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A few questions for Rob Bell about worship in the church (part 2)

Filed under: church,God's movement,worship — 10:12 am

Question three: What important worship practices are missing from our current church gatherings? What kind of liturgies do you believe we need in order to move into a more beautiful future?

I don’t know what people are doing in churches, but I do know that God
is found in suffering, and when people are given space to be human together –
whatever that looks like – it always helps. Jesus invites us into the full spectrum
of human experience – you don’t have to have answers, but joining each other
in the pain and brokenness of life – that’s divine. At the heart of the Christian
story is the open tomb – the conviction that no matter how hard or bad it gets,
the last word hasn’t been spoken. So we charge into doubt and cancer
and all the worst pain the world can hand us and we join each in it and we
shed tears and shake our fist and lament because we are free and we trust
that there is more to the story.

Final question: Free shot. What do you wish you could say to every worship leader on the planet?

I was chatting with Willie Williams who designs the U2 tours
and he said the only thing that matters in his job is the exchange
of energy between the band and the audience. That’s it. Worship
leading is about managing the energy of a room. If you are angry
or tense or scared or confused, it will get translated into the room.
So the interior life of a leader is incredibly important. In other
words, deal with your shit. Your body is the medium, your essence
the conduit, your flesh and blood the signal – the more clear and
whole and healthy and thriving you are – from nutrition to sleep to
brain waves to worry to bitterness to thriving marriages – the more
you will radiate the kind of love and energy and presence and grace
that people are needing. Who you are matters. What you see, how
deeply you are drinking from the well of life, how connected you
are with your depths – this all affects the shared worship experience.


Rob’s comments raise two main questions for me today…

(1) What do you think of his suggestion that “Worship leading is about managing the energy of a room.” Why or why not do you agree? What can we learn from this perspective? How do you think it could be expanded?

(2) Rob’s comment that “God is found in suffering…. Jesus invites us into the full spectrum
of human experience” was deeply moving to me. And quite challenging, if I’m honest, because most worship experiences I lead are within a rather narrow spectrum. What about you?

Where does sorrow and mourning fit into the worship at your church? What about anger? Doubt? What about full on, dancing in the isles celebration? Does your community move outside of that expected “earnestly positive worship feeling?” How do you do it? What can it look like to invite worshipers into the full spectrum of human experience?



  1. Thoughts? Dishonoring advice about something so sacred and intimate. Worship is about our Creator…NOT about us. And those leaders who get that, live by that, practice that are the ones who lead true worship that is honoring and pleasing to God, which is what He deserves. Sorry Aaron, very disappointing.

    Comment by Kari Baragrey — April 3, 2013 @ 11:06 am

  2. Love this! Some great thoughts from Rob – thanks again for sharing this interview, Aaron.

    To respond to your questions:

    1) I agree with Robs’ idea here, but with reservations. I believe that managing energy is important, but to say “That’s it” is to narrow the task down to far less than it can (and, I believe, should) be.

    If worship is formative – if it shapes us into the people God calls us to be (true followers of Christ, and manifestations of God’s Reign) – then the worship leader’s task is to create an environment in which that formation can happen. This requires far more than managing just energy. It includes drawing people into bigger stories, creating new language for expressing our experience of God’s Reign, designing new symbols, and inviting people into new rituals – and of course, learning to use old stories, language, symbols and rituals effectively. I could say so much more, but I think you get the idea. 🙂

    2) I am wholly with Rob on the “full spectrum of human experience” thing. In our church we do that most especially through Holy Week. We’ve just done a series on fear, but it opened us to explore integrity, power issues, imagination, relationships, how we handle our grief, and the call to move from self-protection to self-giving. We did this through music, prayer, image, and ritual. But, at other times of the year, we try to ensure that our worship moves across as many of the experiences of our humanity as possible. This is one of the reasons I love using the Revised Common Lectionary. The weekly readings force us to explore the way the Bible addresses the full spectrum of our humanity.

    For me a lot of the work of opening worship up to this full spectrum is just about creating space. When we fill every moment with words, or sounds or actions, it can be hard for people to find their own expression. But, when we allow space for people to bring their own joy and pain to God, then they begin to experience these parts of themselves within a sense of communion with God – and that can be a very powerful thing.

    Forgive me if this is a bit long – but your questions got me really excited!

    Thanks again for these posts!

    Comment by John van de Laar — April 3, 2013 @ 11:08 am

  3. I couldn’t disagree more with his comment about managing the energy in a room. Essentially, he’s saying that worship leading is about manipulating an environment so that people feel energy and excitement. Manufacturing an atmosphere is not worship.

    Comment by Aaron — April 3, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

  4. What’s the big deal with saying the leader manages energy? I dont read him saying manipulate. I read that like he said it “So the interior life of a leader is incredibly important. In other words, deal with your shit.”

    It’s not about whipping people into a frenzy. It’s about leading the people in honest and humble worship. That starts within just as arrogance from a leader can infect the whole congregation.

    Comment by Brad — April 3, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

  5. It’s ironic… to bust out a swear word here feels a bit telling – obviously, it probably would distract people in a weekend service to swear from the pulpit. “Hey everyone – we’re about to worship God, but first… deal with your _____.”

    Now, would “junk” fly in that space? Absolutely… at least, in some churches. We might need to go with “distractions” in other churches.

    But why did Rob bust that out here in this interview? I’m not hung up on it, but rather… Rob is in the middle of his own microscopic journey (both one that’s on him and one that he’s doing). Maybe he hasn’t dealt with his own _____ yet?

    Worth considering as we consider what’s he’s saying is worth considering.

    Comment by Tony Myles — April 3, 2013 @ 7:56 pm

  6. Wow, John…once again…masterfully said. I really appreciate your approach, and share very similar leanings. Hopefully our paths will cross at some point. Can’t wait to read your book. Blessings! -Aaron

    Comment by aaronieq — April 3, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

  7. As another tinker putting together worship sets, I have to agree with the phrase “managing the energy in a room”. In fact, I’ve felt myself saying these exact words as I’ve been in the process of working out a set. But it’s not heresy, new age, or dangerous – it’s just good storytelling, something baptist preachers have been doing and practicing for years.

    There’s a method to a good worship set – which songs are placed where and why, as well as the structure of each song itself – all to give each moment the most impact. This is the management of the energy, or the art. It’s not an accident and there’s a reason it feels natural for the congregation. It’s like the building tension of a good joke, which comes crumbling in an instant with the perfect punchline – your Uncle Dennis is managing your energy right there. Musically, good worship leaders can maximize the impact of their art to draw out a more meaningful response and experience for the congregation.

    If I had to be pinned down on what my job is, I’d say I’m a chef. I take a stack of recipes and make them into a 4 to 6 course meal every Sunday morning. The music and text are the ingredients, the band and singers are the cooks and servers, and congregation is there to feast. I didn’t manufacture the ingredients or the response, but I did assemble the meal – take from that what you will.

    I guess that would make Matt Redman something like pizza.

    Comment by Ethan — April 3, 2013 @ 10:37 pm

  8. Well said, Ethan! I really like the chef analogy…

    Comment by aaronieq — April 4, 2013 @ 11:30 am

  9. I often think of energy as the way that we can notice the work of the Holy Spirit. When my daughters attended a charismatic church they would talk about a “shift in the atmosphere.” To me, we need as worship leaders to be at the service of the Spirit. When I just was beginning as a worship leader I would try to force the congregation to worship. Last Sunday, I realized it’s my job to be aware of where they are, and what the Spirit is doing and facilitate the Spirit connecting with the worshippers, and them to be able to respond. This seems very energetic to me, and if one is unaware of it, we can miss the cues of the Spirit.

    Comment by Sue — April 6, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

  10. I should say, I realized again…

    Comment by Sue — April 6, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

  11. I would expand on this idea of “managing the energy” by saying that ALL leadership is managing the energy in the room. Using this description specifically for worship leading does not suddenly make it manipulative in nature.

    What can we learn from Bell’s perspective? We can learn how to manage the energy well, which is to live a life chock-full of the type of energy that should be present in a corporate Christian worship environment. “Your body is the medium, your essence the conduit, your flesh and blood the signal.” The condition of your life, your heart–who you are–is being transmitted via rays of energy to everyone in the room. And there’s nothing you can do about it; it’s going to happen. So, the real work of “managing the energy” is happening outside of that time/place more so than inside of it.

    So, step 1 is accepting that fact; step 2 is getting your shit together.

    Regarding Question 2: Yes, we need to affirm more of the negative experiences of life during corporate worship. It’s similar to social networking: we’re so obsessed with bragging about the highlights of our lives (props to Shauna) that we hide the lolights too often, and our worship times . So, the doubter in the congregation (which is probably everyone) feels alone.

    Comment by Jesse VanderWeide — April 8, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

  12. […] connected to the “way we gather”.  He writes at :: HERE is part 2 of an interview he did with Rob Bell I found […]

    Pingback by Dear Worship Leader: Read Blogs | @CoryDoiron | Cory Doiron — April 25, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

  13. Worship leading, in my humble opinion, is dialogical. It is a conversation with the audience as much as it is with God. The U2 reference makes complete sense to me. As far as “managing energy”, I think I get what he saying, Sometimes though “energy” is is seemingky absent and nearly 20 year of leading worship tells me that doesn’t mean that worship isn’t happening. The question of effectiveness is rooted in if what we are doing is resonating in the soul of the people we lead. Call it “energy” or whatever.

    Comment by Dean Stelow — June 23, 2013 @ 9:06 pm

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