The Gospel and Worship Leader Flubs2
Over my 15 years of leading worship, I’ve had some spectacular blunders. During an exhortation a few weeks ago, I said, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be praised.” And then this past Sunday during the song "Man Of Sorrows," I told our people that "the tomb has been rolled away." Oh, not just the stone. The whole tomb. We're extra spiritual at Brook Hills. I've even made blunders that are not repeatable in mixed company and certainly would be censored from this post. And the musical errors I've made are countless.
Even as I write these down I feel a fresh wave of embarrassment coming over me. In analyzing mistakes, the first question I ask myself is whether I could have done better in my preparation to avoid this mistake. Was I sloppy or underprepared leading up to the service that caused this error? Sometimes the answer is yes, and I should see it as an opportunity to sharpen my planning. But often times these flubs are just, well, flubs. I practice the music well and intentionally memorize all my words of exhortation to try to avoid these. But sometimes they still happen—just a simple brain hiccup or tongue twister that comes out of my mouth despite my preparations.
Public blunders are embarrassing and often awkward. But sometimes, at least for me, they have been crushing. It's been difficult to stop the mental replay of that moment and the waves of inadequacy that come along with it. And it's this crushing feeling that has led me to discern what is happening deep in my heart during these moments.
About four years ago I began preaching to myself in two specific ways when these moments happened. Often these mess-up moments occur just before I sit down to listen to the Word of God preached. And I noticed that I was so focused on what had just happened that I wasn't giving all my attention to the Word. What I needed was helpful, specific truths I could preach to myself as I sat there and then throughout the rest of the day.
After a flub, I remind myself of two things: first, God may have just revealed idolatry in my heart. And second, God knows worse things about me, yet still loves me.
Tim Keller has helped me so much on this topic, particularly his insight that "when work is your identity, success goes to your head, and failure goes to your heart." If I feel a soul-crushing sadness because I have flubbed something publicly, then it shows me that I am asking something of my work that it can never give me. My work can never give me identity.
My reaction to these flubs shows me that I have laid all my hope, all my trust, in being a worship leader that doesn't mess up, one who perfectly leads people in public worship. This is an opportunity for me to remember that my identity is in Christ and not in my performance. It makes me remember that God is the one who enables me week after week to lead, and he is the One that can take that away. I am free to rest in his finished work on the cross to give me fulfillment and satisfaction in my work, even when there are mistakes. I can work hard and trust in his sovereign hand to give grace.
God knows even worse things about me
The other important truth that I preach to myself in these moments is a truth about God's love for me. The book of Ephesians tells me two really important truths about how I have been loved by God. The first is that God set his love on me before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). And two, when God rescued me, I was a dead man, filled with the activity of my deadness. I was following Satan's wicked plan for my life. I was carrying out the evil desires in my heart. And I justly deserved the wrath of God because of my sin (Ephesians 2:1-3).
When I put these two thoughts together, I have a clear view of God’s unmerited kindness toward me in Christ. God knows worse things about me than you will ever know. He knows all the ways that I really was dead in my sins. He knows all the ways that I was following Satan's deceitful plan. He knows all the evil desires in my heart that I gave into. And yet, in spite of all my works of unrighteousness, He still loved me. Actually, God the Father crushed his Son Jesus on the cross instead of crushing me for my sin. His love for me isn't just lip service. It's real, tangible love. If I am loved and accepted by the God Who knows me at my worst, I can have confidence that a mistake does not define me.
This will always be a battle
The sheer amount of words that I say or sing into a microphone, in front of lots of people, tells me that this struggle will not go away. I would imagine the same is true for you. I hope that your next worship leading flub will be an opportunity to remind you of the sweet truths of the gospel, turning you away from the idolatry of performance and toward God's perfect love for you in Christ.
Daniel Renstrom (@danielrenstrom) is the worship pastor at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. He attended Liberty University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has recorded three independent albums. Daniel and his wife Danielle have been married for 14 years and have three beautiful daughters, Bennett, Eden, and Mercy.