Thursday, May 13, 2004

Losing My Balance

Balance…tends to be a big word in ministry circles. It has become the term we use to assure the curious that we are not like “those churches”. When we are asked about our church or its style of worship we offer balance as a sort of disclaimer. “Our music is very contemporary and cutting edge but our teaching is very balanced”. As more and more churches move toward contemporary styles of worship the need arises to distance themselves from denominations or movements deemed extreme or excessive. It seems that whenever I hear a conversation about a specific church (usually one not attended by anyone involved in the conversation) those churches are considered “too” something. This church is too liberal, that church is too dogmatic, they are too casual but those people are too formal. Too charismatic, too traditional, too young, too old…; you can fill in the blank. Ah, but balanced churches find the right mix. Balanced churches get it right. The search for balance leads wise, discerning, leaders to select only the best and truest elements from many streams of style and doctrine. If we can take some of this and offset it with some of that then we can maintain balance. The logic goes like this:

“…of course we are saved by grace but God still expects us to behave properly.”

“…at our church you may see someone raise their hands but you would never see someone dancing.”

“We encourage casual dress but who would wear shorts to church?”

You get the idea. Balance is good – excess is bad. Pretty simple concept and it makes some sense. You need only turn on your television to see where religious extremism usually ends. And lest we become arrogant, religious extremism is just as evident on Christian television as it is on CNN. Maybe balance is the best answer. Balance gives us a place to stand as we battle to stay the course and avoid the pitfalls of excessive, extreme religious behavior. But extremism is not the only enemy of balance. There is another and it wrecks all my best logic.

The enemy of balance is…Passion.

Passion flies in the face of balance. Passion tilts the scales. Passion doesn’t care how it looks. Passion loves extreme behavior. Passion is dangerous, reckless, and foolish. And passion is at the heart of an authentic relationship with Christ.

Passion is the common element in those things that make our hearts sing. A book, a movie, a timeless piece of music, or a masterpiece of art; the best of these are always marked by passion and a fearless embrace of excess. Balance draws within the lines. Passion erases the lines and draws what the heart sees. And worship, true worship, has never been about balance.

When a broken woman washed Jesus’ feet with tears and dried them with her own hair, it embarrassed just about everyone in the room. Such scandalous behavior was excessive; extreme. Jesus, however, was not embarrassed. He was moved. Christ saw what religious eyes can never see. He saw that only the desperate soul can truly love Christ with reckless, passionate worship. He knew that only those who have been “forgiven much” can “love much”. Real passion is not born in balance but rather in damaged broken people who are fully aware of their brokenness. The truest, deepest worship is experienced only by those who know how deeply and recklessly they have been loved by the object of their worship.

Maybe Jesus made His definitive statement on balance when he told the church at Laodicea “…you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other. But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3: 15-16). It almost seems that Christ is looking for extreme behavior of any kind, hot or cold, rather than a bland, lukewarm, balanced kind of worship. Balance is comfortable and warm but passion lives in those wild places where we risk the desert’s heat or the summit’s icy crevasse. We risk because we must; because we are desperate; because we are drawn into the adventure of a passionate love affair with the creator of all that is.

In the current culture, worship music has become big business and the effect on the local church is evident. The quality of our music has improved. Our music has become more relevant. Modern worship recordings give gifted young musicians a framework for their own artistic expression. It is an increasingly exciting time to be involved in worship ministry as the church begins to embrace a progressive philosophy toward the sound and look of modern worship. I fear however that in many churches we have traded authentic passion for reflected passion. We imitate our favorite worship artists and manufacture something that sounds passionate but is often simply a lukewarm version of the real thing. We are well rehearsed, our arrangements are polished, and it is all very nice…and very balanced. Two fast songs, three slow songs, and a hymn; we add formula to passion and create a worship experience with little space for a wild and dangerous God. We have exchanged the act of worship for a better song service.

Of course we should be prepared. Of course we should pursue musical excellence. But these things are a framework; a foundation; not a goal. We rehearse and prepare so that we can relax as we lead. In the peace of our preparation we can then focus on making space for God to interrupt us and take us somewhere unexpected and wonderful. For me, at least, it seems that the most amazing and transcendent moments in worship were rarely on my set list. They always come out of nowhere; under the radar. I can almost see God giggling as he sneaks up behind me and prepares to pounce. I am rarely looking in the right direction but I am always looking; always hoping He will show up and wreck my plans. The anticipation is part of the fun.

Worship is about passion and passion is messy. It is the kind of mess you make when you break a bottle of perfume and let the fragrant oil pour over the feet of a mysterious carpenter from Nazareth. It is the kind of mess that loves broken hearts and broken people. It is the kind of mess that cannot be scheduled. It is in these messy, reckless moments that worship transforms; when we see the face of a God who loves us more than our songs could ever express; when worship stops being about us and becomes all about Him. It is the moment when we lose our balance and fall into the arms of a wild, unpredictable, and dangerous God; only to find that those strong arms are the safest place on earth.