In part 1 of these reflections from the Urbana worship team, I talked about how sensitivity and affirmation were huge takeaways from my experience on the team. Today, I wanted to share some harder lessons that surprisingly came up for me throughout our year of preparation for the Urbana Student Missions Conference. Warning, some vulnerable sharing ahead!
Lesson 3: The discipline of dealing with our junk
Two of the most significant experiences for the whole Urbana experience had very little to do with music, worship or missions, but my own personal junk.
The first experience took place at one of our recording sessions. We had to re-record a song because someone kept seeing off key. To my horror, we discovered it was me! Before Urbana, I never had pitch problems. But now, I was deeply discouraged and negative thoughts flooded in. “I should just stop singing,” I thought to myself. “They can do better without me.” I was overwhelmed with insecurities and self-hatred.
But I didn’t want to deal with it and I tried to bottle in inside, as is my custom (I know right?!). But in the midst of my deep frustration, Ryan and the team came around me. Instead of bottling it inside, I gradually exposed it through sharing and prayer.
A similar experience happened the week before Urbana at our dress rehearsal. Sandra led us in a time of repentance. I thought we should pray prayers of intercession, not repentance! But it was clear to me that I had many things that I needed to confess before God and my team. But it was hard. I just wanted to silently confess. But I knew I had to speak. I wasn’t magic, it was a discipline to learn to expose my junk rather than hide it. Since then, I’ve begun meeting with one of the guys on the team for breakfast so we can continue to share together.
This is so huge for me because as a worship leader, I want to shine. I want to sound the best, lead smoothly, sing beautifully. Over time, that builds an unhealthy pattern where I only project the good and bottle up the bad. The Urbana team taught me to deal with my junk as a worship leader.
During the opening session of Urbana I made a royal blunder. During the song “Praise Him,” I sang the chorus 8 bars too early, cutting into the verse and temporarily confusing the band. We instantly recovered and few people noticed but I was devastated. It reminded me of that day at the recording session back in the summer. But rather than bottling up those insecurities, I shared with my team and received prayer. Previously, a colossal mistake like that could have derailed me for the entire conference. But thanks be to God that I am slowly, but surely, learning how to deal with my junk and receive God’s grace!
Lesson 4: Living with a Humble Curiosity
Finally, I learned from this team what it means to have a humble curiosity. In the multiethnic worship journey, I have been so tempted to appear like I’ve completely arrived. I would never say that out loud, but I want to project that with my actions. I would nod my head in agreement when I don’t understand a cultural reference. I would try extra hard to show my knowledge of Gospel artists or Latin rhythms. I would sing my tenor part extra loud during the hymn. All this in attempts to show my team and the Urbana conference just how much I know and how good I am. (I know, right?!)
Our team was not like that. They taught me what it means to constantly ask questions and to ask for help. They taught me what it meant to put yourself in the humble position of being taught by others. It hard to admit you are ignorant. It takes not just humility, but security and confidence.
When we assume that we know enough, we close ourselves off to the possibilities of new insights and perspectives. But when we operate in a posture of humble curiosity, we are radically open to others and what they can teach us. And for our team, we taught one another, we learned from one another. We had the type of community where we gave and received all of who we are. And my life was richly transformed as a result of my ability to learn from my team. My view of God, the church and family were transformed as a result of learning from Shed’s experience as a musical director and Ebay’s experience as a father and professional drummer. My views of worship music was transformed as a result of learning from Melissa’s and Audrey’s experience as recording artists. My view of what it is like to be a white person in the multiethnic journey was expanded as I was taught by Laila, Matt, Jackie and Anthony. And this richness only came as a result of the persistent curiosity that we practiced on our team.
I believe this quality stems from our leader. Sandra has had more experience as a worship leader and Urbana team member than any of us, but was she constantly putting herself in a position to learn from us. And I’ve come to realize from personal experience this is just not natural! It may sound simple, but is so hard to practice on a regular basis.
So what does this mean?
It’s interesting to note that my biggest takeaways from my experience on the Urbana Worship Team actually had little to do with musical worship.
To be sure, the music was immensely important. We agonized and prayed over our songs and our arrangements. We discussed, debated and fought over which songs to include and which songs to cut. We surveyed pastors and read books. We rehearsed for hundreds of hours. We wanted Urbana delegates to come to the table of worship in ways that were deeply familiar as well as in ways that were radically out of their comfort zone. And to get to that point, we had to work hard on our music.
But our music ultimately flowed out of what God did in and through our community. We were able to enter into diverse worship experiences because the deep relationships we forged as we practiced sensitivity and humble curiosity. As we learned from each other and shared our junk. As we affirmed and encouraged one another.
My experience on the Urbana worship team has taught me that as worship leaders who are passionate about seeing God’s people live holy and radical lives of worship and mission, we can’t do it alone. We must do it in community. We must learn to work together and learn from each other. Divas can’t invite people to God’s feast, but a family can. And given our current, commercial worship culture, perhaps we need to rethink how we structure our worship teams in our churches, fellowships and conferences.
God’s banquet table is truly beautiful. Let’s continue to invite people to the great feast. But let’s do it together.