From its inception, Christ’s Church has always been hierarchical in structure. We who belong to Christ should not at all be surprised by this, for when we look at the nature of the Godhead we see that even the Almighty Creator has a hierarchy within Himself. The Father, being the chief authority within the Godhead, is followed by the Son, who willingly submits to the will of the Father. Jesus is then followed by the Holy Spirit, whose desire is to attest of Jesus and the Father. The Father sent Jesus, and then Jesus, in turn, sent the Holy Spirit. Let me be clear, I am not saying that any one of the three persons comprising the Godhead are “lesser” than the other, but rather that God himself exists in a hierarchical state -- equal in worth and divine nature amongst his three persons, yet gladly submitting to the one who is above Him.
The Church is structured the same way! We have Christ, who is the head of the Church, followed by pastors/elders, then deacons, and finally the laity. Pastors/elders are not of greater worth than the man who scrubs the toilets every Saturday, however, as the ones who guard the teaching and truth of the Word, their task is given higher priority. In short, we can’t avoid the hierarchy. We are all equal in worth, but not equal in position.
"We can't avoid hierarchy; we are all equal in worth, but not in position."
Now, let me ask you, what would it look like if the church existed in such a state as well? What if our heart’s desire was to gladly submit to those above us, not jockeying for position, but rather seeking to serve those above ourselves? While you may not be able to reform the thinking of your entire church in such a way, it is highly likely that you can have a profound effect upon your worship team by following some of the suggestions I am about to share. Maybe it will begin to rub off on the church as a whole. However, before I do that let me give a brief glimpse into where I am in this season of life.
My wife and I, along with our two sons, recently entered into partnership with ONElife Church. We came from a small church that wasn’t used to a hierarchical structure. (I’m not in any way attempting to offend or speak illy of my previous church. As a matter of fact, if any of them are reading this I hope they know I love them all deeply with all the affections of Christ). Our previous church existed without any truly defined position on church hierarchy and because of this more often than not small squabbles would arise about who should submit to whom and who held authority over the other. When people left, power vacuums were created and some saw it as a good opportunity to “advance” in the kingdom of God. This is likely common with most every church.
Fittingly, as we take ourselves back 2000 years to a dusty road near Capernaum and a small house residing within the same city, the holy scripture gives us a remedy for this.
“They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:30-35 ESV)
Jesus just told his closest friends he was going to die, and while they didn’t realize He was going to return to them, they probably understood that the guy on top was getting ready to make an exit. The hierarchy of the apostles was about to be disrupted and something needed to be done. Someone had to fill that space.
How often have you wanted to be first among your brothers and sisters in Christ? This is often made easier when we see power that is up for grabs. I can honestly say that when confronted with the bare depravity of my own heart, I usually want to be first rather than last. I have to look at myself all of the time and admit “I do want to be first. I do want the recognition. I do want the glory. I do want to be the best. I do want the authority. I want to be on top. Now, Jesus, please, please have mercy and teach me to be the servant of all”.
Being a servant is not an easy thing. It takes guts, it takes humility, it takes honesty about yourself, and it take heaps and heaps of repentance. It takes a daily dying to self in favor of the glory of Christ, the strengthening of His Church, and the furtherance of His gospel.
"Being a servant is dying to self in favor of the glory of Christ, the strengthening of His Church, and the furtherance of His gospel."
1. It’s Not About You
The first thing we must do as worship leaders is remind ourselves that “it’s not about me, it’s about God.” Leading worship, unlike some of the other “leading” roles in the Church, creates it’s own breeding ground for narcissism and pride. I mean just think about it; we get to be the men and women out in front, being seen by the congregation, under the lights with the awesome gear and cools clothes. The congregation is told to follow us as we “lead them to the throne of grace” (this is another fallacy we hopefully will cover someday, but I digress). You get the picture. We are “cool,” we “hold authority,” and people follow. It is so important to remember that none of this, not Christ’s death on the cross, not the formation of His Church, not the good news of His gospel, not the songs we sing, or the breath we breathe, none of it, was ever or will ever be about us! That is why we must preach to ourselves Christ glorified in our lives and be vigilant to repent of any pride we would have in our talents and abilities. We boast in God and God alone. Which brings me to my next point.
"We must preach to ourselves Christ glorified in our lives and be vigilant of any pride we would have in our talents and abilities. We boast in God and God alone."
2. We Are Not Here to be Served
When we gather on Sunday for worship, how often is it that the first thought we have is how we can better serve our brothers and sisters in Christ? By serving those around us we are actually serving God. Like the disciples, we are probably thinking about who we can talk to and what we can do to get our agenda across and thus move up in the social hierarchy of the church. We are thinking of what we have accomplished this week and eagerly want the first person who will listen to know precisely what we have done. Or, if we are already high on the totem pole, we may be looking for people to serve our own agendas, based on the authority we already hold, to do as little as possible beyond what we feel is our “job.”
I am so fortunate to be a part of a team comprised of people much more talented and humble than myself. I look around on the mornings I serve and am in awe of what God is doing in bringing the worship team at ONElife Church together. I am also so very blessed to be the low man on the totem pole. Why? Because I am being given a crash course in humility and servitude. These are things I will no doubt need wherever God plans for me to go, however, I must admit, from time to time, I get jealous (Gasp). I know, I know… how dare I! But in all seriousness, this is a big deal for me. I left a church where I held a little authority and walked into a church where authority is not something to be sought, but to be given away. Still, there is that part of me that wants to be the greatest. The kudos, the pats on the back, the job well dones, all of it. My sinful heart desires it. The truest and most profound way for me to combat that is simply to let go of my preferences, stop looking at self, and begin to look for ways to bless my teammates and make them look good… well even better than they already do! I find that when I do this, not only do I find I am much more content with myself, but that I am far more content with my God, and in a deeper peace with my teammates. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Stop Comparing Yourself to the People You Serve With
One of the disciples main problems in the passage I shared above is that they stopped comparing themselves vertically, to Christ, who is our ultimate standard as believers, and began comparing themselves horizontally, to one another. How often we do this amongst our brothers and sisters, especially in worship ministry? Nothing good can come from comparing our sinful selves with other sinful people. This is one of the reasons Christ tells us rather to serve one another. I’m not saying we cannot become better or endeavor to learn from the people around us, we certainly can, and should be learning from others. However, when we stop trying to better ourselves for Christ’s glory and begin to seek “excellence” for our own glory, we have fallen into the same sin that got Satan expelled from Heaven. Learn from one another, seek to better yourself, sure, but don’t seek equality or to be better than anyone around you. Seek the lowly position.
"When we stop trying to better ourselves for Christ's glory and begin to seek "excellence" for our own glory, we have fallen into the same sin that got Satan expelled from Heaven."
4. Rejoice In Others Joy and Share in their Sorrows
As a part of the body of Christ, we are called to bear one another's sufferings. Paul tells us this is right to fulfill the Law of Christ.
“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:2-3)
We also are called to rejoice with one another (Romans 12:15). So, when the lead guitar player gets a that new Fender American Jazzmaster and nails the solo on that new song you wanted to play on, rejoice, because it’s not about you. When the other soprano gets the lead on that new vocal track your band is recording, rejoice! Because it’s not about you. When your pastor chooses someone else to represent your church at a leadership summit, rejoice! Because it’s not about you. How thankful we should be that it is not about us, but about Christ! If it were about us, existence would be a rather droll and hate-filled existence.
"Rejoice! Because it's not about you. It's about Christ."
On the contrary, if the lead guitar player totally whiffs that solo, don’t sneer and be glad in your heart because of his failure. Pray for his success, and comfort him when he inevitably beats himself up about it. He will.
A Final Word
Encourage one another in Christ, and do it often! There is almost nothing better to the soul of a struggling team mate than to know someone else believes in them. I know, I’ve been that guy who didn’t feel like he measured up, or would ever measure up for that matter. The truth was I wasn’t going to. I would never be as holy as Jesus this side of eternity, and I needed someone to tell me that. I would never be the best singer, or the best guitar player, or best preacher for that matter. However, all it took was a kind word from one of my brothers to shift the focus from my shortcomings and to how great God truly is. Our teammates need that same encouragement. They need to know that sanctification is a gradual process and that all their failures, all their flaws, sins, and mistakes will one day be no more. They need to realize that you see Jesus at work in their lives and you have faith that He will do what he has promised to do in them. Encourage them to practice more, to pray more, read more, love more, and hope more. Encourage them in excellence, and in humility. Encourage them in sorrow and in rejoicing, but most importantly encourage them to stop looking at themselves so they can behold the glory of Christ.
In the end, our Savior is asking nothing more from us that what he already did. Think about it, Jesus didn’t think it was about Him, He knew His life, death, and resurrection was to glorify the Father (John 4:34). He didn’t seek to be served, but considered himself a servant to a rebellious world (Mark 10:44-45). Jesus didn’t think himself as having the same worth as the only person He could compare Himself to, the Father (Philippians 2:6-7). He rejoiced with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the work they were accomplishing together (Luke 10:21). He was filled with sorrow when others around him mourned for the death of a close friend (John 11:33-35) Lastly Jesus encouraged his disciples to become more than they were and to hope and abide in him (John 15:5-6).
"Take your eyes off of yourself and behold the glory of Christ. Rejoice in your lowly position."
So, if you're like me, and you struggle with pride, jealousy, and envy and you are a part of a team, do yourself and all those around you a favor. Take your eyes off of yourself, and behold the glory of Christ. Rejoice in your lowly position.
Contributor / Jamison Bebiak
Jamison Bebiak serves as a Worship Leader at ONElife Church in Flint, MI.