This week I attended a conference at which Andy Crouch led worship. He had a tough assignment, a mix of scientists, philosophers, theologians and pastors in a dull conference room with no reverb. Yet he managed to help us to enter thoughtfully into heartfelt worship.
Andy is an excellent musician (keyboard) and has a wonderfully rich voice, but that wasn’t what made it work. He led congregational worship. He got us to do the work of singing and reading Scripture. He enabled us to be the people of God facing God and calling out to him together.
In my experience, it’s a rare worship leader who focuses on helping the congregation do the work of worship. The question most people ask after attending church is not, “How did I do?” but “How did I like the music?” It’s performance, which we get to enjoy and follow. We’re like people singing along to the radio. We do it with pleasure, but we’re strictly auxiliary. If we did nothing, it wouldn’t make the least bit of difference.
Andy thinks we’re worshiping in a pre-Reformation mode. Then, the priests did the work (through the liturgy) and the congregation showed up to get the benefit of their work. So it is today: the musicians practice and hone their skills; the rest of us enjoy the emotional overspill. All the effort is from the platform. Andy said it has made him understand popular resistance to the Reformation. Not just the priests got benefits from the system, the people did too. They got glory without having to put anything into it.
If you’ve ever been in a church where people know how to sing, you know how wonderfully different it can be. But how many church leaders see it as their job to teach the people how to worship well? The Lutherans are the only group I know that takes congregational worship seriously.
If you happen to know Andy, besiege him with encouragement to teach other leaders how to do what he does. He said that he’s considered making a DVD that would show him in action, teaching and leading worship. He’s a multi-talented guy, and his time is scarce, but for my money he brings something unique to this. And it’s crucial.