Stepford is the name of the fictional idyllic community in Ira Levin’s 1972 novel, The Stepford Wives. This satirical thriller portrays the women of the community as animatronic robots. The word Stepford, therefore, has come to denote a person regarded as a bland robotic conformist, one who blindly imitates or mimics another or one who does not behave or think independently. Does that sound like the way you plan, prepare and lead worship?
It is often easier as worship leaders to imitate the worship habits, methods, styles, presentations and even attire of other artists or congregations. We mimic them without even considering our own gifts and calling or the calling and abilities of our players, singers and congregants. If the only version of worship songs you ever lead or your congregation ever expects must be exactly like that of the original artist (including: genre, key, tempo, instrumentation, vocal timbre, volume, attitude and even attire), then why do they need you?
If God has entrusted us with the position to which He has called us, then imitating or mimicking another actually marginalizes that calling. An imitation can never exceed the quality or ability of the imitated or it is no longer an imitation but instead a new creation. So an imitation will always be an inferior substitute for the original. Is that really what God intended for you and the best you have to offer Him and your church?
Obviously, not all congregations are gifted with musicians who create original songs and therefore must borrow songs from others. The difference between borrowing their songs and imitating their worship, however, is taking the time to interpret those songs while giving consideration to the uniqueness of your own congregation instead of just attempting to make those songs sound as close as possible to the original rendition.
Imitation is about style. Interpretation is about content. Imitation is based on replication. Interpretation is based on revelation. Imitation ignores God’s limitless creativity in multiple contexts. Interpretation acknowledges God’s limitless creativity in your own context. Imitation is an attempt to lead worship by mimicking what someone else has been called to do. Interpretation is an attempt to lead worship by expressing what God has called you to do.