ our King. Sometimes we need heart pounding music. Sometimes just a simple solo.

      Oh, and by the way….my hair was hip. Not too flashy, mind you. But hip. 😉

      • Great thoughts. My question that is still nagging… How can flashy and Christ-centered coexist? They seem mutually exclusive… almost. I mean an attention-getting presentation means it is literally getting the attention of the participants, right? So can super cool lighting enhance a worship setting? Part of me thinks… no. Mood lighting is one thing – it can set a tone. But flashes and strobes and fog and laser beams? They all say “look at me!” when I want to lead a church and just say “Look at HIM!” Still thinking… Hmmmm…

        • I’m with you there. I remember Todd’s words when we entered a church (that had “flashier” worship). And I quote (please use a deep broadcaster voice), “WELCOME….to the next multi-media extravaganza.!”

          Where is the line? I’m not sure. I know I would have a tendency to lose focus, but that’s me.

          I think it’s easy to get caught up in the adrenaline, heart-pounding moments…and I wonder if it’s due to bowing to Christ versus the energy created due to that worship style. What’s the ultimate point of worship? How do we define worship?

          I think it’s a fine, fine line. When I grew up our QRS type of worship would NOT have happened. In fact, for my parents, they don’t care as much for that style. The worship at their church is about an EFG. And that’s ok.

          Now, to me, worship is about readying the heart and praising our Lord. It is not an “experience”…and that is what I feel like may times worship tends to become. Sigh…who am I too judge?

          Gotta go…it’s tough to put a coherent thought together when there are seven hungry kids begging for food!

          • God bless your parents and their EFG worship! 🙂 The key for a leader is figuring out what style/setting/arrangement/environment/etc. will best facillitate people communicating with God. We share the truth, we encourage a response, and we provide a forum for that response. Always flexible FORM, never changing ESSENCE. Always evolving STYLE, never changing MESSAGE. So for leaders and worshippers all over the alphabet, my main question would be, “WHY do you do it the way that you do it?” If a lead worshipper can answer that question with Jesus getting glory in the center of their answer – more power to ya! “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is FREEDOM!”

  3. I worked with a worship leader at a conservative national body’s youth convention, too. Hair was normal. Great blog! Here’s to form/function balance and a wholesome Christ-centered blend. But seriously, “panoply?”

    • Pastor Wade, always a pleasure to serve with you brother. AMEN to “Christ-Centered…” Always and only CHRIST centered!

      As for “panoply…” My toys have gotten too expensive, so I play with words now.

  4. Amen! I think that LH (in my limited experience) has the perfect balance…but maybe that’s just me.

    Yes, mom, your hair was “hip.” hehehe…;)


    • Thanks Hannah! I’m glad that our worship times at Living Hope are helping you connect with God. That’s what we want! Don’t think, though that we are the one place getting it “just right.” There are tons of God-exalting churches around – with a HUGE variety of styles. From the ultra-reserved to the pyrotechnic. Here’s what matters:


      🙂 God bless you!

  5. The best worship I ever had was at a Chri Tomlin concert (with Louie Giglio, I might add) and Matt Redman. I think one can worship anywhere at any time and under any conditions if it’s the right time for that person to have en encounter with God.

    The lights were out in the place and sure they had the big multi-media and the laser lights, but that was just to get your attention. Chris and Matt were so authentic and the music was so loud that no one else could hear my voice joining in song, other than the God I was worshiping!

    I am self conscious at my church during worship … I sing off key … am I singing too loud and bothering those around? My husband likes to clap, I’d rather raise my hands and close my eyes and point my face heavenward. I don’t fellowship in a church that finds the latter “the norm” although it tollerates those who are bold enough to do so. I was raised in a church where my parents would have DIED of embarassment if I behaved like that – why try to draw attention to yourself?

    In the space of a huge auditorium filled with strangers, music so loud my ears rang for the entire next day, darkness with flashes of lights/lasers, I had some cherished moments with the God of the universe. That was over five years ago and I still treause it at my most foundest memories of worship with my God.

    • That sounds awesome. 🙂 Sounds like you were able to connect with God and sing right to Him. Perfect. That’s the goal! I know that both Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman (and Louie!) are deep worshippers – authentic, not there to glorify themselves but to lift up God’s name. Their honesty/transparency makes them effective. I would love being in that environment – for the primary purpose of worship, like you said, connected to the God I am there to worship. The high volume and the lights and all of the trappings of an event like that would be exciting to me – inspiring to me – for that event. But I think my heart would crave a little more simplicity – and more connection with the Body I am a part of – if that’s what happened in our church every weekend. I suppose you get used to your church’s style and it just becomes “normal” – whatever that “normal” looks like to you. In any case, thanks for checking in Melissa. I hope your life is full of those kind of 1-on-1 moments with God. Bless you today.

  6. Ah, yes… the “Pete.” (I think he gets a lot of razzing for his stylish ‘do. He was even misrepresented in a Nashville magazine, saying that he goes to a certain stylist where everyone asks for the “Pete.” Poor guy. My friend who goes to his church told me that a church member does it for free.)

    I like what you said about the difference between a worship service and entertainment venue. Certainly, there is gray area in between, but I’m sad to say that I’ve been in far too many entertainment venues (or houses of worship headed that way), and I’m desperate for a simple setting where children of God can worship in spirit and in truth.

    Well said, brother.

    • Thanks Jeff. At our church, we certainly are not “flashy” on Sunday mornings, but the sound is contemporary – full band – most of the time. There’s something special about those times when we get our ministry teams together, worshipping and praying with a guitar alone – or without instruments. Simple, and pure. My heart needs that simplicity once in awhile, too. Thanks again, man. Hope your marriage and ministry are thriving today. 🙂

  7. Yup. a balance must be made.

    One thing I really hate is the worship leader selling his own CD in the church building. If he wants to sell CD’s that is totally lagit but he should be honest about that and head out of the church and compete with other musicians as an entertainer instead of hiding behind the church and disquising his desires with religious rehtoric. Honesty Honesty Honesty!

    • Bingo.

      Having done some recording myself, I know it’s possible that the musicians are genuinely wanting to help people worship – with high quality art, I’m sure. We can’t really know motive… But I don’t likie the idea of hawking their wares from the front. During a worship sercice? YIKES. No thank you.

      Thanks for checking in here. God bless, Brent.