Strange Sunday: the day the preacher and the worship leader traded places

ONE STRANGE SUNDAY MORNING, A PREACHER NAMED “DON” AND A WORSHIP LEADER NAMED “KEVIN” AWOKE TO A SCARY SURPRISE. Don and Kevin had somehow traded places. Don was in Kevin’s body and Kevin was in Don’s body. Shocked and confused, they eventually figured out what had somehow happened as they greeted one another awkwardly in the foyer before Bible class. They decided not to tell the church, but instead, Don (Kevin) would try to do the preaching and Kevin (Don) would try to do the worship leading to avoid having to explain things to the unsuspecting church. Things would at least appear to be normal from the outside. After all, both roles are part of the Sunday worship at the same church. Both have to do with teaching from scripture: one with music, one without. How different could it be?

And that’s when things really got strange. For Don (Kevin), boy was he in over his head. And poor Kevin (Don) could not curb his tendency to be over-zealous in the eyes of the brethren. He was now one of about twenty worship leaders instead of the preacher.

Just to keep it straight, Don (Kevin) is the worship leader trying to be the preacher.
Kevin (Don) is the preacher trying to be one of the worship leaders.

Don (Kevin) set about his task in his usual manner. He thought, “I’ve been worship leading for all these years, how hard can preaching be?” He sat down on the front row 15 minutes before church began and scribbled some random thoughts and scriptures that he liked in the front of his Bible. Kevin (Don) offered Don (Kevin) his well studied notes, but Don (Kevin) said he didn’t need them. Kevin (Don) was a bit dismayed, but had no time to worry about the sermon–he was about to lead worship!

Kevin (Don) did everything in his ministry to the best of his ability. He had sought out preacher training and education and had received a degree in Bible. He had attended seminars and read books about preaching and public speaking. As a preacher of God’s word, he wanted to be the most useful instrument he could be for the kingdom. He felt woefully inadequate to lead worship as he knew little of worship planning, singing, music, or conducting a church. He determined he would give it his best shot. He asked Don (Kevin) if he had prepared a worship service that he could use since he didn’t have time to get something ready in just 15 minutes. But Don (Kevin) said, “No. I usually throw my songs together on Sunday morning right before I head to the building, or worst case, in the break between Bible class and worship.” Kevin (Don) was appalled. He quickly decided on a theme and several songs that went along with that theme and determined to do the best he could. His theme was “In Christ Alone,” which he hoped would compliment the sermon.

It was time for church to begin!

Kevin (Don) nervously stepped up before the church praying in his heart that he could overcome his nerves and encourage the brethren without getting in the way of worship. He gave everyone a big smile, but mostly all he got in return were frowns or stoic faces. Undeterred, he began singing. Kevin (Don) made a grave miscalculation: he thought he could use everything he had learned in preaching to help him lead worship. Brother Riley would soon set him straight. Kevin (Don) stepped out from behind the podium and with enthusiasm led the church in song. He moved purposefully across the pulpit to engage the church and even used both of his hands to try to keep the time and draw in the brethren. He didn’t know music well, but this tactic always worked in preaching well enough. Kevin (Don) was so moved by the words and the music that at one point he even broke down in tears as he sang about the cross.

During one of the prayers, Brother Riley walked up to the front row and plopped down right next to Kevin (Don). He leaned in to his ear and said, “Brother, I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but this ain’t no Pentecostal church! You’d think next we’ll be dancin’ and handlin’ snakes in here the way you’re movin’ around up there! You oughtta be careful not to get too carried away with the music!” Kevin (Don) was surprised. After all, as a preacher he was allowed to use his body and emotion to convey his message and reach the hearts of people. But somehow worship was different.

Don (Kevin) didn’t fare much better. When it came time for the sermon, he slowly walked up and got behind the mic, where he remained completely motionless for the entire 45 minute sermon. He read 6 of his favorite passages and rambled about whatever came to mind, the same way he typically selected songs. He furrowed his brow and never once smiled or even looked at the church. His incoherent babbling was impossible to follow. Don (Kevin) didn’t know it because he wasn’t paying attention, but the church was either fuming mad or sleeping. The elders were beside themselves! “What is going on with Don?” they wondered. “Seems as if he’s completely forgotten all of his training and knowledge.”

Well, after the service was over, there were mixed reactions. Some brethren said the singing was the best it had ever been. Their hearts were deeply moved and they felt like they really worshiped today. It was almost like a sermon in song. Others were angry that the song leader broke all the rules and changed things up so much. And then there was the preaching… if one could even call it that!

An emergency elders meeting was called.

As the elders filed into a conference room in varying states of dismay, Don (Kevin) and Kevin (Don) were trying to think of how to explain themselves. Before they could, the elders began speaking up one by one.

“We don’t know what’s gotten into you two, but today wasn’t good at all,” said Billy. “We’ve been meeting here for 50 years, and never have I seen such a strange Sunday,” he continued.

Then Jerry spoke up: “Brother Don, I preached for 47 years before I retired. You MUST have a three point outline and a theme. It’s fundamental. It didn’t seem like you prepared at all.”

Don (Kevin) replied, “Well, brother Jerry, we all know the Bible well enough. It really doesn’t take much to pick a few good passages, stand up and read ’em. After all, God really only cares about our heart, not how well spoken or talented the preacher is.”

Jerry looked at Don (Kevin) in complete confusion. “As a minister of the word of God, you ought to give your work your best! Nothing could be more important than the preaching of God’s word. I’m surprised at you after all these years.”

Then they turned to Kevin (Don). “And you… We need to talk about what happened up there today. We need you to come to the elders 90 days prior to making any changes to the worship, at a minimum, so that we can deliberate about it. If we decide to make a change, we want to do it gradually. Maybe first on Wednesday, then Sunday night, and then we can think about Sunday morning; but some folks won’t like it. Our general policy toward worship is not to change anything at all. Ever.” said Stan.

“We can’t have a performance up there. You were all over the place, Kevin. You’re supposed to stand behind the podium at all times. And what was with using both hands to direct? That’s drawing attention to the wrong things. Just tap your foot or pat one hand or something,” said Allen.

Then Ron spoke up. “My problem was with all the uncontrolled emotion. It really got out of hand up there, Kevin. You know worship isn’t about feelings, it’s about truth. We’re not going to get caught up in sensationalism. Next thing you know you’ll be trying to dim the lights or something! And don’t smile so much. It’s distracting. Let people focus on the words instead of you.”

Kevin (Don) didn’t know what to say. He thought for a minute, then he spoke up. “I don’t understand why the preacher is allowed to move and use both hands to communicate and smile or even cry, but not the song leader.”

Nobody moved or said a word.

After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Roger spoke up. “Kevin, the preacher is a minister of the word and ought to use everything at his disposal to do his work. The song leader just needs to lead the songs. Don’t get caught up in the music or anything. The singing isn’t for you; it’s for God.”

Finally, Billy motioned to conclude the meeting as the line was getting long at Luby’s Cafeteria by now and he didn’t want to miss out on the sugar-free Jello.

Kevin (Don) and Don (Kevin) talked in the parking lot about the strangeness of this Sunday. They agreed to come up with a plan for next week. So they thought about their plans and requested another elders meeting to talk it over.

Kevin (Don) spoke up first. He said, “Brothers, I’ve been thinking about this whole worship thing and it seems to me it’s actually a lot like preaching. I never saw it this way before, and I can’t quite explain it to you, but my circumstances have changed a bit and I’m seeing it from a different perspective now. Really, worship leading is a ministry of the word just like preaching. It’s not just singing. I think the worship leader ought to be well prepared with a theme and a message. I think he ought to be trained and do the best he can with the singing, the music, the conducting, all of it. I think he ought to express emotion as a natural response to the message. And I think he ought to be free to use everything God has given him to lead the church, just like a preacher, whether that be a smile or both hands or purposeful moving in the pulpit to engage the entire church.”

You would have thought he had just suggested they change denominations.

Three elders at once started to speak up, but Billy was loudest. He said, “Now that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. We don’t read about worship leaders in the Bible. It oughtta be “song leader,” I think. Where’d you come up with that fancy title anyhow? Just start the songs. That’s all we need.”

Kevin (Don) persisted. “I want to be trained. I looked into it, and there are schools available to train worship leaders. I think it’s as important as preaching and should be done well. Not only would I like to be trained, but I would like us to learn some new music. I got to looking through our songs and realized we’ve been singing the same songs for 60 years. There’s a lot of good music out there we don’t even know. As a preacher ought to teach the whole council and keep his message fresh, there are fresh songs that talk about topics we don’t ever sing about. We need to learn those songs.”

Stan said, “Kevin, listen here. Training isn’t necessary. Anybody can lead the songs. It’s not about your talent or skill, it’s about the heart. We don’t have budget for any of that stuff. The singing is just the singing, and it’s not in the budget.”

“What we really need to talk about is training for our preacher who seems to be losing his touch,” said Jerry. That’s what’s important in the Lord’s church–the preaching.”

Over the next year, the elders decided to pay for Don (Kevin) to get his Masters degree in Theology to amp up his preaching and help him get back on track. Don (Kevin) didn’t see the point in education or training and flunked out. He preached each Sunday and never really improved. He used the same favorite scriptures over and over. When asked to pick something new to talk about, he replied that “these were his childhood favorites,” and “it doesn’t matter what scriptures we read or what the topic is as long as it’s scriptural.”

Kevin (Don) couldn’t get any support or budget for training, so he took a full time job in sales and paid his own way through Singing School. Kevin (Don) was intent on doing the best he could as a worship leader in spite of the lack of appreciation by some in the church. Many brethren were immensely encouraged by the captivating, meaningful, spirit-filled worship he led when it was his turn on Sunday–and told him so.

With the preaching being so bad, the church decided to fire Don (Kevin) and just have volunteers rotate through the preaching “like the Song leaders” until they could find someone who was suitably talented and educated for the important work of preaching. They suggested he might still be suitable for song leading, however.

They also began using Kevin (Don) less in worship leading. Even though he was excelling, he was changing things and just too passionate about something as trivial as the singing. They suggested Kevin (Don) might think about getting into preaching, but he would need to get his education first.

 

 

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