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.

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The Absence of These 2 Things Will Derail Any Corporate Worship Experience

When I was a kid loved walking along the railroad tracks behind my grandfather’s house. My brothers and I would search for loose railroad spikes that could easily be pulled off the rails and kept as souvenirs. Little did we know that our “treasure hunt” was not only illegal but extremely dangerous. Those little iron spikes were some of the only things holding those tracks intact. Needless to say, without sound tracks, a train might not make it to its destination on time. Or in one piece.

Corporate worship is like a train. When God’s people come together to seek His face and declare His praise, we “go” somewhere together. As the author of Hebrews put it, we “draw near to the throne of grace” (4:16). Worship is a journey into the heart of God. It’s a dynamic activity, not a static one.

Just as a train needs two rails to reach its destination, so does corporate worship. I call these two rails “acceptability” and “accessibility.”

ACCEPTABILITY.
Above all, worship must be acceptable to God. His word makes clear what kind of worship is acceptable to Him. Here are two characteristics of this kind of worship.

1. Worship That Is True. Jesus said in John 4:24 that God is Spirit and those who worship Him must do so in truth. We must worship Him in accordance with who He is, how Scripture reveals Him to be, not in accordance with how we simply think He is or how we think He should be. To do the latter would be to worship a fabricated version of the true God and not the true God Himself.

Therefore, the content of our corporate worship must consist of truth and nothing but the truth.

2. Worship That Is Consistent. God offered a pretty brutal and honest critique of His people’s worship in Amos 5:21-23. Here are a few of the “highlights.”

“I hate…your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”

Ouch. What was the reason for God’s utter contempt of their worship? Were the harps out of tune? No, verse 24 gives us the answer: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The problem with Israel’s worship is that it was completely incongruent with their actual lives. They drew near with their lips but their hearts (and lives) were far from Him (Is. 29:13).

It’s not that our lives have to be perfect. There’s plenty of room around God’s throne of grace for weak and imperfect people. We are all on a journey towards becoming like Jesus. Therefore, we aren’t hypocrites if the songs we sing and prayers we pray are inconsistent with what we have attained thus far in our journey with Jesus. However, we are in danger of being hypocrites if the songs we sing and prayers we pray are inconsistent with what we are pursuing.

Consequently, let’s sing and pray boldly of the things we’ve yet to attain but do so from hearts and lives that are in pursuit of them.

ACCESSIBILITY.
Not only must corporate worship be acceptable to God, but He makes it clear in His word that it must be accessible to others.

The ultimate example of worship that is inaccessible, and God’s heart towards this matter, can be seen in John 2:13-17.

The time was Passover. The Jewish feast when all of God’s people were required to go on pilgrimage to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. This was a literal worship journey.

As His people made the difficult trek from the four corners of the nation, carrying their gifts and preparing their hearts by singing the songs of ascent (Psalm 120-134), they finally arrived at their destination only to find a roadblock right outside of the temple devised by the religious spirit of the day.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had set up an extortion ring under the guise of concern for proper worship.

Many of the pilgrims had a long journey and in lieu of bringing their own sacrifices, they brought money to purchase animals for sacrifice when they got to Jerusalem. These animals could be conveniently purchased right outside of the Temple. For an exorbitant price.

Not only were the prices of the animals inflated, but your Roman denarius wasn’t acceptable. You would first have to exchange it for the Jewish shekel. The money changers were more than happy to assist you with this. However, the exchange rate was horrible. (Sort of like a store that is “cash only” and conveniently has an ATM in the corner with a $5 usage fee!)

Needless to say, this road block made Jesus livid. You probably know the rest of the story.

I believe this story reveals Jesus’ heart for accessible worship so clearly. Paul shared His heart to a degree as we see in his dealing with the Corinthian’s inaccessible worship practices (1 Cor. 14).

How do we as worship leaders create worship experiences that are accessible? Here are just a few ways.

1. Remember Why We’re Here. First, I often find it’s important to remind myself that first and foremost my role is about serving others. Like King David (2 Samuel 5:12) I realize that God has put me where I am for the sake of others, not just myself. Remembering this puts me in the right mindset to make good decisions. Often when considering a new song or direction I’ll ask, “Is this going to help people worship?”

2. Content That’s Intelligible. Are the songs we write and choose to use clearly understood? Good poetry is incredibly valuable in our songs but not when it’s at the expense of clarity, in my (hopefully) humble opinion.

3. Content That’s Familiar. Scripture commands us to sing new songs and yet a good dose of familiarity will go a long way in corporate worship.

4. Leadership That’s Followable. Do I run off on my own adventure when leading worship or do I bring people along? Does my musical skill provide a solid foundation for people to run on? Am I so inconsistent and unpredictable in my actions that people feel a little unsure about how to join in?

5. Leadership That’s Inviting. Is my demeanor warm and inviting or cold and commanding? Do I help people feel at home through my words and eye contact or do they feel like they are guests in someone else’s house?

What are your thoughts regarding acceptability and accesibility?

3 Things Incredibly Effective Worship Leaders Do

One of my deepest desires as a worship leader is that others would find it easy, effortless even, to encounter God in the worship environments I create.  The following are 3 things worship leaders can do, by the grace of God, to help others more easily encounter God in worship.

1. AWAKEN HUNGER.

It was the thirsty Jesus invited to come and drink (John 7:37).  It is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness that will be filled (Matthew 5:6).  Hunger is essential if we want to encounter God.  However, it’s not just hunger that’s required, it’s conscious hunger.

Jesus’ grievance with the Laodicean church in Revelation 3 wasn’t that they weren’t hungry but that they weren’t conscious of their hunger.  They were starving to death but by binging on “worldly junk food” they had convinced themselves they were full!

We are all hungry for God’s presence but we aren’t always conscious of it.  Here are a couple ways we can awaken hunger in ourselves and in those we lead.

Pray for it.  Conscious spiritual hunger is a gift from God that we can ask for.  Pray for your spiritual community that the Father would awaken hunger.  Ask Him to show them (yourself included!) their true state.

How many times did you think you weren’t hungry until you saw someone else eating?  The mere sight and smell of food awakened your body to its true state.  Likewise, spiritual hunger can be awakened by the sight and aroma of true spiritual food.

Declaring the hunger-satisfying attributes of God in our prayers, declarations, and songs can awaken hearts to hunger in worship as we lead.

2. INCREASE FAITH.

Scripture makes it clear that, in general, faith is prerequisite to encountering God.  Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the case where Jesus returned to his hometown.  Mark 6:5 records that because of the corporate unbelief, “he could do no mighty work there.”

Conscious hunger is not enough.  We must have faith as well.  If the starving man is ignorant of the lavish banquet spread out for him in the other room, he will go on hungry.

One of our jobs as worship leaders is simply calling attention to the feast that’s been laid out for God’s hungry people.  Here are a few ways we can do this.

“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  According to Romans 10:17, God’s word is one of the primary instruments He uses to kindle faith in human hearts.  Therefore, it behooves us as worship leaders to fill our corporate worship times with the truth of His word.

Similar to the patriarch Jacob who said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:17) we are susceptible to going unawares when His presence is at hand.  One of the most powerful things a worship leader can do is look others in the eye and declare that God is in the very room and He’s here to speak and engage with us.

For one, this declaration is always true anytime Jesus followers are gathered together in His name (Matt. 18:20).  Secondly, this declaration can increase faith in the room for what God wants to do, thus, positioning our hearts to receive.

3. RESTORE CONFIDENCE.

As essential as conscious hunger and faith are to meeting with God, sometimes these two are not enough.  If our starving friend from the earlier example is aware of both his hunger and the lavish banquet in the other room, his feelings of unworthiness could prevent him from approaching the table.

The author of Hebrews was cognizant of this and wrote, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).

Often God’s people need to have their confidence restored before they can run into the throne room and climb into Daddy’s lap.  More often than not their lack of confidence is based on a lie.  After all, we have an accuser who does not relent 24/7 (Rev. 12:10).

As worship leaders, we often need to remind our fellow brothers and sisters that our confidence to enter the holy place is not based on how we did last week but on how Jesus did 2000 years ago when he shed His blood for us.  “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).

Awaken hunger, increase faith and restore confidence.  I encourage you to make a conscious effort to do one of these things the next time you are privileged to lead God’s people in worship.  And let me know how it goes!

3 Ways Worship Leaders Can Make It Easier for Others to Encounter God

1. BE A “SKILLFUL” MUSICIAN.

A number of passages in the Old Testament extol the virtues of “skillful music” (e.g., 1 Sam. 16:18, 1 Chron. 25:7). It’s important to realize, however, that the Hebrew word translated “skillful” wasn’t used to refer to someone who simply had incredible “chops” but to someone who understood how to use the “chops” they had.

This means that it’s possible for someone who only knows four guitar chords to be more skillful than someone who has mastered the fretboard. The one who mastered the fretboard may not know the first thing about employing his skills to help others worship.

To help others engage in worship we need to be “skillful” musicians. We need to understand, among other things, how music can be used to drown out the clamor of external and internal distractions and hone our focus on God. Keep in mind, though, that focus isn’t our end goal, engagement is.

If you already have the basics down (e.g. singing in tune, executing chords properly, and playing with consistent and appropriate tempo), you might consider working on transitions between songs.

For instance, intentional silence between two songs can be a very effective way of helping others acknowledge God’s greatness, or communicate that some sort of transition in the worship is coming. On the other hand, silence that’s the result of needing to shuffle papers or of not knowing how to flow from one song to the next can cause some to disengage.

Pairing songs of similar keys, themes, tempos etc… can be a great way of creating a “seamless” worship experience for others and, therefore, help them stay engaged.

2. BE AN “UNDIGNIFIED” MODEL.

Have you ever walked into a home and after being there a few minutes notice that the hosts weren’t wearing shoes? What did you do? More than likely you quickly removed your shoes and placed them by the door. Why do we do this? Because when most of us enter an environment we want to know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Often, we look to whoever we perceive as the person “in charge” for cues.

Similarly, whenever we gather for worship, people want to know what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not. And more often than not, they are going to look to the leadership (including the worship leader!) for that information.

What do they learn from us? Do they learn that they can enter God’s presence with brazen confidence or that they should be slightly uncomfortable and self-conscious? Do they learn that they can bring their emotion and bodies with them before God or that they should leave them behind? Do they learn that we are all here to worship and connect with God or that we are here to focus on the details of what we’re doing because everyone on the stage seems to have their eyes glued to the music stand 90% of the time?  (Ouch, this one hurts because I’m guilty of it often!)

Here’s the bottom line: being an “undignified” model means being authentic and free like King David was the day the ark entered Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). He didn’t allow social norms or self-consciousness to hold back his worship from God. It doesn’t mean we need to wear a sequence outfit and try to razzle-dazzle everyone, inauthenticity stinks. It simply means being free to be yourself. What does it look like when you worship by yourself? If possible, worship like that when you’re leading.

3. BE A “CLOSET” WORSHIPER.

When my wife used to pick up our then two-year-old daughter from our church’s childcare, she wouldn’t have to tell me who was watching her. I already knew who was watching her based on the remnant aroma of their perfume on our daughter.

Similarly, in Acts 4:13 when the Jewish Council observed the power and the boldness emanating from Peter and John’s lives, there was no need to tell them who they had been spending time with. It says that they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

When we spend time with God in the secret place, there will be an aroma that emanates from our lives. This “holy aroma” is none other than God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 7:38 that the Holy Spirit would flow out of the lives of those who believed in Him.

When a worship leader spends more time worshiping in the “closet” than he or she does on the “stage,” the presence of God will emanate from their lives in such a way that others will actually find it easier to worship under their leadership.

I can’t think of a higher compliment than when someone tells me how easy they find it to connect with God when I’m leading worship.

Do you know of other ways we can make it easier for others to encounter God in worship? Please comment and share!

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.”

1. SOMETHING OLD.
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.

2. SOMETHING NEW.
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.”

3. SOMETHING BORROWED.
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.

4. SOMETHING YOU.
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.”

How Many Worship Leaders Does It Take to Screw In a Lightbulb?

“In Your light we see light.” (Ps. 36:9 NASB)
God is light.  He is truth and reality.  When we draw near to Him, and He draws near to us, we enter into this light.  In the presence of His brilliant light, our little “realities” are overthrown by His true Reality.
Scripture contains account after account of men and women who’s little realities buckled under the weight of the revelation of God’s Reality.  One such account, which happens to be one of my favorites, happened in the life of Asaph.  Asaph, who was one of the prophetic worship leaders in David’s Tabernacle, and later in Solomon’s Temple, wrote a psalm recounting his experience.
In the first half of Psalm 73, Asaph, with impressive vulnerability, shares about a time when he was struggling to make sense of the seeming prosperity of those who had rejected God.  Despite their arrogance and self-indulgent lifestyles, they seemed to be healthier, more at ease and even wealthier than those who were trying to live godly lives.
Reconciling this apparent injustice with what he thought he knew about God was an oppressive and wearisome task.  That is, until. 
“Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (v. 17).
There was a single moment when the clouds of doubt and confusion broke, and the light of God shone through.  It was when he entered the sanctuary, the place of worship and encounter.
Having begun the psalm perplexed by the apparent prosperity of the wicked, he ends it with sweet musings on the true prosperity of the one who is near to God’s heart.
These “until” experiences are the birthright of God’s children.  We have unlimited access to His presence and we are wise to take advantage of it often.
Though we are citizens of the Kingdom of Light, we still live among what Paul referred to as “this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12).  God’s people live in a time of war.  There is a real enemy and there are real weapons.  Daily we are the targets of his fiery arrows of deceit.  Our only chance of survival is to daily run into His “stronghold of light” through prayer, worship and declarations of truth.
Whenever we gather, there is someone discouraged who needs the encouragement that only comes from seeing their situation in the light of God’s Reality.  There’s someone else who may be facing a major life decision and desperately needs the wisdom that is so abundant in His presence.  Or, someone entangled in a destructive sin who’s only hope of freedom is through seeing it as God does.  We could go on and on.
Worship leaders, when we do what we do, whether in a home or on a stage, we are essentially flipping the light switch for God’s people.  We are giving them the opportunity to enter His presence and be bathed in His cleansing light.
We do this by leading His people in welcoming His presence with open hearts.  We do it by providing them with language to pour out their hearts before Him and fill the atmosphere with His truth.  We help them realign their minds and emotions with Him through skill and appropriate music.  Just to name a few of the ways.
This doesn’t only have to do with how we as worship leaders are to lead, it has to do with how we are to live and breathe.  The best guides are the ones who have traveled down the same path a thousand times on their own.
It only takes one worship leader to screw in a lightbulb.

Fixer Upper: God’s Dream Home Edition

In a previous post, “Why Worship Is a Personal Matter (But Not a Private One),” I pointed out that Paul uses the words, or a variation of them,“build up” seven times in 1 Corinthians 14.  What’s with the fuss?  Why does he make such a big deal in this chapter about building others up?  Well, for one, it seems the building up of others was the one thing that wasn’t happening when the Corinthian believers gathered.

For me, a question that begs to be answered is, to what end are we to build each other up?  Or to put it another way, are we actually being built up into something?  Or is this building up simply spiritual routine maintenance that ensures we all survive another day before gathering again?

I believe the answers to these questions are, “yes” and “ yes.”  In no way do I want to minimize the kind of building up that enables us to make it another day.  God knows I need this.  And regularly.  However, Scripture teaches us that there is something bigger that is happening.  Something that is easily missed if we’re only focused on the day-to-day.

God is building something.  He is building us into something.  This “something” is far more beautiful than the mind could imagine.  Something so inconceivable that it requires supernatural revalation to grasp.

In the following words to the Ephesian believers, Paul reveals what this “something” is:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Did you catch it?  Did you pick up the on the same “building” theme we see in 1 Corinthians 14?  Indeed, we are being built up into something.  We are being built up into a “holy temple in the Lord.”  In case Paul’s readers were to miss this, he puts it another way, “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

He’s making us a dwelling place!  Not just a house but a home.  A place where He dwells in His glory (i.e. manifest presence.)  God has determined not only to live with His people but to live in His people.  This is where everything is heading.

Paul tells the believers at Colossae that God’s big plan (i.e. “mystery”) from the beginning, hidden until now, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  Jesus Himself dwelling in us!  We have this now in part but there is coming a glorious day when this hidden glory within will explode outward and our broken outer man will be transformed into new glorious bodies!  (I think the magnitude of this truth calls for that run-on sentence.)

Every time we gather, God, in His grace, is building us up.  Yes, He strengthens us for that day but there’s something bigger He has in mind.  There are blueprints in His hand and on these blueprints is a home, a resting place for Himself.

Worship leaders, God wants to use you to build His people into His “dream home.”  He doesn’t want to just dwell in a meeting, but in a people. What an incredible privilege, and purpose, we have.

The Absolute Single Most Important Skill of a Worship Leader

In a previous post, “If Worship Is About Him, Why Does He Make It About Us?” we considered the heart behind God’s desire for our gatherings to build up His people.  This understanding  should have an impact on what we do as worship leaders. 

Worship leaders, what builds up God’s people?  Musical skill?  Well crafted lyrics?  Soaring melodies?  “Phat” synth sounds?  Winning personalities?  Deep knowledge of Scripture?  I’m not going to tell you these don’t matter because, honestly, I believe they do.  However, there’s one “thing” that is more effective at building up God’s people than these things (and more) combined.  I’m referring to the presence of God.

There is absolutely nothing that will or can build up God’s people like His presence. And I’m not referring to that awesome reality that we call His omnipresence (i.e. His “everywhere-ness”).  I am referring to the “where two or three are gathered in my name-book of Acts-experienceable (yes that’s a word)” presence of God.  I am talking about His discernible presence or as it’s commonly called, the “manifest” presence of God.

Every “tool” employed in worship leadership, including those “phat” synth sounds, is deemed precious or worthless by the answer to one question: “Does it help others encounter His presence?”

As true as this idea may sound or feel, if it’s not Scriptural we need to move on in our search of what’s most effective at building up His people.  Does Scripture bear witness to this?

Yes, and it does so loudly!  From cover to cover there are examples of the effect that God’s manifest presence has on us but since we’ve already settled nicely into 1 Corinthians in previous posts, we’ll stay here.

In 1 Corinthians 12-14 the apostle Paul writes about different spiritual gifts.  He says these gifts are given to individuals “for the common good” (12:7) or, as he puts it later, “for building up” (14:26).  These gifts are essential to building up the church.

What do spiritual gifts have to do with God’s presence?  Everything.  They have so much to do with God’s presence that in two places Paul equates them with it.  He does so once in chapter 12, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit (i.e. spiritual gifts) for the common good” (v.7).  The second is in chapter 14, “Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit (i.e. spiritual gifts), strive to excel in building up the church” (v. 12).  Paul uses the phrase “the manifestation of the Spirit” as a synonym for “spiritual gifts.”  A “manifestation of the Spirit” (i.e. the manifest presence of God) is anything that God does, often through a human, that brings His presence within the realm of human experience.

God’s manifest presence was His plan for building up His church in the first century and it still is today.  God intends for His spiritual gifts (i.e. manifestations of the Spirit) to be active in our gatherings today.  They are essential to our being built up.

As worship leaders, we must be aware of this and to the extent that we are able, make room for them in our worship.  How it looks exactly will be different in every church and context.

Worship leaders, let us take to heart Paul’s admonition in chapter 14 verse 12, and strive for these manifestations of God’s presence so that His church might be built up.

The ability to create worship environments that are conducive to people encountering God’s presence, is the absolute single most important skill of a worship leader.

If Worship Is All About Him, Why Does He Make It All About Us?

I can remember several times as a kid when my mom gave us gifts on her birthday.  Three hundred and sixty-five days out of the year this wonderful woman spent just about every waking minute serving her three rambunctious and oftentimes thankless sons.  And on the one day of the year she had every right to receive and not give, she still chose to give.  Why on earth did she do this?  Because that’s who she is.  She is a giver by nature.

God is a giver.  He’s the giver.  Several passages in Scripture describe Him as a fountain.  (See Jeremiah 2:13).  Have you ever tried to shove a pebble into one of those wall jets in a pool?  What happens?  It shoots right back out every time.  Similarly, no matter how much we attempt to give God we somehow end up with even more.  It’s the way He is.  He can’t be any different from how He is and He likes it that way.  God has given and continues to give us so much.

In the previous article, “Why Worship is a Personal Matter (But Not a Private One),” we looked at how God uses the corporate worship gathering to build up His people.  Certainly, when we come together to worship Him it should be all about Him and only Him.  But there’s this problem: He’s a giver.

Like my mom, but to an infinite degree, when we draw near to make a big deal out of Him, He finds a way to turn it around and bless us.  To put it another way, when we draw near to the infinite fountain of life and love, with our “spoonfuls” of worship in hand, we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up getting a little wet.

This is just one of the reasons why I believe it’s so important to God that His people, the individual and the collective, are built up in corporate worship.  As we set our hearts on lifting Him up, He sets His on building us up.

We draw near to Him in worship to give, not to get.  And yet, the throne we draw near to is not just a place of giving, but of receiving.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Love is a fountain, not a vacuum.  Similar to the loving mother who’s personal joy is tied into the joy of her children, God takes great delight in our joy.  This blows me away every time I think of it.

Why Worship Is a Personal Matter (But Not a Private One)

In my previous post, “Why Worship Makes Sense,” we looked at the “why” behind worship.  Now let’s look at the “why” behind worshipping together.

Years ago, some friends and I were on a ski trip and were feeling particularly excited about Jesus and what He was doing in our lives.  We decided that we were going to talk to as many people about Him that day as we could.  In all transparency, this is not something I do regularly.

Two of us were on a shuttle when we struck up a conversation with another passenger.  At some point in the conversation, we asked him if he had a personal relationship with God.  Disgusted by our intrusiveness he responded, “I do have a personal relationship with God but it’s just that, it’s personal.  I don’t talk about it with people I just met on a shuttle.”

Whether we were being insensitive or not, his response has stayed with me all these years.

Our relationship with God is indeed a personal one.  It’s defined by our own personal choices, not someone else’s.  We can access His presence any time and anywhere we like without the need of a mediator other than Jesus.  We will stand alone before His throne one day.  For all of this, I am thankful.

However, as personal as our relationship with God is, it is not to be kept private.  The same goes for worship, which is an integral part of our relationship with Him.

God has designed things in such a way that I can only go so far in Him on my own.  We are each called to cultivate a life of prayer and worship that is “in secret” (Matthew 6:6) and in community, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

The apostle Paul defines the “why” behind coming together in 1 Corinthians 14.  This chapter is the “crown” of a four-chapter section of his letter to the Corinthians dealing with their gatherings.  Seven times in this chapter he uses the words, or a variation of it, “build up.”

He reveals his measuring stick for the gathering of believers:  Are others being built up?  Are they being encouraged?  Are they being reminded of who they are?  Are they being healed?  Are they being filled and empowered?  Are they being set free?  This is the “why” behind our gatherings.  Therefore, it’s also the “why” behind worshiping together.

Like David, we need to know how to build ourselves up in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6). There is a height, however, that will only be reached in community.  The One who dwells in eternal community has designed it this way.

Worship is personal.  But it’s not to be kept private.  We can only go so far on our own.  Let us not neglect worshiping together, as is the habit of some, but let us build each other up and all the more as we see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25).