The Bravest Thing

One of the hardest things in life is having a clue about who we really are. It’s hard to be self aware. Mostly because we have such a seamless experience of being ourselves that it’s *almost* impossible to see outside of ourselves. Our eyes are pointed forward and they are wired for looking out. Looking inward requires other means. 

Of course we have feelings and they offer a kind of perspective, but often our feelings are based on events and circumstances that are not true, or the echoes of events that have long since passed. I sort of think of feelings as fruit - the end of a particular “growing season”...the last thing to show up. And because of that, it’s really hard to use feelings as a guide for who we are in a particular moment. 

This is why we need help in understanding who we are and how we’re doing. We need friends, mentors, and guides. We need trusted people who can gently hold up a mirror and offer some perspective. In the beginning this can be a jarring experience, kind of like hearing your voice on a recording and suddenly realizing that you actually sound different in the real world than you do in your own head. But if we stay with it, that initial jolt settles into something a lot less scary, and becomes a real gift.

Let me offer a few areas that we, as worship leaders, might become brave and invite some outside voices into our lives: our worship leading, our team leading, and our hearts. I realize that these simple categories are a bit fuzzy as to what they might mean and there is quite a bit of overlap, but let me quickly rough that out. 


How long has it been since someone offered some kind and gentle observations on your worship leading in a weekend service? How are you doing connecting with the room? How is your musicianship? Is there a sense of pastoral leadership in your worship leading? Are we lovingly intuiting where the room is and helping them to connect with Jesus? Are we too passive? Are we too bold and dominating? It’s hard to know any of this without a few people helping us to understand their experience when we are leading. I’d recommend getting some feedback from your lead pastor, someone from the church, and a couple outside worship leaders who don’t go to your church. This might take a year to work through, but it’s worth the effort. A few years ago I asked some trusted friends and leaders to listen to one of my sermons each quarter and give me some feedback. It felt vulnerable, but I was met with so much kindness and so much really good feedback. At a certain point I realized that having my mom tell me how good my messages were was not going to allow me to grow.


The real question here is this: What is it like to be on your team? What is the general emotional energy you leak in leadership moments? Are you clear? Are you kind? Are you organized? How do you respond when things go poorly or fall apart? What’s it like to join the team? What’s it like coming into the worship team culture? This is an area where you need to occasionally have conversations with the people who are on your team, which means asking extremely vulnerable questions to the people that you are currently leading. I’ve found these conversations to be hard at first, but very rewarding in the long run. Here’s a couple powerful, vulnerable questions to ask your team - “What is it like to be on this worship team?” Or “What is it like to have me as your leader?” HEART

This area is all about who you are as a person. Not you as a leader. Not you as a musician. Not you as a visible person in church or a spiritual leader. Instead, this is all about who you really are, and how you are on your journey of becoming more like Jesus. This is not about your worth as a person; that’s undeniable and forever unchallenged. This is about waking up a bit to the areas where our character is still in need of formation. This probably should come from our spouses and pastors. I’ve found it extremely helpful to have a spiritual director. There’s something about the space that spiritual direction provides which allows me to see and own my stuff more easily with a lot less defending - probably because I know there is no chance I’ll be judged. This is all about having a person or two in our lives where we can talk about our struggles, our hopes, our disappointments, and what we feel like Jesus is doing in our lives. 


Up to this point it might sound like this kind of vulnerability is all about digging up our dirt and putting it on display for the world. Let me make this plain - this is not about discovering how broken or screwed up we are. It’s about digging through our dirt to find the gold, and just like with mining there’s a certain amount of dirt that has to be moved in order to expose the really valuable elements. This is about setting some things aside in order to bring the beautiful parts of our life and leadership to the surface. 


If you are still reading this, you’ve probably realized that it will require bravery for you to attempt any of this. That’s true. It takes courage to go through these kinds of processes. To even open oneself up like this is to demonstrate considerable strength and bravery. It means that our gold is not very far beneath the surface!


Here’s my final piece of encouragement: don’t do all of this at once. Pick one area and put some of your time and emotional energy into that. If the devil can’t get you to ignore your weaknesses and broken places, he’ll try and get you to address all of them at once. God, on the other hand, is probably inviting you to look at one thing at a time. The good news is that any bit of growth in one area (worship leading, team leading, and heart) will spill over into other areas of our lives. 




Adam Russell is a husband and father of four. In addition to his role as the Director of Vineyard Worship, Adam is Lead Pastor of the Vineyard Church in Campbellsville, KY and also serves on the Vineyard USA Executive Team.


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