An online Forbes article says the aim of a public relations (PR) firm is “promoting clients and making them seem as successful, honest, important, exciting or relevant as possible.”
The keyword in that definition is seem. If you work for a PR company, it really doesn’t matter whether or not your clients are actually “successful, honest, important, or exciting.” Your job is just to make other people think they are.
When it comes to leading songs that direct our thoughts and affections to Jesus on Sunday mornings, our task couldn’t be more different. We don’t have to make stuff up about Jesus or pretend he’s something he’s not. God wants us leading from a personal knowledge of the sovereign King and all-sufficient Savior we’re singing to and about. He wants us to faithfully remember and pass on what we know is true about him.
Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be
But my experience tells me that leaders aren’t always living in the good of what they’re singing. In fact, some aren’t sure it’s even true anymore.
I spoke with a Christian songwriter whose marriage is struggling. He’s angry at God that things haven’t worked out.
A few years ago, a local worship pastor deserted his wife and kids to pursue and marry another woman.
I know more than one worship leader who has tried to deaden life’s disappointments and pain through alcohol.
And the list goes on. Like me, you probably know of leaders involved in adultery, enslaved to pornography, battling anxiety, or ready to toss it all in.
It might be someone in your church. It might be you.
We sing, “No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand.” But fears about the future paralyze us.
We belt out, “Who breaks the power of sin and darkness, whose love is mighty and so much stronger? The King of glory.” But we live under the constant, crushing weight of defeat and condemnation.
We sing, “My song when enemies surround me, my hope when tides of sorrow rise, my joy when trials are abounding.” But there’s not much hope, joy, or singing in our hearts when the car breaks down for the third time in as many months, our teen walks away from the Lord, or we receive an ominous health diagnosis.
And at Christmas we’ll be singing, “All is calm, all is bright.” And it really won’t be.
We’ve become comfortable singing or writing about truths we don’t really believe anymore, a God who only helps other people, and a Savior who doesn’t seem to really save. And we think he’d rather us prop up his image than do nothing.
But Jesus doesn’t need nor want our PR. He wants us.
Getting to the Heart of the Problem
When the songs we sing, write, or lead don’t match the way we live our lives, it’s discouraging. But it’s more than that. We’re deceived. And dangerous. To others and to ourselves.
Fortunately, we don’t have to stay where we are. That’s because God sent Jesus not only to pay for our sins, but to satisfy us, and transform us into the image of his Son.
Here are some thoughts that have helped me in that process.
God doesn’t accept nor need our flattery.
Psalm 78 recounts the Israelites’ trek through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. It’s a painful rehearsal of God delivering them repeatedly, only to watch them return to their sin and idols each time.
And at one point the psalmist says they “flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues” (Ps. 78:36). They thought God wanted to hear nice things about himself. They assumed God doesn’t notice it when the praise of our lips doesn’t match the state of our hearts.
He does notice. And God doesn’t need us to lie to or about him. Because he’s always better than we could ever imagine him to be (Ps. 145:3).
God commands us to praise him because we need to.
Worshiping God as our Creator and Redeemer puts us in line with the inherent structure of the universe. Failing to honor and thank God puts us at odds with the way things really are and leads to darkness (Rom. 1:21-23). That’s one reason the Psalms often highlight the “rightness” and goodness of praise:
“Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.” (Psalm 147:1; see also Ps. 92:1, Ps. 33:1)
As song leaders and writers, we need the truths we earnestly communicate to others just as much as they do.
The songs we sing are meant to encourage and express faith, not replace it.
When Amos tells the Israelites God doesn’t want to hear the noise of their songs anymore (Amos 5:23), it’s not because they were out of tune. It’s because their lifestyles didn’t match their praise. The people assumed God was only after their songs and sacrifices.
But passionate “faith-filled” singing is never a substitute for dependent, faith-filled living. We sing about God’s promises on Sundays to remind ourselves that they’re true the other six days of the week as well.
Leading and writing songs you don’t believe brings dishonor to Jesus, not honor.
While God uses the immoral, the arrogant, the deceitful, the envious, hypocrites, and thieves to accomplish his purposes (Josh. 6:25; Rom. 9:17; Job 12:16; Ex. 50:20; Lk. 33-34; Jn. 12:6; Acts 1:16), he also hates those very sins. But in God’s absolute, wise sovereignty, he overrides our disobedience.
God intends our lives to reflect what we write and sing, not contradict it or cause others to question it. That’s because we’re not merely dispensing data or selling a product we don’t find personally helpful. We invite others to join us in praise because he has personally rescued us from the pit of our own sin and hopelessness (Ps. 34:1-3; Ps. 40:1-3).
Jesus has compassion for those who are war-weary and beaten down.
It’s common for leaders to think we always have to be “on” and can’t show signs of weakness. But we’re to be strong in the Lord, not in ourselves (Eph. 6:10). Our job is to point others to him so they can receive the rest he alone can give. Jesus invites us:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
If our yoke isn’t easy and light, we’re serving the wrong master. That might be people’s praise, our comfort, money, a preferred future, our desire to be right, or some other idol. None of them offer the forgiveness and rest found in Jesus alone. And none of them can save us.
Only those who acknowledge their sin know how good the gospel really is.
If you’re resonating with what you’re reading here, perhaps the quickest way to freedom and rest is to remember who Jesus came for in the first place. He didn’t come for the righteous. He didn’t come for the “put together.” He didn’t come for the always on time, always right, always funny, always popular people. He came for sinners. He came for losers. He came for the rejects, the outcasts, those tempted to hide, those who want to give up.
He came to offer indestructible hope by bearing the judgment we deserved for our sins, rising from the dead, and promising eternal joy to anyone who would trust and follow him. Anyone.
“And you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt. 1:21)
The angel’s words to Joseph are still true.
Getting to Know Him
If you’ve been caught up in doing PR for Jesus, I’ve got good news. You can quit your job. Get to know Jesus better as the compassionate, kind, merciful, gracious, beautiful, and holy Savior he is. Get to know God as your Father who watches over you, cares for you, and is working all things together for your good and his glory (Prov. 2:8; 1 Pet. 5:7; Rom. 8:28).
Dig deeper into God’s Word. Treasure time with your church. Pursue friends who will both encourage you and challenge you to acknowledge your weaknesses and sins and trust in the only one who can save us. If it’s possible and wise, take a break from serving publicly.
We don’t have to pretend Jesus is amazing, kind, and glorious anymore.
He really is.