Posted by Craig Borlase on 18 August 2014

According to Celine Dion, Boyz II Men and a whole bunch of other people whose music I don’t own, saying goodbye is hard. But that wasn’t my experience when I decided to quit playing worship a decade and a bit ago.

It was remarkably easy to step back from the stage (which I knew I was growing tired of) and the studio (which I knew I had never been good enough for). At the time I told people that I was leaving because it had all got a bit too busy and that, as a creative person, I wanted to throw myself into something new. I told myself a slightly different story: that I needed to step down because I was getting cynical.

The truth was bigger than both of these explanations: I quit because I didn’t like the version of myself that had evolved up there on the stage. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but mine, and I know there are plenty of people who have never fallen into the same traps as I did, but for me, leaving seemed like the simplest - and easiest - way to deal with the problem.

But if the exit was quick and painless, getting back into the world of worship was harder than I thought. I had to deal with some baggage…

I needed to admit that I had been holding on too tightly to it all. Back in the day, I played because I wanted to keep on playing. For a few short years I was the first pick guitarist in my church, the one who got asked before the others. I said ‘yes’ because if I said ‘no’ then someone else might take my place. I played because, like some insecure teenager trying to impress a girl, I needed to make sure that my worship leader didn’t develop a wandering eye.

Admitting this to myself was painful, and it took time. But once I stepped back I started to notice in others some of the same habits that I had seen in myself: hiding behind a mask, struggling to be really free as they played, looking a little awkward and out of place when away from the stage.

Once I worked this one out, I needed to fall out of love with the version of worship I’d created. I needed to purge the view of worship as fodder for Christian Celebrity. I needed to stop evaluating worship on the numbers (hands raised, decibels reached, songs written). Honestly, this is a work in progress, and I still find myself wincing when I see, hear or read of someone behaving in a way that reminds me of my own attitudes.

I needed to start evaluating worship as an authentic expression of a community’s devotion to God. And as I did, I found that my affection for big worship events began to wither. My Best Ever Worship moments have stopped being linked to great production and a bass loud enough to shake your ribs. Today, if I want to remind myself of the power of sung worship, my mind goes to different places, like the sound of kids singing about Jesus in a Mumbai slum. My out of tune voice breaking in the Louisiana kitchen with two new friends and an out of tune guitar. Hearing my 9-year-old son absent-mindedly sing 10,000 Reasons as he played Minecraft.

Lastly, I had to get a bigger picture of what worship is and what worship does. And that’s an adventure that I don’t think I’m ever going to complete while there’s still breath in my lungs. But somewhere between that Mumbai slum, the ramshackle kitchen and the soundtrack that played out as my boy made yet another chicken palace, I caught a sense of what I’d been missing.

We’re living in days when sung worship is getting bigger - going global, reaching into the mainstream. Let’s not make it smaller at the same time: let’s not make it about us, about our position or our validation. In fact, I wonder what would happen if we concentrated on encouraging, nurturing and releasing it instead... after all, I guess that’s why I came back to it.

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