How I love and value worship culture while embracing art and originality

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me
— Jesus

I feel like we have stepped into a new reality where bitterness has become the cool movement. I'll gladly take a seat at the lame table to represent love and acceptance. Amidst the streams of bitterness we all lose. I want to make you aware of the fact that I have felt the sting of ‘worship culture’. I am not someone who is camping out in a sanctuary attempting to manipulate you into leaving the world behind in order to gain access to my silo. Quite the opposite, I believe that worship and creativity can be married beautifully inside those that are willing to resist the current flow sweeping the nation.

Before leading worship I used to sing and play guitar in a pop/rock band. We released a couple ep's and traveled around in a busted up vehicle. It was an absolute blast. Regardless of the venue size I knew every single night who I was and what I was bringing to the table (my scrawny, girl pant wearing, passionate self). I would boldly and imperfectly share the gospel most nights from the stage before jumping back into our fairly terrible songs that I believed in with all my heart. Very little impacted me when it came to other people's perception. I knew that individuals were coming to our shows because they either loved us already or wanted to discover who we were. It was thrilling. Fast forward a couple years and we eventually burned out like fireworks after a momentary burst light. I was heart broken but I knew it had to happen.

 Band practice. Two thousand something.

Band practice. Two thousand something.

After a year or so of not pursuing music at all, I ended up being asked to lead worship. I was really excited to jump back into my craft. I also had a few indie worship bands that paved the way for me to know that I could do my own thing while still being welcomed on a church platform (thank you Ascend The Hill and The Glorious Unseen). Here were the key differences I noticed...

  1. I was now presenting myself to a broad span of generations.
  2. I was now presenting myself to a broad span of musical tastes.
  3. I felt like I was expected to please every person within the congregation and within leadership.

Some great things I experienced,

  1. All eyes were on something greater than myself.
  2. Humility had to become my new norm. People weren't lining up to glorify me at the end of the set. In fact, the better I did my job the more invisible I became.
  3. People weren't listening to my story alone. They were wrapping their stories and circumstance within the hope found in the music we sang together. (This translates to almost every genre of music. Its one of the beautiful things we find accross the board.)
  4. Jesus was the purpose of everything. I didn't have to delicately sprinkle Him into my songs. I didn't have to make Him digestible. I love watching what Jesus does when there are no regulations on His name. 

So I lead worship. Everywhere I could. For around 6 years straight. I got a full time worship ministry position. I saw beauty and heartbreak. I danced in Gods presence and I internally question where it went when our set would fall flat (awful theology I know). I met incredible worshippers and connected with countless congregants.

Then I messed up.

I found myself thriving solely on everyone's perspective of what I was doing. I found it difficult to introduce original worship material because If one person didn't "feel it" I would take it personal. Instead of soely leading the church in worship I began wrestling somewhere between who I was and who I thought every single congregant wanted me to be. I started restructuring my DNA as an artist. I began losing my fire to challenge people with art and began bringing to the table what made them raise their hands higher. It was easier for me to accept myself if everyone else accepted me on the surface. This absolutely destroyed me internally.

Notice a key factor, worship culture did not knock on my door and put a gun to my head. I made the changes that lead me to burn out. I lost myself. I broke down and began internalizing every hit. Soon after, the Lord had to begin placing thorns in my nest. This got me uncomfortable enough to create space to listen to His voice. Within that space He give me permission to leave safety in order to find healing and re discover myself. I came back to work, walked into a meeting, smoothed over some drama and resigned. This all went over very peacefully because of the beautiful people at that church. (I love and miss you guys so much).

I then took my family and stepped into the muddy waters of healing. Consequently at the same time I began hearing The Lord tell me to write songs again. Songs from my broken heart. So I did. I decided to launch a $10,000 kickstarter to fund the recording of these songs. Mentally, I was 99% certain of failure. In my chest, I was 100% certain of success. 30 days later we had raised $11,600. 

What. Just. Happened. Here is the most beautiful part... many of the donors were congregants from the church I stepped out of. The church I had believed didn't accept me as an individual. Countless times has our community showed up at our door to lift us in seasons of fear and doubt. This kickstarter was no different. What I began to discover was that most of the wounds I had accumulated were self inflicted and blamed on the ‘capital C’ Church because I didn't want to own them myself. This was living proof that the Church always wanted to know me. The rule system I had created in my imagination was one that was always meant to be torn down and bravely stepped over. Worship is about Him. We make it about Him when we are blatently and unapoligetically ourselves. Unmasked relational interaction is the most beautiful display of art we can encounter. 

I am now in the trenches of making a singer/songwriter record WHILE on staff directing a worship community at a beautiful new church (I see you Society fam). My number 1 goal when working with artists in the worship realm is not to hand them a guidebook on how to become me or anyone else influencing modern worship. I instead give them permission to boldly step into the wilderness of themselves. When we find the foundation of who they are creatively and explore how that interacts with Jesus, something beautiful happens. 

Regardless of which arena you choose to pursue artistically I would urge you to avoid one thing... Do not plant your orchard in bitter soil and question why your product doesn’t quite taste right. leave behind you a trail of peace regardless of the consequences. I do not believe that destruction is the purpose of our generation. I believe quite the opposite in fact. Lets build bridges inspiring others to step into who they are without apologizing for it. Don't divorce the church because she is imperfect. Love her. Lead her because she is hungry to grow. Pursue her because she was created to be pursued. 

 

Brett Miller