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Worship and Identity

Thirty-four years. That’s how long we’ve been in the Vineyard. When I say "we”, I'm not referring to myself in the third person. (That always sounds strange to me.) I mean “we”, as in, my wife Marilyn and I. She and I have taken this ride together, in every way you can imagine. Worship was the draw for us. In 1984 we walked through the doors of a Vineyard in Denver and found home.

Music had been at the center of my life since the time I learned to play the guitar at 14, and when I began to get into worship music 10 years later, it brought me closer to God. But what we experienced at our first Vineyard service was different: God seemed to come closer to us.. I first heard the phrase, "God shows up" in that church. I love when God shows up. I think it was Carol Wimber who said, “Worship is about God’s presence.”

Those early experiences in the Vineyard helped shaped my understanding that the songs are simply vehicles designed to help us connect with God. For a musician, it is so easy to slip into performance when you're in the groove with a great song, and there are many great worship songs in the Vineyard up to and including today. I just know that for me personally,--as a worshipper and worship leader (and we should be both, in that order)--when my focus is on the execution of the song, I tend to lose focus on Who the song is about. It's difficult to not slip in and out of focus from time to time, but personal times alone--just worshipping Jesus--help me stay more in focus. Take away the stage, the lights, the band, all the's just you and Jesus. (Oh wait, there's my guitar stylings and my voice, and they become the focus sometimes.) I'm not obsessing, it's just that, worship is a discipline. What saves us is the way the Holy Spirit breaks through, and all of a sudden the music, lyrics, instruments and voices enter that sweet spot as an offering rising up to Jesus. You can't manufacture that; it's Spirit-ignited.

For a time, we were with Kenn Gulliksen, the guy who started the first Vineyard churches in California. He and his wife Joannie were planting a church in Massachusetts. At that point, I had been a pastor and worship leader for 8 years and now we were starting all over with a team of about 20 people. Marilyn and I had no real vision for our lives beyond that. I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that no matter how much we intend to be humble and secure wherever God has us, there is something in all of us that wants recognition and position until we die to it. I thought I was on top of that, but I soon found that there was still work to be done in that area.

Kenn had released me to be the worship leader of his church plant. About a year and a half into the plant I began to wonder if I'd ever pastor a church again. We were working for a durable medical equipment company while helping with the church and we were both pretty miserable. Lots of hours, hundreds and hundreds of miles a day on the road, and there was little income to show for it. We ate a lot of zucchini.This was not what I signed up for, but I resolved "I may never be a pastor again, but I am still a worship leader!" Kenn invited me out to lunch soon after I had settled into my identity comfort, and told me he felt I needed to step down from leading worship. I was devastated inside, and some of that seeped out into a big "WHAT!?!" Kenn calmly said, "It sounds like there is something more going on here." That seemed rude to me in the moment, but it was God's wisdom coming through Kenn. I wanted to leave Massachusetts but we prayed about it and decided that God had clearly brought us there and we would continue to follow in his plan, whatever it meant.

I played piano on the team for a few months and even found myself connecting more regularly with God through worship. The "something more" that Kenn discerned was the Spirit doing surgery on me: cutting out an identity having more to do with what I did than in Whose I am. Insecurity is symptomatic of this. When I lost vision and hope that I’d ever be a pastor again, and then when my position as worship leader was taken away, my security tanked. The Spirit restored my security by helping me see that it is rooted in my relationship with God as his child, not in anything I do--something I knew theologically but had to learn in my heart (you don't know what you don't know). Jesus gradually brought me out of insecurity and to a place where I was in-security because my identity was in-Him. It wasn't but a few weeks later that Kenn said, "I think you are supposed to start leading worship again.” A couple months later, Kenn asked if I would take over the church as pastor, as he and Joannie were moving back to California. We pastored the church for two years and during that time we received vision to plant a church in the Philadelphia area.

So if there is anything I'd want to say to younger (that's almost ALL OF YOU!) worship leaders, it’s this: Seek to be in-security, you are his child first of all. No, seriously, you are his child... first of all. Get to know Jesus better when you're off the stage. Pray for those Holy Spirit-ignited times of worship in your personal life, and then when you lead, lead out of the over flow. I'm still learning all of this too. I still don't know what I don't know….but I do know Whose I am! Oh, and if you are married, love your spouse and kids second of all. I love being able to say “we”. Been doing that for almost 50 years now.

-Bob Palumbo

Senior Pastor of the Chester Springs Vineyard Church

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