3 Ways for Worship Leaders to Let God Do the Heavy Lifting

A “can-do” attitude is something to be praised.  I, however, am often guilty of fraternizing with its less commendable cousin, the “must-do” attitude.  My “must-do” attitude is what convinced me the other day to carry a couch up the stairs to our bedroom all by myself.  It’s a symptom of not realizing that despite the fact I share a first name with Clark Kent, I am not Superman and I have limits.  My “must-do” attitude often leads to self-injury and wounded pride.

Unfortunately, I have been guilty over the years of bringing this attitude into worship leading and it too has resulted in a type of self-injury.  But, by God’s grace, He has lovingly taught me and is still teaching me, to acknowledge my limits and allow Him to do the “heavy lifting” involved in worship leading.  The following are three realizations that have helped me do this:

1. It’s Not My Job to Make People Worship.

I am blessed to be part of a church family that absolutely loves to worship.  Having said that, there are services where the congregation seems less engaged than others.

I used to measure my success as a worship leader by the level of engagement in the room.  Then I realized that it wasn’t my job to make people worship nor did I have the ability to do so even if it was.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe I have the ability to influence people towards engagement in worship but beyond that, it’s out of my control.  I’ll continue to pray, prepare, practice, get better etc… to increase that ability to influence but at the end of the day, I know that there is Someone else who is much better at moving hearts to worship.

There is no one more excited about influencing people to worship God than the Holy Spirit.  When we gather for worship He Himself is already drawing hearts.  He is stirring passion in people by revealing to them the beauty and irresistible goodness of God.

Consequently, I don’t need to cajole people when I’m leading worship.  I don’t need to command them to engage.  I can lead from a place of rest trusting that the Holy Spirit is doing the heavy lifting of wooing hearts to Jesus.

2. It’s Not My Job to Make God “Show Up.”

I used to believe that it was the worship teams job to “usher in” the presence of God.  I’m not saying there isn’t anything true about that idea, just that there are some whacky ideas that can spawn from such phrases.

I would find myself praying beforehand and during worship from a place of almost begging God to show up.  Prayers like, “please come Lord Jesus!”  I hate to say it but a part of me approached worship from the same mindset of the 450 prophets in 1 Kings 18 who thought they could summon their god by working themselves into a physical and emotional frenzy.  Yikes.

Then I came to realize that God was actually more excited about meeting with us then we could ever be about meeting with Him.  Matter of fact, Jesus is so crazy about being present with His people that in Matthew 18:20 He promised that whenever we would gather He would be present. And the “presence” Jesus promised wasn’t a “fly on the wall” type presence where He would simply stand in the corner and observe but a “moving, speaking, healing etc…” type presence in our midst.

Consequently, I don’t need to feel the heavy weight of somehow pulling God into the room.  I can lead worship from a place of faith that God is indeed present and we just need to acknowledge and open our hearts to Him.

3. There’s No Such Thing As the Perfect Set List.

When I first began leading worship the task of putting together a set list was a heavy task.  After all, there was a scroll in God’s right hand containing the set list for a specific worship time and it was my job to pray it (or pry it) out of His hands.  Right?

Then I heard Irish worship leader Kathryn Scott say something brilliant:  “A set list is like a car.  And it doesn’t matter what kind it is.  It will get you where you want to go as long as you drive it in the right direction.”

I’m all for asking God to guide the preparation process.  There are even times I believe He will lead me to include certain songs.  But in the grand scheme of things all we need is a few songs that are true and engaging and God will breathe on them because that’s what He does.

Consequently, I don’t feel like I need to pry the scroll out of His hands.  I can simply, yet prayerfully, select a few songs and rely on His ability and eagerness to use them to draw hearts to Himself.

Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).  These words are to be more than just a warm and fuzzy idea.  I believe with all my heart they can be, and should be, our experience if we choose to let Him do all of the heavy lifting in worship leading.



Ski Lifts and Set Lists (3 Things They Have In Common)

In my opinion, riding a ski lift is loads of fun.  I’m not sure what I enjoy more, the beautiful view from the 40 feet elevation or the rush of adrenaline from knowing how easy it would be to fall those 40 feet to the ground.  Whatever the reason is, it’s an enjoyable experience.

Lately, I’ve reflected on the similarities between ski lifts and the set lists we use in corporate worship.  I’m not sure why, though, because I haven’t been skiing in over 15 years!  Nonetheless, here are a few of the things they share in common.

1. No One Goes Skiing for the Ski Lifts.
Imagine having coffee with a friend who just returned from a week long ski trip.  Upon inquiring about their trip you learn that all they did was ride the ski lift up and down the mountain for a week.  Your thought in that moment? What a waste!

Why?  Because no one takes off of work and spends hundreds of dollars to simply ride up and down a mountain in a gondola.

Unlike our fictitious friend, no one goes skiing for the ski lifts.  They go skiing for the exhilarating experience of racing down powder-packed mountains at 20+ mph.  Not to mention the breathtaking views from the mountain tops.

Similarly, whether they realize it or not, most people don’t come to our churches to sing our set lists.  As great as they are, I’m sure, they are looking for something much more substantial.

They come for the exhilarating experience of encountering God in a fulfilling, transforming and empowering way and for the breathtaking views of His glory and truth.  They come hoping to lay hold of the joy, strength, pleasure, peace, comfort, encouragement, healing etc… that can only be found in His presence.

2. A Ski Lift Is a Vehicle.
The whole purpose of the ski lift is to get people somewhere.  Technically, it’s not even necessary.  Before ski lifts were used people “simply” hiked up the mountain.  Thankfully, however, some really nice people invented ski lifts to expedite the process for the rest of us non-Bear Grylls types.

Likewise, the whole purpose of a set list is to get people somewhere.  And yes, just like the ski lift, it’s really not necessary.  However, a group of “filled and skilled” musicians with a good set list sure can expedite the process of getting a large room full of people up the mountain of worship.

3. There Comes a Time to Get Off of the Lift.
It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve ridden a ski lift, the “dismount” at the top of the mountain still feels a bit awkward to me.  But, if I’m going to ski down the mountain, I’m going to have to push through the awkwardness and just do it.  Otherwise, I’ll have to ride the lift down and catch up with my friends later.

Similarly, there are many times in worship when, in order to really go somewhere and find that exhilarating God-encounter, we need to “get off of the lift.”

As worship leaders, this means moving beyond the boundaries of the planned set list.  This may look like repeating a part of the song, a moment of silence, an unplanned song, musical space for the congregation to pour out their hearts using their own words, responding to a prophetic word, a spontaneous song, reading a Scripture etc…

I imagine some of you are like me in that getting off of the lift/moving beyond the plan can feel a bit awkward at times.  The reward, however, makes it so worth it.

In conclusion, let’s keep doing the work of preparing engaging, truth-filled set lists for those we serve.  But let’s fix our eyes on and lead our communities to what lies beyond them:  exhilarating experiences of encountering God’s fulfilling, transforming and empowering presence.

 PHOTO:  Lifting by Chris Martino

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4 Keys to a Well-Balanced Worship Set

There’s an old word of advice given to brides that they should wear “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue” on their wedding day to ensure good luck. I don’t put too much stock into luck but I do believe that within this rhyme lie three keys to a well-balanced set list for worship. If we modify it a bit we can make it an even four! “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something you.”

Familiarity is a worship leader’s friend.

New songs require energy to learn. Not only is the worshiper trying to learn the melody and the lyrics, but they are also evaluating it. They are trying to decide if they like it and if the songwriter’s words are worthy of becoming part of their personal worship vocabulary.

Familiar songs, on the other hand, have had time to settle nicely into the hearts and minds of worshipers. The worshiper has already developed a “worship history” with the familiar song and, more than likely, has an easier time engaging with God through it.

However, as valuable as familiarity is, as they say, it can lead to contempt. And boredom.

Are you familiar with the aroma of freshly baked bread? I believe this aroma points to the ever-freshness of God! His personality and presence never grow stale but are always fresh and full of life! We are the ones who get stale and regularly need to get refreshed in His presence. I believe our worship should reflect the “freshness” of God.

Another reason new songs are needed is that lovers are always trying to figure out new ways to say, “I love you” to each other. It’s only natural that we would want to find new and fresh ways to express the “same old things” to Jesus:  We love You, we trust You, we need You, we thank You etc…

Finally, I believe God is always doing something new in His people. There’s a new revelation of Himself that He’s bringing, or a deeper work in His people’s hearts, or a new level of freedom etc… Since worship is a response to who He is and what He does, it’s only natural that a new revelation or new work of God would result in a new response. We see this principle in Isaiah 42:9-10, “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare…Sing to the Lord a new song…” New “songs” follow new “things.”

This next one may not even be worthy of mention since most church’s worship does consist of songs that are “borrowed,” but because I see value in it, I’ll comment on it.

Ephesians 1:23 says the Church is the fullness of God. This is not talking about my church or your church but the global Church that stretches across time and space. I believe every local congregation bears a unique expression of who God is. No one church, as awesome as it may be, has the whole picture. The verse in Ephesians states that God is so big that it takes the whole Church to even get close to adequately reflecting who He is.

Similarly, no one songwriter, church, worship ministry etc… is adequate to squeeze all of who God is and what He’s doing into its “home grown” songs. Because of this, I believe there is value in using songs from a swath of songwriters and movements, not just songs that spring up out of your corner of the body of Christ.

However, I do believe that a song that springs up within a community can have more impact on that community than a song written by a “professional” across the pond. An original song is able to voice the specific longings of its community unlike any other. Also, the community experiences a sense of ownership of the song.

It’s so powerful when songwriters are able to put into song the specific promises God is speaking to a community. Moses did this in Deuteronomy 31-32 when he wrote a song and taught it to Israel so they wouldn’t forget what God had spoken to them.

Whether you lead worship for conferences or home groups, I encourage you to give this a try and write some original material. See what happens, you might be surprised.


“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something you.”