When the Alarm Clock Goes Off

It happened suddenly, in an instant. And I slept right through it.

Recently, on a very early Sunday morning, I cast a bleary eye at my alarm clock, and realized that it hadn’t gone off.  Late for church, robbed of 28 minutes of consciousness, jumping out of bed and flying out the door, I came to the startling realization—My alarm clock lied to me.

This is no small thing.  This General Electric Model C25949 alarm clock had been a loyal and punctual part of my life for the past 29 years.  It had never complained about chores, never left laundry on the floor, never eaten the last of the cereal but left the box in the cupboard.  It had lived in six different houses, saw four children be born, lulled me to sleep for three decades.  It even woke me up for my wedding.

Alarm Clock.  Fifty percent Alarm.  Fifty percent Clock. Now one hundred percent broken.

I think that our lives have built-in alarm clocks, times in our lives when we get a proverbial wake-up call.  It can be an epiphany, a revelation, a significant event, or even just a birthday with a zero on the end.

I experienced one of these little wake-up calls this last year.  Quietly and without any real acknowledgment, I celebrated my twenty-year anniversary of full-time vocational ministry.  It was twenty years ago that I resigned from a promising career in aerospace, walked away from my engineering degree and my MBA, and went to work for a local church in a sleepy little town called Folsom.

That was over a thousand Sundays ago.  And so, for a thousand times my loyal alarm clock had reminded me that my calling is to lead people to worship.

But here’s the thing.  Internally, my anniversary took me into a little bit of a psychological tail-spin.  You see, worship seems—more and more—to be a young man’s game.  The Hollywood-ization of the worship industry has, for better or worse, set certain criteria for large churches.  Here’s the unspoken expectation: Worship leaders should be young, male, guitar-playing hipsters (or if you are female, you don’t have to be a hipster, but you should be a pleasant-looking).

No, I don’t think anyone actually believes such a thing.  And no one would ever actually say anything like that either.  But the appearance of it is there just the same.  Go to any large worship conference and survey the landscape of young, white, male, songwriting guitarists.  And I’m a baby-booming, keyboard-leading non-hipster.  I just don’t fit the demographic.  So it was with these thoughts in my head that I had a heart-to-heart talk with my co-senior pastor.

Now, as an aside, it is essential for any worship leader to have an open and honest relationship with their senior pastor.  It’s not just about sharing your plans for Sunday. You need to be able to bare your soul occasionally, share your triumphs and trials and sins, privately disagree and argue freely, and still give and receive unconditional support.  Thankfully, twenty years of working hard at my relationship with my pastor allows me this intimacy.  So I shared with him all of my concerns.  I shared my alarm.

Thankfully, he has a mature perspective about such things.  He reminded me that part of our calling as a church is simply to be who we are.  And sink or swim, we will be held accountable to God not for whether we grew our church in numbers, but whether we grew our church into that which He called us.  In other words, the more we are ourselves, our real and God-intended selves, the more Christ can shine in us.

It isn’t our job to project a certain image.  It isn’t our job to portray a hipster Jesus.  But it is our job to help the people of our church—diverse in age, gender, race, economic status, and background—experience Him, in whatever state we happen to be.  Warts and all.

Much later, in a quiet moment, I had a little eulogy for my alarm clock.  I unplugged it, neatly wrapped the cord, took one last look at the black plastic and the unlit LED display, and then lay it gently in the trash.  I thought about all the services I have led worship over the last twenty years, all the experiences of transcendence, all the people who stood before me as we came before the Throne of the Almighty.

And I thanked God for the privilege of many, many more in the future.

6 thoughts on “When the Alarm Clock Goes Off

  1. Love this Manuel. Thanks for the great perspective.

    From one baby boomer, keyboard leading, non-hipster to another. lol


  2. Thanks Manuel for your honesty. As a 40 something year old female worship leader I often feel like I don’t fit the image..but God is showing me that it’s not just about ability,age or gender, but willingness to be obedient to His call and to step into what He has asked me to do, believing that He who called is faithful. Thanks for sharing this – it encouraged my heart today.

  3. You seem like a young hipster to me – or maybe I just see my contemporary and still see myself as a young hipster? :) At any rate, you’re doing what you’re supposed to & that is very cool at any age.

  4. Lovely post Manuel. I am thankful for the role you have taken at church. An artist who weaves relationships anchored by faith and the desire for authentic worship of God. The fruit you bear is evidence that the path you chose, twenty some years ago, was indeed God’s path for you. Also telling is the fact you didn’t take apart the alarm clock and try to fix it.

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