Becoming Us: A Worship Leader’s Return to Shoes

By Jason Houtsma on September 19, 2013, Credits to: All About Worship

Going Barefoot
I used to lead worship barefoot. You’d be surprised how often people notice your feet.  I didn’t do it because I was “standing on holy ground,” though that’s what most people assumed. I did it as a reminder to myself that no matter how big of an audience I was in front of, I was always just a child to God.  It was a way to help me keep my pride in check because at the time, it seemed I was becoming a pretty big deal. I was leading worship both at home and abroad and the crowds were getting bigger.  There were times when I would stand on a stage before 8,000 people carefully directing their eyes away from me and onto Him. It felt important. Worship is important, but I don’t lead barefoot anymore. In fact, nowadays the idea seems rather absurd. It’s not that I’ve become overly conceited. I’ve just come to a different understanding of what I do.  
There Is No “Them”
You see, I was confused and my confusion started with having the word “leader” in my title.  Being a leader implies that we have followers. It subconsciously puts a separation between us and our congregation. We (the leadership) need to get them (the congregation) to do something and we will measure our success based on whether or not they do it. But what if we understand that there is no us and them? It’s just we. My role is not to get them to worship, or to like a particular style of music, or to be okay with the volume we play at.  My role is to give us what we need: words that express what God is doing and wants to do in our community. Make no mistake. It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also a naturally humbling one. It’s a servant’s role. The guy in the mailroom doesn’t need to meditate on humility before he delivers the CEO’s mail.  It’s inherent in his job description.  He doesn’t think of himself as a big shot and no one will ever mistake him for one.  He’s not a rock star…obviously.  
It’s Not Your Fault
This “us and them” paradigm is woven into the fabric of western society and it’s difficult to break out of. We like to elevate people to a different level whether they deserve it or not.  We value certain talents over others. I often joke with my guitar students that playing guitar automatically adds 10 points to your attractiveness score. Even our church buildings reinforce this separation. We stand on a stage while everyone else stands on the floor. We sneak on stage to play background music while they respond to the message or take communion.  It all suggests that we are different.  
A Different Paradigm
Seven years ago I helped plant a small church community called Mosaic. (It’s not the one you’re thinking of.  Trust me, you’ve never heard of us.)  The beauty of starting from scratch is that you can create your own culture. We don’t have a stage. We all gather around the cross.  There is no separation. It very much communicates that we are in this together and our focus is Christ. We keep the music volume pretty low so we can hear everyone sing.  We sing both modern songs and hymns as well as original songs written in our community. When people suggest songs I listen to their suggestions.  Putting together a worship set doesn’t stress me out.  It’s easy.  I simply look at what’s happening in our community.
“One of our members just got diagnosed with cancer.  What can she sing right now?”
“We’ve been doing a lot of service projects lately.  We probably need to remind ourselves that it is not our works, but Christ in us that changes lives.”  
“Communion has been pretty meditative lately.  We should sing a song to celebrate the work He has done and the hope it offers us.”
I had a pastor friend visit recently, and he asked me how I planned the songs to match the message so well.  My response was that I didn’t.  The songs just match us.  
We’ve all heard the term “worship wars” and I’ve got my share of scars from them, but it’s a completely foreign concept when there’s no one to fight with!  It’s all us.  Now I use Mosaic as an example, but I’m not suggesting a particular methodology.  Becoming “we” will look different in every context.  I just want to share how good we can be!  I’ve led worship in some capacity for over 15 years in every environment you can imagine, and it’s never been so joyful and life-giving.  It’s no longer on me to make worship happen for them. Worship is simply our gift we get to offer Him.  One additional bonus: my feet don’t get near as cold in the winter.
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Check out my review on Dustin Smith’s Rushing Waters HERE
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