Fifteen minutes ago, we finished our opening song for our third Sunday morning Celebration. The song was "Holding Nothing Back" by Tim Hughes. I began the song by saying, "Let's stand together, and let's hold nothing back." We rocked it, and I mean we rocked it hard. But at no point during the song did I ask the people to clap, and no one clapped. At no point did I ask them to sing, and about half sang. And at no point did I attempt to make sure people were engaging their minds. There were a few people, those expressive-by-nature ones, who, at least seemingly, held nothing back.

When the song ended, since no one was clapping, there was an extremely awkward moment of silence, and everyone looked like deer caught-in-headlights. I did nothing to alleviate the awkwardness, nor had I done anything to avoid it in the first place. So I proceeded by raising my eyebrows followed by an Amen. More awkwardness. Then I continued, "This week's prayer in The Book of Common Prayer for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany fit the song we just 'held nothing back' singing so nicely, that I felt we should pray it together." As soon as I said that I could have stuck my foot in my mouth. I cringed thinking about how I might have offended people with my sarcasm. Most people probably didn't pick up on it, but my heart was certainly sarcastic in saying, "the song we just 'held nothing back' singing." It was obvious that most everyone was holding back.

We continued with the prayer, which, as far as I could tell, just about everyone prayed. And then I released everyone to continue worshiping in giving tithes and offerings and in saying hello to their neighbors.

[I have to go back in the auditorium now. I'll be back in a few...


Why am I writing about this? Because I learned something very important. While I was "leading" the song to open our Celebration, I was frustrated at how many people were not participating. When the song was over, my frustration carried over into sarcasm and potentially offended people. I haven't received any emails about it, so I don't know if anyone was actually offended. What's more important, though, is what God began to do in my heart immediately after the incident. I was brought to my knees in conviction. God began revealing to me that I wasn't doing my job. He assured me that although it is not ultimately my responsibility to make sure people are worshiping (connecting to Him), it is my responsibility to lead them cognitively and physically (to a degree), directing their attention toward God not by manipulation but by encouraging intentional focus.

As I began to think more about it, I was reminded that many of the people in our relatively non-expressive church won't just dive in without prompting. Some of them probably just listened to their kids screaming the whole way to church and are flustered when we strike the first chord. Some spouses have been fighting all morning, and the last thing they feel worthy of doing is singing in God's presence. People come in with all sorts of messy issues. And all they got from me was, "Let's stand together, and let's hold nothing back," followed by a rock concert, never once encouraged by me to participate.

If I had been sensitive to the Spirit, here's what I would have done: 11:00 rolls around, and I say, "Let's stand together, and we're going to sing a song that many of you are not going to feel comfortable singing. It's called 'Holding Nothing Back,' and it's about how God has broken off our chains of bondage to sin. In this amazing love and forgiveness we are free to worship God, to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. So let's do that. [The music begins.] Let's forget about all of the crap in our lives that holds us back from praising God. His mercy is new today, so let's sing."

I am chosen, I am free
I am living for eternity
Free now forever
You've picked me up, turned me around
You've set my feet on solid ground
Yours now forever

And nothing's gonna hold me back
Nothing's gonna hold me back
Nothing's gonna hold me back

My chains fell off, my heart was freed
I'm alive to live for You
I'm alive to live for You
Amazing love, how can it be?
You gave everything for me
You gave everything for me

You washed my sin and shame away
The slate is clean, a brand new day
Free now forever
Now boldly I approach Your throne
To claim this crown through Christ my own
Yours not forever

I am free to live, free to give
Free to be, I'm free to love You, Lord

I give everything for You
I give everything for You, everything."

I have led people in this way before, and it's amazing how hearts are softened and set at ease with a thirty second blurb to set up a song. That is leading well. That is giving people a better opportunity to receive and respond to the love of God in song. I apologize to my church, especially those who were in the 11:00 Celebration, for not leading well, for my sarcastic remark, and for blaming you for not participating when there is no one else to blame but myself.

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