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Who’s on Your Back?





Leadership lessons from a surprising carrier

Every pastor understands the concept of carrying a burden. Whether it’s felt when counseling a couple through marital problems or when preaching to the lost, those who lead the church inherently know what it means to take on a heavy load. Unfortunately, we’re not so good at sharing that load, nor do we always carry the right burden in the first place.

But something wonderful happened 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem—and in many ways it is still happening today—to remind us just what (or whom) we should be carrying. As John 12:12-15 reveals, Israel’s Messiah was moving through the streets. People

were praising Him, shouting “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Though that grand entrance into Jerusalem is one of the most infamous moments in history, there are some hidden elements to this scene that, when revealed, can help pastors, worship leaders and entire congregations.

The King on a Colt

Because Scripture clearly describes Jesus as riding on the colt of a donkey—just as Zechariah had prophesied centuries before—there is no ambiguity surrounding Christ’s arrival at the city. Yet what is often overlooked is this clear fact: A grown man cannot put his full weight on such a young animal.

Matthew 21:2 proves that this colt was still with his mother, which means he was too young to carry Jesus’ weight. This was the Lord’s way of showing us that His burden is indeed light and His yoke is easy (see Matt. 11:30).

In addition, a colt is mostly untrained and at best “green broke.” The fact that Jesus rode him through the streets amid shouts of praise and palm branches waving would have caused such unpredictable behavior that it would’ve been impossible to ride him. The moment the first branch shook by the colt’s head he would have taken off back to his mother’s side. Yet Jesus took control of this mostly wild creature and brought him into submission to His will.

In 1 Chronicles 15:15 the sons of the Levites carried the burden of God’s presence (the ark) on their shoulders. Upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus fulfilled this Scripture by using the younger generation to carry His presence.

The fact that He chose a donkey means He preferred a humble servant for this task. In the same way, the Holy Spirit wants to take authority over the life of a leader who is humble and submitted.

He longs to guide that leader to walk among the people exhibiting the Lord. And when He is able to do this through a yielded vessel, praise should break out spontaneously, just as it did in the Lord’s triumphal entry.

An Onstage Presence

Such yielding is essential for all of us who each week come face-to-face with the allure of “spotlight” ministry. After being in the music business for many years and later leading praise in a variety of places, I learned that being onstage in front of people has almost the same effect on the person leading praise as it does on the performer dedicated to getting famous.

This doesn’t make either one of them bad people; this dynamic has been around for centuries. Performing is not a sin, as is often thought by many. In fact, performing excellently in church is almost an obligation because of the worthiness of the Lord.

It’s what happens after the great performance that causes all the problems among worship teams and young and old musicians alike. It’s called flattery, and it always makes the recipient stupid and unable to discern (see Prov. 26:28).

For years I battled with my own version of this and made up my mind I wouldn’t accept any compliments if given to me, but that only ended in false humility. I started facing the band when onstage so I wouldn’t have to look at the faces of the people and be controlled by the approving or disapproving expressions of the leadership.

This helped for a while, but when the power of the Holy Spirit started to move almost everyone thought I had something to do with it. In a way, the leader does have something to do with it—about as much as the donkey did when carrying the light burden of Jesus.

Carrying One

The foal of a donkey is not only too young to carry the weight of a full-grown man, but he’s also only able to carry one person at all. I can’t remember how many times I felt the burden of the church while leading, and before the time was finished I was exhausted and wondered if Jesus was praised at all that day. (I’m sure no pastor reading this can relate.)

The truth is, if Christ is all you are carrying as a leader, then you will not be exhausted after the sermon, worship time or whatever your part, but instead you will be exhilarated.

The same goes for the congregation. If 200 people try to climb on the back of a baby donkey, they’ll obviously kill it.

Even if it were possible to have that many people riding, imagine how uncomfortable the ride would be trying not to fall off such a tiny perch. It would quickly lead to rejecting anyone else who wanted to climb onboard, much less a newcomer.

Still, this scenario is played out Sunday after Sunday in churches all over the country. The results can be extremely discouraging and typically ends in performance worship that doesn’t help people to enter in to the Spirit at all.

Jealousy in the Blood

Allow me to pause for a moment and concentrate on this last element as it specifically relates to worship leaders. When a worship leader truly becomes a colt and carries only the “burden” of Jesus on his back, a congregation won’t notice the carrier but instead the rider. The result is that people will see Jesus and respond by lifting their voices and shouting His name, just as they did in Jerusalem.

As any worship leader knows, however, this is easier said than done—especially if a praise team is harboring selfish ambition or jealousy. I know that seems impossible to imagine anyone on the praise team having selfish ambition, but I know this from too many years of experience; if you are a musician or singer, then you have experienced some measure of jealousy and ambition. This jealousy is in the bloodline of every musician who ever lived.

Genesis 4:21 tells us that the father of all who play music is a man named Jubal. He was the great-great-great-grandson of Cain, the man who killed his brother because of jealousy, envy and strife. So musicians are inherently in the lineage of Cain. Fortunately for us, this “bad blood” can be quickly dealt with by simply going to the cross of Jesus, asking forgiveness for our jealousy and confessing it when it tries to come back. Getting real about the feelings all musicians have is the fastest way to get rid of such a mess.

Remember that musicians are supposed to carry enough authority in their musicianship to drive demons out of a place. This was the gift that David had as a young boy who played for Saul when he was demon-possessed. After the sound of David’s harp reached Saul’s spirit it relieved Saul and he returned to his right mind (see 1 Sam. 16:23).

Likewise, countless worshipers come into a Sunday morning tormented by outside forces—many not even knowing this is the case. The Holy Spirit is always present, but the many distractions the people of God have in their lives causes them to miss this presence. A praise leader with authority drives back these distractions and causes people to awaken to the awesome presence of God.

Conversely, if a musician plays with selfish ambition or jealously in his heart, there will be a release of the demonic right into the praise itself, which ultimately defiles those who came to offer a sacrifice of praise to Jesus. This is why it’s becoming increasingly more important for musicians on a praise team to embrace the refining fire of the Lord in their own lives (see Mal. 3:1-2) and get real about selfish ambition and jealousy. These things are not a sin if confessed, but they grow into monsters when hidden.

Spontaneous Tradition

Another gem hidden in the Jerusalem scene 2,000 years ago can be found amid the people’s spontaneous shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Hosanna means “save we pray” and was spoken at the feasts of Israel as a tradition; the accompanying phrase had been used hundreds of years earlier, as found in Psalm 118:25-26. The people gathered along the road praising Jesus were doing a traditional thing, yet it came out of a spontaneous reaction. Though it might not have been unusual to end the feast with a great shout of hope, never had the streets been full of people doing this for any man.

This is called doing a traditional thing in a spontaneous way, and it’s what the Holy Spirit is preparing the church for. When Jesus comes back will the church respond to Him in a Spirit-led way, or will they treat this event like any other Sunday?

Years ago, while in an inner-city church in Rochester, N.Y., I was preparing to speak as the church’s praise team was leading. I was preoccupied with what I wanted to speak on when suddenly a tall, thin man stood up, stretched out his long arms and began to dance gently around in the aisle of the church. He had been such a bad drug abuser that it was difficult to tell his age. Still, while wearing his tattered winter overcoat and worn-out work boots with no shoelaces, this mostly toothless man stood before his King and openly revealed his gratitude for his salvation and entrance into the kingdom of God.

I wept as I watched this beautiful and spontaneous expression of praise. The Holy Spirit fell so heavy as he danced that I could barely minister. I realized the Lord wanted to go in a different direction that day than what I’d wanted. I was there to show everyone how much I knew about worship and the Holy Spirit was there to lead the church in repentance. Afterward that’s exactly what God did, and there were many healings and salvations that day. Like Jesus on the donkey in the streets of Jerusalem, one spontaneous act of praise always leads to another until God is being completely praised.

Ushering in the Presence

The question still remains for every leader: Whom are you carrying? The answer, of course, should be Jesus and Him alone. That may sound noble enough, but what happens when the rubber hits the road? When next Sunday comes around and all you’ve ever known as a leader is trying to carry the entire church, it can be difficult to make a change.

Will you play your part as a colt? Will you usher in the presence of the King and allow people to respond to Him—not you—with spontaneous praise? My hope is that you would because not only is this response of pure love highly valued by God, such unashamed praise lifted to Him will play an even larger role in the coming days.


A veteran of the music industry in every sense of the word, Don Potter has a heart to teach, model and impart a spirit of excellence and integrity in ministering to and for the Lord through worship. For more information, visit potterhausmusic.net.

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