May 14, 2008
This morning I want to think about worship leading, and an insight that I received this week. I went to a meeting in a colleague’s office last week. I was discouraged and it had to do with my own inability to lead well. I drove to work pleading with God for an answer, for help, for a breakthrough. That morning and my answer came in the form of a quote on the wall. There were 4 points on leadership by Warren Wiersbe, and this one got my attention and reminded me to slow down. This is what it said:
“If you get too far ahead of the army, your soldiers may mistake you for the enemy.”
Right after that meeting, I was thinking about worship leading, and this quote became very insightful into a problem that I think every worship leader faces. Certainly I face it each week as I meet with my congregation in order to lead them in worshiping God. The problem is this: If I’m not connecting with people, and helping them connect with God, then I’m not doing my job. My job is to lead people into an encounter with God. More importantly, it is to lead the people that are in the room with me – the ones God has brought together that very moment.
Here’s the challenge we worship leaders face. I come to the worship service, having been planning, practicing, memorizing songs, praying, rehearsing and anticipating the worship service for many weeks in advance. I rarely get a good night of sleep the night before because, song lyrics, scriptures, and thoughts about what I should say or pray in the worship service are racing around in my mind. My team has been doing the same for the past week or two. Then we all wake up very early and warm up by listening to some of the music during our commute. We’ve been running through the elements of the service together for about an hour and a half before we finally meet with our congregation. We are fired up, raring to go, enthusiastic about the worship service, having already encountered God. Then our army shows up – the people God has given us the privilege to lead into his presence that morning. The range of their emotional, spiritual and physical readiness to worship is huge – some are wounded, weary, sick & suffering, looking for a shelter – a quiet place with God. Others aren’t sure why they are there, just going through the motions. While others are ready to enter the battle, eager to pull out all the stops and shout their praise to God. We’ve got this incredible desire to see them all engaging on the same level as we are, and so often that’s not the case. Hello, is anybody out there? We’re all alone here!
And so we make two mistakes at the point where we realize a disconnect with those we are there to lead. We just forget that they are out there and go into battle alone, or we plea with them to join us, which can easily be mistaken as chastisement or exaggerated emotionalism. Both choices put us way out in front of our army, to the point that we may appear to be the enemy – spiritually arrogant, insensitive, flaunting an emotional connectedness in worship that many others don’t feel. At best, those we are trying to lead just feel like their leader can’t relate to them. What we ought to do instead is realize that we are leading an army who have faithfully shown up. They want to engage and that is a great place to start. However, most of them have not warmed up, may be focused elsewhere and need to be reminded of what we are about to do. And so here are some leading practices that I am going to intentionally try to improve at Trinity.
- The call to worship is so very important! We must declare what we are about to do. This is where we make sure we are not way out ahead of our army, but instead standing along side them, welcoming them, thanking them for coming, and then giving our marching orders. Sometimes, most of the time, I think we just plow into the worship service like a train at full speed. Unfortunately, a lot of people miss the train. The call to worship is worth planning and even writing out in advance. I envision myself spreading out my arms as wide as I can to gather as many people as possible. (Unfortunately, only about half of my people are there because the rest are late – because of this, I usually have another call to worship after the welcome and announcements.) The worship service is a corporate thing. It is not a time for us to make up for all of our personal quiet times that we missed during the week. However, there is the reality that people come with very personal needs and expectations, and that’s a good place to start. The opening statement, the choice of Scripture, song and a prayer of dedication for our time together is of utmost importance and must be chosen mainly with those we lead in mind. What is their state of mind and how can I address that in a way that identifies their personal need, but leads them into a corporate experience? What will best engage them and help them to enter in? What will best unify us in our purpose of meeting together, namely to direct our attention to God and his Word? What will make as many as possible feel at home – like this exactly where I need to be?
- Teaching about worship is important as well. Little moments within the worship service where we gently and humbly present an important worship practice will have a lasting value. For instance, last week I felt led to include a time of confession in our service. Shamefully, this has not been a common occurrence during our worship services, and I felt pretty clumsy at introducing the time. When evaluating how I did, one of my team members at a planning meeting last night suggested that a short video showing, inviting and highlighting a Biblical mandate for confession might be the perfect way to teach the congregation about it. This would pave the way for me to then suggest and lead people in this process together. It would engage people visually, audibly and then experientially.
- Another practice is this. We must be aware at all times of where our people are. If they are not with us, we must gently return to find them and regroup. This is hard to do when there is the dreaded cue sheet – the order of service with every minute planned. Time is an enemy unless we leave some slack in the service for this type of stuff. Most often it can be sensing a moment where we are unified and stretching that moment out. When you’ve got that feeling that you shouldn’t move on, don’t. Pause for some silence or meditation on a phrase – anticipate the places where some instrumental support would be helpful and assign a musician to be ready. It took me 4 years of doing this job to learn that the ‘moving down the list’ kind of worship service is a killer to a felt presence of the unity of the Holy Spirit.
- A final practice is to realize that gathering to worship God corporately in a worship service is just that – practice. The battle really begins at the doors when the army enters their world outside of the church worship service. With that in mind, how we respond to the teaching of the Word is the most important part of the worship service next to the Call to Worship. Most of our attention and intentional planning needs to be here. This is where good communication with the preacher is of utmost importance. We’ve got to have a smooth hand off that helps people respond to the truth of the Scriptures and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in how to apply. Of all the times, this is where we should lead more toward the personal one-on-one worship between the worshiper and God. Even then, I like to send people out on a high note, rallying together as the body of Christ around who God is, what he’s done for us, or what he’s calling us to be or do for the advance of his Kingdom.
We are leading an army. Our position as worship leader is an incredible honor. We must devote adequate time to the best preparation and practices possible that we may honor our King by how we lead his people, and by how we follow his lead. I am so honored to have a team of dedicated worship leaders who are also my friends. These same principles apply to how we lead our teams and even our families. May God receive the greatest glory as he works in and through us!