Not long ago, this blog was inundated with hits because of a little post, “The Difference Between a Lead Musician and a Worship Pastor.” Today’s post teases out the first item on the list given there: “A Worship Pastor is equipped in and engages in aspects of classical pastoral duties, either formally or informally—visitation, preaching/teaching, catechizing.”
I just got back from visiting a dear man (I’ll call him Ron) who is a part of our church in Denver. He was going in for yet another surgery on his fall-cursed body, and we were together looking to the grace of God for this surgery to give us a glimpse of the total healing that will take place when God re-creates our perishable bodies into the imperishable. As I was driving back from the hospital, I was again struck by just how central such encounters are to my job as “primary worship planner” at Cherry Creek. Here are two things that strike me about the correlation between visiting the sick and worship planning.
First, visiting the sick reminds worship planners that we have a responsibility to help prepare people to encounter suffering and death. As I was driving to the hospital, I was asking myself, “Has the content of the worship services in the last few months prepared Ron for this encounter with suffering and pain?”
- Has worship provided Ron a vision of the gospel of our suffering Savior?
- Does Ron understand that God is a God who doesn’t take us out of this world of tribulation but promises to be with us during the hour of trial?
- Does Ron have a big enough view of God’s sovereignty AND goodness such that he can handle and believe that this situation does not escape God but is actually “of the Lord”?
- Does Ron know that the follower of Jesus is taught to say “blessed be Your name,” in both the high points of life AND the low points?
- Has Ron been given a vocabulary for lament, such that he can pour out honest prayers and cries to God about his inner struggle, his lingering doubt, his faith mixed with unbelief?
- Has worship prepared Ron to identify with and run to God in suffering, as opposed to feel neglected and ignored by God?
These questions should roll through all our heads. Too often we think narrowly about the “ministry” of worship. But the reality is that how we worship shapes how we live. Is the worship we plan and lead preparing our flocks to encounter, relate to, and worship their Maker in the stormy seasons of life?
Second, visiting the sick reminds us that worship must address brokenness and suffering. This is perhaps a sub-point of the first. What do our happy song-sets teach our people about how they are to speak to God? Is our joy matched with expressions like Psalm 42 (NIV), which says:
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
In the only songbook truly inspired by God from top to bottom (the Psalms), we have pages upon pages dedicated to expressions of doubt, pain, depression, and suffering. If we drew up a pie chart of the ratios of expressions of joy, pain, celebration, and lament in the Psalms, what would those pie slices look like? And do our worship services, over a period of weeks or months, reflect those same ratios? These are sobering questions, even for me. I dare say that I haven’t been attentive enough to giving people a vocabulary in the context of worship for speaking to God in the context of life. Worship must address brokenness and suffering.
In light of all this, my advice to worship leaders, especially to those disconnected from more typical pastoral duties like visitation, is to make visitation of the sick a part of your regular ministry. Find one time a month where you go along with your pastor to make a hospital or home call, and imbibe the moment. Enter into the situation. Empathize with and understand the pain. Hear the cries to God. These moments will have an ongoing and shaping effect on your ministry of shaping the flock through worship planning.