Surely the pastor/preacher cannot divorce themselves from their personality or ego, and surely they should not seek to do so. But as I mentioned in a previous post (Wearin’ My Madonna Microphone), the worship leader must be careful when using her gifts of charisma or personality in leading worship. It is too easy to cultivate a setting in which the tasks of liturgy and preaching become clouded by the pastor’s idiosyncratic self-expression, particularly if the congregation responds well to their pastor’s personality.
This is not to say that the preacher or worship leader needs to be personality-free. Not at all. We could build robots or play videos to simply and stiffly recite prayers and liturgical formulas. No. Worship demands our humanity, but worship should not be overly infused with the quirks or personality of the one who is up front. As some point such a worship becomes more about the pastor’s show than about the timeless Word and Liturgy.
I like Gordon Lathop’s discussion of worship leadership in his new book, The Pastor: A Spirituality. Some quotes:
Leaders, of course, have power. Leaders invested with religious-symbolic meaning have, as we have seen, extraordinary power. In Christianity, leaders must be constantly turning that power to the purposes of the assembly, to the honoring and loving and serving of each of the people, especially of the little and least ones. pg. 69
Christianity is a meal. Its leaders are table servers. Let beggars come. . . . A pastor serves tables. pg. 73
Lathrop quotes Aiden Kavanaugh who recommends
"a certain self-discipline with regard to personal idiosyncracies. . . . The minister at the liturgy, like a Zen-master, should be as "uninteresting" as a glass of cold, clear, nourishing water." pg. 29
For Lathrop, this rubric covers not only liturgical leadership, but also preaching.
"Pastors must learn the sermon’s deep structures and its ritual purpose, its openness to the assembly and its fidelity to the assembly’s purpose, its care and love for each one who has gathered and its openness to those outside this circle, its honesty and its lack of idiosyncratic affection, its reception of the readings and its leading to the intercessions and to the table, its articulation of the whole flow of the ordo, its use of law and gospel. . . . The very idea that preaching is part of the liturgy, subject to its principles and purposes, may be a new proposal to many of us . . ." pg. 28.
I don’t know that we can ever achieve Lathrop’s vision for worship leaders – I’m pretty sure that I can’t. But I think his questions are important and needed, for the temptation to imbue worship and preaching with unique and individual idiosyncrasies is too great. The pastor has a lot of power, and the more that he makes it about himself rather than about his office, the slipperier the slope gets. Not only are there good theological and pastoral reasons for this proposal, but there’s also a very practical reason: pastors come and go, but congregations remain. The more that a ministry is shaped around a particular person, the more difficult it will be when that person leaves the ministry.
On the other hand, worship and church leadership demands our particular humanity. As a hospital chaplain I see that many people want or need a personal connection, a relationship, and that relationship itself facilitates prayer and spirituality. Disembodied faith, if such a thing is even possible, is not enough. The personality, experiences, honesty, and faith of the religious-symbolic leader are part of the tools that God gives her for ministry. The community benefits from her honest expression of faith, her enthusiastic embrace of the community with her arms stretched out, her bold proclamation of the words of the apostolic greeting. Our humanity can flesh out, so to speak, the words and formulas of the liturgy, and it should.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe in theory that so-called contemporary worship (or, embodied, contextual, authentic, whatever worship) is possible, but is rarely done well. Too often leaders fall down that slippery slope of idiosyncratic mayhem, shaping worship around a few gifted leaders rather than the needs and expressions of the gathered people of God.