Authenticity in Worship
By Kendra Kirby
The buzzword for today’s culture is “authenticity.” It’s a word that drives me crazy—all of life seems to be measured by this word. If you are truly “authentic to yourself,” then the worst of behavior can be forgiven because you are being “authentic.” It’s as if being true to yourself equates with “truth.” So instead of truth being measured by what God says, it’s measured by ourselves—a form of idolatry. It excuses behavior and provides a term to hide behind rather than stretching beyond our natural behaviors or looking for truth from Someone else’s perspective.
The Right Place?
Now this term is being applied to worship. I’ve worked with singers for years in a teaching/coaching/conducing role—and we seem to always get stuck on this point. While helping singers grow and stretch beyond their natural abilities, it seems perfectly acceptable to work on vocal technique or ear training. However, for many singers, working on expression and presentation seems to be a personal violation of who God created them to be—i.e. it feels inauthentic to them—and simply throwing up this trigger word, stops many from growing and moving forward. This is definitely a sensitive subject and one that must be approached with humility and grace.
I’ve been reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Working on presentation/expression seems to be the most difficult for introverts. I can say that because I am an introvert who’s spent decades working this through. I’ve lived long enough to know that different situations call upon me to be more introverted or extroverted. Being a conductor, in front of 100 people, forces me to turn to a different side of myself—one that is bubbly, abounding in endless energy, talkative, quick to react/reply/make decisions, witty, charming, etc. And strangely enough, I feel God at work in me when I’m called to wear that hat. However, I also feel God working through me in my natural habitat—alone, studying, reading, thinking, praying, slow-to-speak, quick to listen, etc. Both sides are me and seem to be honored by God. I don’t consider it a violation of “authenticity” to pull from either side of myself as situations call for it. Just as some situations call upon us to be followers, other situations call upon us to be leaders—again, not a violation of who God created us to be, but actually a deeper acknowledgement of who we are—complex, multi-faceted, and adaptable people.
Our worship is also shaped by introvert and extrovert expressions. God wants us in community (an extroverted expression), but also wants us to practice disciplines that are more personal and introverted in nature—solitude, prayer, meditation and introspection. He also desires that we worship Him in community, among a body of believers, and personally in the daily activities of our lives. And what He desires of us, He also equips—thus, we can never be “inauthentic to ourselves” by living into both sides.
Also within our worship sets, we strive for a balanced approach—one that begins very extroverted, proclaiming (out loud and usually loudly!) the characteristics of God and blessing His name. It then moves into introverted expressions, as the music gets slower, gentler and more intimate. Every good worship set, moves us to a very personal space that allows reflection on what God is doing inside each of us. Some worship leaders have named this as moving through the “Stages of the Heart.”
Now, to be a good leader of worship, I have to tap into both sides of myself—more extroverted expressions for rockier music and more introverted expressions for the intimate moments. Thus, my body expressions are bigger, wider, higher, clapp-ier, stomp-ier, and more involved for the rockier/extroverted music, and pulled-in for the more intimate/introverted music. I adapt the color of my tone (aggressive, lyrical, sweeter, more guttural or soulful) as the music calls for it, and so authenticity, to me, is measured by proper physical reactions to the lyrics of the song and music it’s paired with.
Recent research validates this stretching of ourselves by the Free Trait Theory—our personality and natural tendencies are not “locked in”—we can adapt as the environment calls for it. And we adapt more easily and more extrovertly to our core personal projects—subjects that we deeply care about and are passionate about. So, for an introvert, worship can (and should) be extroverted as the environment/music calls for—it may just be an expression that’s not been well-exercised yet, rather than a violation of authenticity.
These days, I’m reframing my idea of authenticity in worship when coaching worshipers. Authenticity to me is not being “authentic to myself” rather authentic to what the lyrics and music is trying to say about God. I’m authentically pushing against my natural tendencies in cases, to reflect as accurately as possible what God wants us to learn of Him, and my focus is where it needs to be – on God, not me. To me, “true authenticity” calls upon usage of all adaptable facets of who God created us to be, rather than a limiting concept that draws boundaries and lines. And for introverts, extroversion will not come out suddenly when in front of a congregation of thousands. It must be practiced, rehearsed in private spaces, knowing that something unnatural is more likely to shrivel in front of others rather than blossom.
Kendra currently serves on staff at Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Indiana, which embraces the artistic community and exclusively relies on its pool of 150 volunteer musicians to reach a congregation of 7,000. Passions of Kendra’s include arranging worship songs with unique and creative vocal lines for the choir, mic’ed vocalists, and worship leader.