March 17, 2010
I had an interesting experience leading worship last week. I was invited to fill in due to a last minute cancellation to lead worship for a Christian high school chapel service. There were about 300 students. I was given 15 minutes at the beginning of a 45-minute service. I knew in accepting that I was going to have my work cut out for me if I was truly to “lead” this group of students to worship the Almighty God. Honestly, I don’t have to work very hard to lead my Trinity family to worship. Most of them come with eager hearts just like kids going to Disneyland or fans supporting their home team at a sporting event. I’ve got it good at Trinity and I know it! It was a good reminder of how important it is to consider whom I am leading before all else. My opinion is that if a worship leader fails to lead, he or she has failed. I fail sometimes. I didn’t want to fail this time. I prayed and prepared intentionally. So, how did it go? Well, I’m not sure. But I can tell you how I approached it.
Because corporate worship is primarily expressed through singing, I did begin there, with Glory to God Forever by Steve Fee. I do expect folks I lead to sing. I thought that kids might know and like this song that powerfully turns our focus toward our Creator God and yet expresses our role in using our voice to sing. The second verse declares, “Creator God you gave me breath so I could praise your great and matchless name all my days. So let my whole life be a blazing offering–a life that shouts and sings the greatness of our King!” So what was the response? It was almost inaudible – a few bold souls opening their mouths to allow their breath to vibrate their vocal chords. It almost felt like a mockery to God to have the words displayed, the accompaniment provided, the leader encouraging the people to “sing,” and yet very few singing. I was trying hard to connect with my congregation for the morning, but as I casually made eye contact with folks, I received glares back from some, apathy from most. Granted, I think this generation wants to know first who is leading them. Credentials don’t matter; even my status being first declared a friend of one of the respected teachers didn’t seem to matter. I wish I had time to establish a little more of my heart – hard to do in 15 minutes, but perhaps worth dropping a song to strive to establish some credibility first. That’s a take-away.
So after that first song, I did plan to sing a new song, probably unknown by most, that I think has the potential to take a hard or disconnected heart and draw it into worship. This is Our God by Hillsong is such a gentle song, packed with incredible truth and a very active pre-chorus declaring, “I will fall at your feet; I will fall at your feet and worship you here.” If anything, I was going to enter in and loose myself in this song. However, I did not dismiss folks, or ignore the fact that I was still a worship “leader” who did not want by any means to fail to, well…lead. I did give more of an action point to “experience God as we gently walk our way through this song that declares who he is and what he has done for us.” I sensed that this turned the tide a bit as my “tough” group softened and entered in. It was a tender moment and I don’t think I was alone in this experience. A few more voices were added as we gently sang, “I will fall at your feet…” More than that, the silence spoke volumes – kids weren’t talking to one another. The Spirit was present in the hush.
I closed with a prayer for these students, acknowledging the varied talents that God has given to those present–athletes, scholars, and artists and that the obvious response to God’s freely giving himself for us is for us to give ourselves back to him–fully! I brought the focus to God’s Word through Romans 12:1,2 and had folks stand to sing Take My Life and Let it Be by Chris Tomlin. Participation was by no means eager, but I think a few more than at the beginning had chosen to join in this prayer to the Lord.
I’m used to this challenge from my former days as a math teacher. Teaching math to kids who don’t like math is quite a challenge – a challenge I enjoyed in moderation. It’s a shame however to think that a Christian heart isn’t more primed and ready and yearning to enter into worship whenever the opportunity is given. Just as a group of mathematicians can’t help but be eager to do math, Christ-followers should be chomping at the bit to worship Christ – that’s what we do for heaven’s sake! I expected this group to be more like my college bound math students who were for the most part eager to do math. I would only expect the type of challenge I faced when leading unbelievers to worship God.
In conclusion, I would like to see how this group of students follows a worship leader who they know and trust. I did not have that advantage. That could have been the main issue here. The teacher who spoke in the chapel following me certainly had an immediate connection with the students – they were eager and ready to listen to him, to follow. I encouraged him to take advantage of this position and speak more often. Another contributing issue may have been that many of the singers were away at a choir competition. Maybe the team was missing their captians.
I love the challenge of leading anyone to worship the Triune God–Father, Son and Spirit. I think this group of students would benefit from gentle but persistent instruction on how to become better worshipers – perhaps many of them have forgotten, or have never been taught in the first place. That’s the benefit of having the same worship leader week in and week out leading the same group of believers to worship the Lord. Churches as well as Christian schools and colleges need worship leaders like this. Lord help me always to be full of your Spirit and intentional as I lead but also teach people to worship you! Amen.