Beautiful Scars- Icky Worship

It’s Friday, which means it feels a little guest posty around here.  Today I am happy to give the floor to Jamie Kocur, a sweet new blog friend of mine.

Jamie is a self described recovering worship leader and blogs over at Rebooting Worship where she shares with raw honesty her journey of feeling disconnected from musical worship.  

This post is lovely, timely and all about broken people healing through a gracious God.  So without further adieu: 

I used to thrive on musical worship. It filled my tank and made it possible for me to get through each week. I volunteered in the church choir and praise team. I majored in music because I wanted to use my voice for God’s glory.

Somewhere along the way, something changed.

Worship is no longer the magical experience it used to be. Cynicism has crept in. I watch from the crowd, hesitating to jump on the worship bandwagon.  What used to be inspired music and lyrics is now nothing more than flashy lights, showy background slides, fog machines, and a performance.

There are several reasons for this, but a big part is the fact that I was suddenly aware of the ugly world of church politics.

Through the years, I’ve watched as my church has made decisions with which I don’t agree. Friends were deeply hurt by these decisions, and I fumed inside while they hurt and cried. I envisioned the church committee that made the decisions, filled with people that I used to trust. This place that felt so safe was suddenly anything but.

Stepping away from the music ministry while I pursued some mission work, I left home for a couple of years. When I returned, people asked when I was going to sing again. I bit my lip to fight back the ugly answer I wanted to shout in their face. Worship was now filled with animosity and anger. I didn’t want to be anywhere near this place, let alone on stage. I fought ugly emotions as I watched my church make other questionable decisions. I knew there was a lot going on under the surface, but all I could see were hurt people. I realized I was one of them.

I attended a Celebrate Recovery service, mainly out of curiosity. It was awkward at first, being surrounded by alcoholics and people with addictions. I was a well-adjusted, educated church girl. I didn’t need recovery.

Turns out I wasn’t as well put together as I thought. The more I attended this service, the more I got to know the people around me, including the drug users. These people were real. They were hurting and totally honest about it. I began to be honest about my hurts.

This service became my church service. The masks that were worn on Sunday morning were left at the door. When people asked how you were, they wanted an honest answer. If I had a crappy week, I wasn’t greeted with churchy clichés. My response was received with a smile and a “Thanks for sharing.”

I began to address some of my issues. I was greatly hurt by the things my church had done, even though they weren’t done directly to me. I talked through it, processed, and was able to approach it with a clearer mind. It still hurt, but it wasn’t such a jumbled mess in my head.

Through all of this, musical worship was still difficult. It hurt that something so special was now a stumbling block for me. It was in the midst of this struggle that I was asked to lead worship for Celebrate Recovery. I hesitated, thinking, “Really? Me? I’m so not a good person for this.” Don’t worship leaders have to have it all together?

Then I realized that this was the service filled with people who were not okay, and that was okay. Having a worship leader who was not okay was… okay.

So, with fear and trepidation, I accepted. I began leading worship for this motley group. I loved it. The musicians I worked with were talented and authentic. I got huge hugs from them each week, and the week that I was an emotional mess and couldn’t talk without crying, they sent me home and handled worship without me.

Although I still struggled with worship and the icky feelings, worship became a little safer.

I led for a year when my church again made some changes, this time affecting me. I struggled to offer grace. With the tools I had learned at Celebrate Recovery, it became easier.

I eventually stepped away from worship leading again, this time because of stress in my own life and a need to cut things from my schedule. I am far from all better and worship is still a struggle, but now I have tools I can use to process through the gunk.

The church is full of broken people, of which I am one. Coming to grips with that simple fact was so important for me. I will never find a church body that is perfect. I need to offer and extend grace to everyone in my path. I’m discovering that act alone is an act of worship.

Jamie Kocur is a singer, songwriter, and writer. She struggles with worship and finds more questions than answers. Read her blog, or follow her on Twitter


  • Jamie Kocur

    Thanks for the chance to guest post, Leanne!

    • Barbara

      All I can say is “thank you.” I am a worship leader and have been for some time. Your post resonates with me, especially learning to be real and come to terms with my brokenness through God sending me to be with people who are authentic, to the point, and honest with their brokenness. (For two years I led musical worship for a ministry to the homeless, addicts, prostitutes, “squatters,” ex cons, bikers and many other folks. Discovered every one was just like me – valuable, unique, loved and worthy of grace and mercy. Except they were much more “real” than I had ever been, and they were not afraid to be so. And they gave grace which I am learning to do.) I still struggle with what we call musical worship and with being a worship leader (who, me? really God?) and with church politics (can’t escape it), so your post was very timely for me!

      • leannepenny

        Absolutely Barbara a lot of this is true for me as well, although I minister in a non worship capacity. Jamie’s honesty definitely resonates

        • bethinthecity

          This resonates with me as well. I need to grapple a little with the fact that my church made decisions that hurt me. I’m glad you brought this to my attention.

          • jamiekocur

            Glad it resonated with you. Good luck in your healing journey.

      • jamiekocur

        Thanks for reading and sharing, Barbara!

    • leannepenny

      You’re very welcome. Thank you for sharing your heart!

  • Heather Tiger

    Thank you for sharing part of your struggle and journey. More people need to be authentic about their brokenness, especially us churched folks. I’ve been on the ugly side of worship war fallout and it has left some pretty painful wounds that are still scarring over almost 5 yrs later. So glad Leanne had the good sense to host you today!

    • jamiekocur

      Thanks so much for reading.

      • Stacy A

        Yep, been through the worship wars, got lots of scars, too. I currently sing on the Praise Team at my small church … it’s okay, not the greatest experience ever. I used to lead the worship, but a number of things happened, including the decline of my health, so now I’m “just” on the team. It’s a good place to be, in that they understand about my health issues and they’re just glad to have me when I can be there. But there are a lot of issues I have, ongoing stuff from a number of past hurts, so I have a hard time feeling like I’m actually worshipping. I just ask God to help me lead others to worship, and at this point, I’m good with that. It’s no longer about what I get out of it (although I miss the connectedness with Jesus I used to feel when leading worsthip). As long as someone in the congregation is brought to a place of worship when I’m up there, I’m good.

        The thing that killed my own ability to worship while leading was a pretty small thing, really. I tend to close my eyes a lot while I’m singing songs of praise (mainly because I can focus on Him better). One Sunday we had a special service for our organist. She was elderly and losing her memory, so her family decided they wanted us to have a service honoring her. Our pastor wasn’t really thrilled with the idea (focus on a human rather than Jesus), but we went with it anyway. Her daughter, who had a PhD in vocal performance, attended. After the service she made a point of finding me. I thought she was going to say something like, “I really enjoyed the worship this morning. Thank you!” Instead she said, “You need to stop closing your eyes when you sing.”
        I was floored! I stammered something like, “But … um … I feel closer to God when I close my eyes.”
        And she said, “God doesn’t need you to close your eyes when you sing to Him. You’re leading worship, you should never close your eyes.”
        From that point on I have been so concerned about how I “look” when I’m singing that it has severely marred the experience for me. God and I are working on it, but that was several years ago and I still have issues with it.
        Anyway … I really hate how music has become such a battleground. I know God does, too. I don’t understand why we can’t accept new stuff, keep lots of the old stuff, blend it together and just worship Jesus together in spirit, truth and unity.
        Thanks for sharing your heart and your hurt, Jamie. I’m just so sorry music has been damaged for you!
        Stacy A

        • jamiekocur

          Stacy, thanks for sharing your story. I can’t believe that woman would say such a thing to you. Actually, I can. It’s sad, but vocal performance majors (or many of them I should say) are very focused on the performance aspect of it all, and how it looks. I graduated from the Florida State School of music and was surrounded by the vocal performance majors. I always felt like “less of a singer” around them. It’s sad. God doesn’t care what you look like when you sing, and who is she to say that God doesn’t want your eyes closed? I also close my eyes when I lead worship or sing, mainly to shut the people out. It helps me focus on God too.
          Thanks for reading and commenting. I continue to find a path of healing and am just trying to find a way to get worship and music to fit back into my life. I wish you the best of luck in your worship journey as well.

  • Sierra

    You wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve heard! People are funny. You are on stage and sometimes it feels like a target on your back. I did struggle with a lot of aspects of leading worship. I’m just stepping back in after ten years (!!) out of it.

    Church stuff was always a part of the struggle. Mostly from a worship pastor who was unwilling to allow musical growth from anyone. It was his pond, we all just played in it. But that was OK. I learned a ton under him, and appreciated what he gave. I moved on eventually.

    The issues that caused me to leave really had nothing to do with music…just burnout as a leader, which I eventually came to understand was my own boundary issues and perfectionism. I too, have found solace in Celebrate Recovery. It took me a long time to reconcile the “realness” in those rooms vs. the Sunday morning, “how are you?” “Fine” thing. I’ve come to understand that my ability to be real is a gift, and I feel that I set the tone for bringing the “real” into Sunday. Scary, but amazingly rewarding at times. Other times, not so much. LOL.

    I’m finding my own way back, but I do know that giving grace is both hard, and the answer. :-)

    God bless you in your journey.

    • jamiekocur

      Thanks for sharing part of yours!