A church leader friend of mine once commented with some wit about the recovery of liturgical lament. Dryly he asked, “Does this mean that churches will begin forming Lament Teams?” I smiled as I considered the implications: a team clothed with sackcloth and ashes, moaning and wailing “How Long, O Lord” as the repeated refrain. But at the same time I heard in my friend's humor another question. Why do we call it a Praise Team?
Oftentimes teams are named for what they do. For example, a football team plays football and a basketball team plays basketball. In each case the name signifies the totality of what the team does. It would strike us as odd if we heard a football team referred to as the Tackling Team or a basketball team named the Slam-Dunk Team. That would only be a part of what they do. So what about Praise Team? Are songs, scriptures, and prayers of praise alone all that we lead? What about thanksgiving, dedication, redemption, or the ever-growing frequency of biblical lament and confession?
In this sense, praise, like slam-dunking in basketball, is only one element of an entire worship service. For example, in praise we give God glory for his great name. In confession, we lay at God's feet the great burden of our sin. In lament, we ask God, “Why?” And in dedication, we pledge our life and service to God in joy and gratitude for all his goodness to us. The element of praise is essential, but defined in this way it is one piece of a puzzle forming an entire picture of Christian worship.
As we consider the role of our teams in our churches, it may be that praise in this sense is the only element we lead. So often in our churches we are limited to two or three songs at the opening of the service, a time traditionally devoted to praise. At the same time, some of our services may not incorporate elements other than praise. For example our service might be divided into a time of praise and a time of teaching. And it is often the case that our song repertoire is selected from a small stream of publishers that are really well publicized but emphasize popular songs of praise over less popular confession or lament songs. In light of this, perhaps Praise Teams in many churches are appropriately named.
On the one hand there is great value in the name Praise Team. It is a reflection of our hearts to give glory and praise to God. In fact, many of our Praise Teams are formed in order to revive exuberant and authentic praise. Praise is for us a priority and often our highest goal. After all, we are created to praise God. But I wonder if, on the other hand, the name of our teams also shapes our priority and goals. A name gives us identity and communicates our purpose and role. Perhaps as we have been involved in Praise Teams our understanding of worship as praise alone has been fostered. It is true that we are created to praise, but aren't we also created for so much more? Isn't true that our relationship with God can embody praise, but also the posture of confession, dedication, and lamentation? The name of our teams can reflect this. The name of our teams can shape our understanding of how we are to relate to God and deepen our practice of Christian worship.
Perhaps the name Worship Team embodies the totality of all that our teams can do. It is true that worship is sometimes synonymous with praise, and some of our services are divided into times of worship and teaching. But the word worship is multilayered. It can characterize a time of singing at the beginning of our service and it can characterize our lifestyle before God (Romans 12:2), describe the event of our Sunday morning and evening gatherings (John 4:20), and express our most intimate posture before God (Psalm 95:6). Worship in this expansive sense challenges us to a broader role. It calls us to participate in more than the opening two or three songs. It motivates us to search for songs and scripture with a diversity of biblical themes. It inspires us to be lead worshipers 24/7.
I believe that our great calling is to lead worship in this broad sense. Like a football team plays football, so a Worship Team leads worship. Praise is essential to worship, just as tackling is essential to football. But there is so much more to our relationship with God! Participating in and leading that so-much-more is a great privilege we have as teams and a great gift we have to offer our congregations. It is a passion and goal week to week. As Worship Teams, our name can teach the congregation about the fullness of our role. The name can expand our calling and challenge us to take part in the so-much-more. The name shift may be subtle, but the impact on our identity and task may be great.