A Scarlet Letter
While I was a drummer in a secular indie band, God started to reveal to me
the idolatry of music deep in my heart. Years after I left touring behind, I began to understand his redemptive plan for me as it related to music.
I had never really led a band before, much less led worship. Nevertheless, four years after my indie band’s first tour, I approached our worship pastor, Tim Smith
and asked if I could start a new band with the sole purpose of leading God’s people in worship.
Tim was very encouraging. I began to talk with musician friends in the church. I found a number of buddies who I had already collaborated with musically—some whom I had played shows with, some whom I had played in bands with. Red Letter
had our first rehearsal.
A Thin Red Line
From the beginning, it was really all about the music. We didn’t know how to do it any other way. I was conscious of making the music excellent (to the glory of God), culturally relevant (for the sake of God’s mission), and corporately sing-able (for the most part), but something still wasn’t right in my heart.
By God’s grace, crafting music that we all liked was usually pain-free. People would come up to me and say how much they loved the band or how cool the keyboard sound was or whatever. Each time someone complimented me, I saw that the problem I felt in my heart was rooted in my need for the approval of man (John 5:44).
As a worship leader, there is a major conflict taking place every time you enter the stage: You want people to relate to the music, be engaged in singing, and enjoy worshiping Christ as they offer up their voices together. But the more you enjoy the music, the more they enjoy it, and the more you enjoy them enjoying it, the high of the experience can become the end everyone seeks, not holy worship. And did I ever want people to enjoy their experience, because that meant I would receive more praise.
A Redemption Song
Now that God has changed me, I don’t really care much about those "cool keyboard sound" comments. If anything, they’ve become discouraging. After all, what I want to hear is how God is being seen as great through our time of worship, not the synth patch. Red Letter still works just as carefully on our arrangements and our instrumental tones, but more for the sake of creating an atmosphere that points to the greatness of our king (Rev 4:11) than any semblance of greatness he’s given us.
Joel Brown is the worship pastor at the MHC Ballard Campus. See his testimony here. You can also download Red Letter’s album for free here.