July 7, 2016

Where Your Vision Is…

It’s a question everyone must ask. How do we see our life and our calling? When we find ourselves thinking about the things that fill our days, what images come to mind?

For worship leaders, the question might go something like this: When you dream about your congregation, do you see them just as they are—and that’s OK? Or, do you see them as they used to be—and lament the changes? Or, do you see them as they might be—and feel the exhilaration of anticipating what God might do next? Are you simply content with the present? Do you yearn for the past? Or, are you anticipating what could become/is becoming?

These are not just casual “cookie” questions that worship geeks ask each other at Symposium snack breaks. These are far more than glass-half-full, glass-half-empty pop psychology. Your answers could be indicators of spiritual and emotional vitality for you and any other worship leader (author included). Because, with apologies to Matthew and the Messiah he was quoting, where your vision is, there will your heart be also.

Being People of Vision

We all know people so invested in the ministry to which God has called them that it makes you smile just to think about them. A close friend of mine left a mammoth music ministry (nearly 700 participants) he had started, and nurtured for 26 years, to take a part time position in a struggling, aging, urban congregation. The new, and VERY different, ministry quickly began to show signs of spiritual depth and life in ways no one would have imagined. Has he hit speed bumps and potholes? Sure! But the resilience of his faith and his commitment to the mission potential of his call carries him, and those working with him, with their eyes fixed on the future God is creating in their midst.

In a different leap of faith, another friend left a stable parish music position in a Roman congregation to accept a call to an emerging parish whose fledgling music and liturgical ministries are now exploding with spiritual energy. His approach to a now vibrant liturgy and the neighborhood arts ministry begins with words like, “What if…” or “Why couldn’t we…?”

Another friend who was nurtured in a specific culture and faith tradition has become part of the leadership team in a city-center congregation whose three weekend liturgies, offered in three radically different musical styles, have begun to reach more and more of a cross-section of their city, inviting people to experience the reality of Jesus Christ in a language they can comprehend. Coming to this old-line congregation from a Pentecostal background, he says, “Every time I see another smile or another hand raised in worship—no matter how tentatively—it shows me that the joy of the Lord has found a home in another heart!”

These are just a few of the people I know who have deep passion for proclaiming the transforming power of the gospel through music and prayers, actions and art. I wish they were the norm, but sadly, for every one like these three there are many, many more worship leaders and pastors, of all ages, stages, and traditions, who just seem to be “dialing it in” Sunday after Sunday. What does that tell us? We have important ministry to do even/especially among our colleagues, friends, and peers!

Learning from St. Paul

In his letter to followers of Jesus in Ephesus, St. Paul writes, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  

But Paul is praying fervently for things followers of Jesus are supposed to have already: inner strength, spiritual power, Christ indwelling our hearts—deep rooting and grounding in faith. If we’re supposed to have these things already, why is Paul so passionate in his prayer? Because there is “knowing” beyond “knowledge,” and this a is challenge we face each day.

Is the love God has made known in Jesus Christ an intellectual concept or an existential reality for us? Is our relationship with Jesus Christ simply an aspect of who we are, or is it a central, defining, reality that informs our thoughts, shapes our words and actions, and defines our approach to ministry?

Paul’s prayer is that God would be strengthening you and me more and more each day so that we can withstand the ups and downs and bring others along with us on this journey of life, and music, and worship, and mission, transformed by our personal experience of the reality of Jesus Christ.

The love of God is perfectly capable of doing this and much, much more. Words of an unknown author were popularized in a 20th century gospel hymn:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies with parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade—
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.

God has called us to lead his people in worship. Large or small, rich or poor, urban or rural, young or old, free or frozen, high church or seeker—this same Love is the one to whom we point week after week as we help those we lead in worship to find their place in God’s amazing story!

This post comes with the prayer that you may know the breadth and length and height and depth of Love, more and more, in your inner being. And, knowing this, may you begin to imagine even more of God’s unimaginable future for you and for your congregation as you plan and prepare for a new year of worship.

Rev. Dr. Paul Detterman is an author, composer, and conference speaker who is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of River Forest, Illinois, and a blogger at He is a former associate for worship on the national staff of the Presbyterian Church (USA).