the baby and the bathwater

September 21, 2007, 8:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

tolerance: the allowance of the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance

There’s a saying that I came across a few years ago, a phrase that has really stuck with me, one that I have found relevant in a multitude of circumstances and situations. And it’s this: ‘You deserve what you tolerate’

You deserve what you tolerate.

It’s quite an uncomfortable phrase isn’t it?

It sort of puts quite a lot of emphasis on us, on our willingness to make decisions and bear the consequences of them. And it’s also not that black and white. It seems to suggest that there is a whole range of options for us in any situation, none that maybe particularly right or wrong, but all of which bring with them a range of consequences. And we don’t like that sort of responsibility really.

If, when she has some spare time, I let my daughter watch telly for too long rather than go out and play with her friends in the street, then it may make life slightly easier for me, and for her, for that moment. She has a nice time watching Doctor Who, and I get a bit of peace and quiet allowing me to create another dubious blog article.

Now actually, there is nothing wrong with watching TV. And despite what many psychologists tell us these day, I reckon it’s quite O.K. to watch it for a few hours at a time without becoming totally relationally dysfunctional. I do it from time to time. (Ok so I’ve set myself up perfectly there…). And I also think that it’s O.K. to let your children watch T.V. for a few hours at a time occasionally. Let’s face it, after a week at school, numerous children’s clubs and homework, who wouldn’t let their kidz slouch on the sofa for a while in front of the box on a Saturday morning? But if I let my daughter watch it too long, too often, a few things happen. Firstly she begins to believe that this is what her spare time is for. Secondly, it becomes harder and harder for me to change her view of spare time, should I want to. And thirdly she finds it all the more difficult to get back into the ‘playing with friends in the street’ mode. Which means that when I ask her to turn off the T.V. and do something more interesting, I have a battle on my hands. I have made a decision, to which there are consequences. I have tolerated something, and I deserve the result.

I deserve what I tolerate.

I got this press release on e-mail recently. I have removed the actual names.

“One of the world’s leading contemporary hymn writers will return to the place that inspired his latest album – the highly successful XXX (some concert venue), in XXX (somewhere in the UK). XXX (the worship leader) – who goes back to the venue this autumn for XXX (a conference) – named his new studio recording XXX (the latest album), partly in recognition of this venue. For it was there that he presented some of his latest material to a massive 8,500-strong audience. The impact of that moment was remarkable. Since then, XXX (the worship leader) and his fellow worship leaders have been numbered among the likes of Coldplay and Snow Patrol for drawing such big crowds.”

Now we could discuss endlessly the ‘right-ness’ or ‘wrong-ness’ of using such language such as this. We could talk about the need to make commercial decisions and make sure we are being wise stewards of money invested in albums and so on. And actually I’ve got some strong opinions on all of this – but that’s maybe for another time. But even if we can get to the point of justifying the use of such language (which I doubt – I mean let’s face it, when has worship been about ‘presenting material’??), there are still, very probably, some consequences. In fact, every time we are tolerant of something, there are consequences to bear.

Every time we put an album out into the market place with a big picture of a good looking worship leader on the front, we have to spend more time explaining to our youth that worship isn’t about giving profile and adulation to a gifted individual, but about giving profile and adulation to a Holy God.

We deserve what we tolerate.

Each time we put on a worship concert with an international worship leader, we have to work hard to re-establish in our local church that worship is primarily about the way we respond to God in our hearts rather than an experience delivered by a skilled musical performance.

We deserve what we tolerate.

Each time we put out a CD that claims to be ‘the best ever worship songs’ we have to work harder to convince songwriters in our own local churches that it is serving your own congregation, writing songs for your own local church that counts, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t ever get a song on a worship album.

We deserve what we tolerate.

Every time we put out a ‘live’ worship album that has had every wrong note, tempo inaccuracy and out of tune harmony removed and the sound of any congregation taken out from it, we have to work harder to explain to our congregations that worship is more to do with the united and untidy song of worshippers, rather than the neat and polished sound of a band and worship leader.

We deserve what we tolerate.

Every time we put a press release out that talks about a worship leader as being a draw for big crowds, then we have to work harder to re-establish that it is God alone who is due glory, and honour, and worship in this world.

We deserve what we tolerate.

It’s not that any of these things may be entirely wrong in themselves. It’s just that we have to bear the consequences of our tolerance of them. I listen to worship CD’s, even ones with pretty pictures of pretty worship leaders on the front. I like some live worship cd’s. Especially the ones with me on them (O.K. that was a joke). And I reckon I could go to the odd ‘worship concert’ and enjoy it. But the problem is that all theses things are becoming so high profile, so common, so much the focus of attention, that many people are now beginning to think that this is what worship is all about.

And it isn’t.

I had a sabbatical a couple of years ago. It was a hugely generous gesture on the part of my church for which I am so grateful. Whilst on my sabbatical I managed to visit a few churches that I had heard about. And I wanted to go and see for myself what God was doing there. One of these churches was a large church in London. The presentation of the worship was, in all honestly, nearly as good as any secular gig I’ve been to (O.K. so I haven’t been to one since 1981). It had great lighting, a very good band, and awesome visual presentations. I have to say I loved it in so many ways. I had no problem with any of the ‘glitz and glamour’. And I truly encountered God and was able to worship Him with some abandon.

Was the whole thing riddled with theological inconsistencies? Yes, I think it was. Did it fully embody the values I adhere to in worship and church? No, it certainly didn’t. Would I feel happy taking my children there and be comfortable that it was a good part of their spiritual formation? No, I wouldn’t. Am I happy that the place was full of young people who could otherwise have been in the pubs and clubs that day? Yes I am. Do I think that the worship team were operating with a heart for God and a desire to honour Him? Yes, I do. Could I worship God myself? Absolutely yes.

You see it’s not that easy. It’s not black and white. It would be so much easier if it was. But more and more I’m discovering that leadership is not so much about choosing between black and white, but about searching my way through an ever increasing number of shades of grey.

Looking at it one way, you could say, “Anything goes. Because of God’s immense generosity and grace, we don’t have to dissect and scrutinize every action to see if it will pass muster.” But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well. (1 Corinthians 10:23, The Message)

I don’t want to ‘just get by’. I want to live well. But more than this, I want the people, the church that I help lead to live well too. And so for me, the question that we, as leaders, need to be asking is not “Is all of this ok?” but “Is all of this the best way?”.


7 Comments so far
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a BRILLIANT article. very well written and communicated. i am going to publish the whole thing on my blog…

good work bennetts.


Comment by David Gate

neil you are writing some very profound and deep stuff that I have not had time to digest in full or to respond to appropriately. This last message is obviously reflecting who you are as a worship leader. My thoughts lie in our every day lives and the question, is anything I do or say not helping people in their own understanding of God? Am I leading people to Him or away from Him? This is the ‘living well’ bit for me on a much smaller scale- but for leaders as yourself the responsibility to be even more in tune with His way is more pronounced. To him that has been given great things, more will be expected? Jen

Comment by Hallmum

Thats a great article. You certainly have an ability to convey your opinions with tact and grace. You’ve helped me process a little better the complexities of worship leading and being in the public eye.

I have a question for you, I’d be grateful if you gave it some thought.

Do you think you can have people in a worship team in church or a church band, or a gigging worship band, who are either not Christians or who are liberal and not sure where they stand in terms of Jesus and what he said? Its just when you say we deserve what we tolerate, is tolerating this matter a healthy way? Have some folk at some stage thought, it’d be very edgy and progressive to have extremely liberal characters in worship bands? What does this communicate? What happens if someone approaches a band member and chats after a gig and the band member says well actually I don’t believe that Jesus is the only way? I’ve come across this on a few occassions.

Interested to know what you think.


Comment by Andy

That’s a good question. It’s a grey area, and I guess what I’m saying is that your choice will determine the possible consequences. If you decide to use people of no faith on stage with you then you have to put up with the fact that their actions or words could embarrass you (a problem) or actually cause people to stumble as they move towards God (an even bigger one). If you decide to use only people you are in complete agreement with and who have a great character and track record then you may be playing on your own!
My choice, more and more, is for the later: err on the side of caution. My experience has shown that it’s better to focus on character first every time. I just can’t get my head around non-christians being on stage in a leadership capacity (however small).

Comment by Neil Bennetts

Neil, a great article. As with David, I’m going to link here. Really good stuff to think through. Chris

Comment by Chris Fox

I don’t think in the whole who should or should not be playing in ‘worship’ teams, you can make huge broad sweeping yes or no answers. Neil’s statement about it being better to focus on character first every time is a great statement. You do need to hear God so much on this, BUT our default often is to avoid messiness!

I often wonder about what Jesus did with the disciples . . . do you think he made sure all the ducks lined up in a row before he asked them to follow him. They were people who were probably very visible like those who often hold a platform today in so many churches.
One thing for certain was that they said yes to Him – there was an outward sign – they wanted to move towards God. Thats what I look for. Not where they are on the journey but just that they are actually on it.

Over this last year I’ve invited people with messy lives onto music teams. Its been so amazing to see through invitation the transformation in their lives – some taking small steps and others much bigger ones.

One thing that maybe you could clear up mate is your statement about people with no faith having the potential to embarrass – just need some clarification. Struggle with it in that it is referenced only with people who have no faith but also generally how and why people on a worship team would embarrass you! How would their actions be an embarrassment to you? Can you explain what you are trying to say a bit more there.

Comment by Naomi

It is a tough one…and there is no black and white. But more and more I personally consider those who are on stage as in leadership in some respect. And for me that brings requirements (1 Tim3 etc). I know others have a different view on what constitutes ‘leadership’ but it’s the one I’ve decided to go with. I guess you could say (in the language of the article) it’s what I’ve decided to tolerate, and I bear the consequences.

Over the years I have worked with plenty of people who are messy (we all are in some respect). And like you, knowing that people are on a journey towards God is a key part for me of deciding whether to invest time and energy in them in this leadership respect. But occasionally there comes a point where it seems that the mess will be best worked out away from a front line ‘on stage’ place, maybe only for a while, maybe for longer. For the sake of the person, and the sake of the church.

In terms of being personally embarrassed, what I mean is that I can put time and energy into someone, and involve them in my leadership. If I then find later that their lifestyle/actions are intentionally contrary to that, it causes confusion/difficulty/puts obstacles in the way of someone else in their journey with God. I would find (have found!) that embarrassing.

And I just can’t get my head round doing things like Alpha, where we talk about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, with impact on our relationships, lifestyles etc, and our need to encounter God with the whole of our lives, and then involve someone in leadership who does not model that.

Comment by Neil Bennetts

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