If you’ve seen the film Encanto then the title of this article has probably already triggered an ear-worm in your head (you’re welcome). Lin-Manuel Miranda’s song “Surface Pressure” describes the churn of emotions that follow when we try to hide our struggles from others. Luisa is seen as “the strong one” in the family, but inside she is brimming with anxiety, self-doubt and the overwhelming burden of other people’s expectations. “Under the surface I'm pretty sure I'm worthless if I can't be of service”, she sing.

The Engage Worship team recently had a staff day, and as we prayed and reflected, the phrase Under the Surface came to mind. It does feel that churches, pastors and worship leaders are currently passing through an era of heightened anxiety. You are not alone if you struggle with Sunday attendance, financial burdens, negative media stories, and countless other pressures bubbling “under the surface”. 

If you’re feeling that “surface pressure” then we are right there alongside you. You don’t have to struggle alone. And you don’t need to despair, because God wants to meet you wherever you’re at. 

The phrase Under the Surface does relate to this feeling of inner burdens, but that wasn’t the primary way we interpreted it. The main thing that struck us as vital in this season was God challenging us to look at the hidden parts of our lives. The unseen places, the soil and the roots. Jesus teaches that our soil needs to be good in order for the seeds of the Kingdom to germinate (Matt 13:1-23). Or take a look at the following picture (from the Wageningen University collection) which shows what is going on under the surface in nature: each tree's roots stretch out between two to five times wider than the branches above ground. 

God is showing us through his word and his world that we need to pay more attention to the hidden things below the surface - the roots and the soil - rather than the surface, superficial things we so often worry about. The deep, unseen things matter. We need to nurture our relationship with God in ways that aren't 'instagrammable'. "Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong." (Eph 3:17, NLT).

The invitation from God is to invest in the secret places. That might mean carving time out in your diary to spend some more time in prayer, solitude and silence. It might mean getting together with a trusted friend, pastor or spiritual director to talk honestly. It might mean facing up to disappointments and questions in your life which you’ve been avoiding, grieving your losses with God or giving vent to your emotions as you trust that God is gracious enough to receive them.

One of our vision phrases is that we want to encourage “sustainable worship” - we want to see your ministry and your church’s worship life have life and health for decades to come. That’s why we provide resources such as our PAUSE/PRAY audio Bible reflections. It is why we’re running retreat days like Created To Create and Evergreen. It is at the heart of our The Rest Is Worship project, and motivates our desire to run training and retreats on this in the coming months. So do get in touch if we can serve your network with a retreat or training session, we’d love to chat to you about that.

But beyond what we can offer, may we encourage you to go to God in the secret places. Let God do the deep, healing, transformative work that will set you up for the long-haul of healthy, fruitful ministry.