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Stop Comparing Yourself

One of the first questions I’m asked when I visit a church is this… “How was the worship?” or “What can we do to improve our worship?”

I’ve come to expect the question, but it still aggravates me to no end.  It’s as if I am to rate the music (that is usually what they mean by “worship”, anyway) on a scale of 1 to 10.  But when you learn to worship God in any situation, you stop evaluating the music, and you get lost in the One who makes your heart sing.

The biggest struggle I find with most musicians (or any other person, for that matter) is this: they can’t help but compare themselves to every other musician around them.  “I could do such a better job, if I was up there.”  “If only I was the leader.”  “I wish I could play like them.”  “I’m just not good enough to play on that team.”  “I don’t have what it takes to lead.”  All of these are statements of comparison.

It’s the sin that we wanted.  It’s why we ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden – to gain the art of comparison; to judge for ourselves between good and evil; between worse and worst; between better and best.  And so comes the question, “How was the worship?”

Now, I’m all for improving yourself, and I’m all for better teamwork, practice, and sound quality.  I’m all for constructive criticism and positive feedback.  But when our worship becomes about a sound or a judgment or a personality or a marketing tool, it immediately ceases to be worship.

Worship, if not focused entirely on the One who is worthy, is not worship at all.  And comparison shifts the focus of worship away from that One and onto ourselves, or onto another artist, or onto a program or goal.  It is ascribing more “worth” (remember, worship means “worth-ship”) to those other things, such as skill or experience or results.  But we don’t worship to get results.  We worship because of what the Lord has done, and He must have our complete attention.

One of the most important lessons I learned about leading worship came from watching one of my mentors on stage.  We led worship all over the country, with top-name Christian artists and crowds in the thousands.  If there was ever an environment to get things right, it was that one.  You certainly didn’t want to let the other artists or the crowd down – it would be disastrous!  But one thing I could never get over is that this person was never afraid to make a mistake (and more than that, nobody cared!) 

It didn’t matter who was watching or how big the crowd was, he was willing to “figure it out” as he went.  Of course, this was important, since our services rarely had a predetermined song set, and a lot of our worship was spontaneous.  Figuring out what key someone was playing in, or what the next chord would be was sometimes an act of God in itself!  But this person would take a moment to figure it out, maybe hit a wrong note or two in the process, and then jump right into the flow of worship, bringing forth a beautiful sound and creating an environment for the whole room to enter into the presence of God Almighty.

I see too many worship teams caught up in trying to hit the right notes, play the solo just like the original recording, or stiff with fear that they might make a mistake.  They think that the worship will only happen if they perform just right, as if the worship is a response to them or to the music and not to God.  That’s why I spend so much energy encouraging worship teams to make their songs their own.

Forget the radio recording.  Forget the cool guitar solo that such-and-such band does or the choreography and special effects you witnessed at this other church.  Forget trying to mimic a different style or trying to play beyond your skill level.  Forget comparing your sound to someone else’s.  Take the song and make it yours!

That could mean writing your own bridge or adding a time of spontaneous singing in the middle of a song, or it could just mean letting your musicians find their own expression in the song.  Sure, it may not sound just like the radio, but the expression that comes from your heart will sound much better to God, and probably to your congregation as well.  Plus, it gives you and your team the freedom to worship from your heart and not from the page.  Your faces and bodies will demonstrate the freedom you have by being yourselves, and you will be able model that genuine worship to the congregation, giving them much more room to experience God in each moment.

Comparison holds back more artists and worshipers than anything I know.  It’s this fear of not being “good enough” to lead others in worship that holds back the Kingdom of Heaven; the fear of what people think or what will happen to your reputation if you “let loose” and give it all you’ve got that stands in the way of changed lives, of the broken being healed, of the captive being set free.

It’s offenses that arise because of pride between musicians, or the pressure of meeting expectations (from the congregation, a Lead Pastor, your team, and more than anything yourself) that keep you from being able to truly worship.  It’s the puffed-up “rock star complex” that says you know best, or the paralyzing fear of making a mistake that causes so many to miss the point entirely.

I know too many would-be worship leaders who have not stepped up to the plate, simply because they don’t feel they have what it takes. It’s often these who have a particular purity in their worship, too – reserving it for God and God alone, and sometimes it’s that purity that has a greater impact on others than any amount of musical skill could offer.

But regardless of the cause, or the specific and complicated way it works its way into your worship – the sin of comparison will keep you from your true calling, from true worship, and from leading people into the transforming, awe-inspiring, life-altering presence of God.

So stop comparing yourself.  Give yourself permission to be just who God made you to be, right now, with your current skill level, experience, and unique style.  And express your worship to God from your heart, in your own way, with a purity and style and love that only you can give.  And watch your worship (both personal and corporate) come alive like you never imagined!

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