CAN WORSHIP LEADERS WORSHIP?
We have been called to worship in spirit and in truth. The standard is high and we cannot fall short of it. Falling short of it would mean that we are not doing things the way we are meant to be doing it. So it is easy to say “let us worship with our spirit, soul and body”, but it is harder to do it if you are a worship leaders.
As worship leaders we become involved in many of the dynamics that take place when the church gathers, we become concerned about how the people are singing or how the instruments are being played and we are conscious of every little distraction. We want to make the right impression so we want the right songs to be sung, the latest or the fastest, but we are not always able to listen to the voice of the true Worship Leader, the Holy Spirit who is left waiting in the wings. Sometimes we can also get carried away by our favorite song and forget that there is a whole group of people that we have left behind, not to mention the Holy Spirit who is looking to be involved!
I have realized one thing; I can only bring the people as far as I myself have ever gone in worship. I can talk about great things, but I need to demonstrate it before the people so that they can see it and not just hear me talk about it. Yes, it is hard to be doing and listening and seeing all at the same time, but the call of a worship leader is a hard one. It is not just leading people in songs, not just introducing new styles or new songs, but it involves bringing disenchanted, disengaged, and disoriented people into the presence of the Almighty and giving them a chance to touch His presence and be changed for evermore.
So before we can lead someone in worship, we ourselves have to become worshipers. Worshipers who are concerned not about the person standing next to us, but about the Person to whom our worship is directed at, once we have overcome this fear, we are ready to begin to lead.
Preparing To Lead Worship
Preparing ourselves to lead is the most important thing that we can do.
I have noticed, the mood or attitude that I carry as I lead people is the attitude that I communicate to the people. And the people are good followers at least of this. If I am frustrated at something, I will not be the happiest person in the congregation! And the people will surely follow.
Preparation does not begin on Sunday morning, when everybody in the worship team is ready, but somewhere during the week, when my heart connects to God and I begin to ask him what he wants to do in a particular service. I really like it when God gives me a focus followed by Scripture and then I am able to help the people to experience that which God wants them to. It is so easy this way. At other times, I am struggling to find where God wants to bring us and usually on those days, I am the one pushing the cart uphill!
As worship leaders our hearts have to be right with the Lord. And if we are to lead the people, we are to be right with the people also. Many times we are only right with God and we forget that we have to be in right relationship with men also.
Some say that we do not need to prepare but we go about things as the Spirit would lead us. I love it that way myself. But the same, Spirit that speaks on Sunday can speak to us earlier in the week, if we would only listen to him. We think that He comes alive only on Sunday mornings but Jesus did promise the Holy Spirit would show us things to come.
Preparing our hearts is the most important thing. Having heard the Spirit, we then need to prepare for what we want to do. As someone has said, there are three P’s that we need to take care of as we seek get ready for leading the church in worship – Pray, Prepare and Practice.
Praise and Worship
Years ago, there was a time when I thought that we had the best worship in our church this side of heaven and on this part of the globe. Until one day, a visitor observed, “You tend to sing only fast songs – I mean praise songs. Have you ever wondered that you could also use slow songs once in a while?” I was about to reply “We don’t sing slow songs; we are a lively church and not a dead church.” But I had a check in my spirit and I kept quiet. That ignited a lifelong quest within me to find out what he meant.
Soon after a ‘Praise and Worship’ wave hit the Indian churches. I do not mean in the literal sense of the word but a mere copy of the real thing. We were still singing songs in the first part of the service and then the pastor would announce, now we are going to ‘praise and worship’. This would generally mean ‘choruses’ both slow and fast. After three choruses, the pastor would signal those leading and everything would come to an end!
We have come a long way from that, but on the other hand, we have a long way to go still!
If you missed this wave, you did not miss anything. The Spirit is doing something completely fresh in terms of praise and worship in the Indian church. Talk to the right people and learn, get the previous issue of Spirit and Word and read! You will surely be blessed.
Structure and Spontaneity
You can go into some churches and you can tell what will happen next. You can also tell at what time the songs will end and the testimonies begin! If you take up the offerings after the testimonies, it is almost an unpardonable sin. People will object if you miss some part of the routine. They will feel left out and as if they have missed something. It is not at all hard to guess what will happen next. That’s how structured they are.
But then you can also go into churches and not know anything about the whole service. There is hardly any structure, only chaos. Sometimes it is the worship, and then at times it is only preaching. Sometimes the services have a western flavor and at other times it is quite local and simple. You can hardly guess what goes on there. That’s how unstructured they are.
So what should we choose? Should we try two prayers-three songs-testimony-offering-message-benediction or something totally spur of the moment? I think the balance should lie somewhere in between. We should be structured enough to hold together all that we want to achieve and flexible enough to allow the Spirit to move freely through the order of our churches and even disrupt our order.
Timely and the Timeless
“Once in a while, can you sing an old hymn?” says an old timer, while the next generation wants a new song each Sunday morning.
“I can hardly keep pace with your pitch and rhythm. I find myself just reading the words” say some, while others say “Those oldies have 10 stanzas and they all sound the same, beside I can hardly relate to them”
Our songs should not be too old and too familiar that they lose meaning. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is a good adage here. But then too many new songs also will leave a good portion of the church empty. We need a balance. We have to find songs that our people can relate to, tunes that people can pick up. Besides, there are hundreds of ‘middle order’ songs, which both groups can enjoy in the church. But our goal is not just to sing what keeps the people happy for we will never please everyone – our goal is to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit using those songs that will take us to where HE is leading and that keep all involved.
Every now and then, the church should sing old classic hymns. This will remind us that the Church is not something that has just arrived, but something that has roots dating back centuries. And then there should be songs that are fresh, new and hot off the oven, which will lead the church into worship that they have never encountered before. New songs keep us fresh and relevant the older ones help us never to forget our history.
In our church some of the best moments are when we sing a classic hymns like “Tis so sweet…” and the anointing of God is as fresh upon it as the day it was written and then there are times the congregation roars in praise and adoration in Spirit led songs… that just seem to flow out of the keyboards into the hearts of the people.
Those leading and those being Led
Worship leaders are not those who happen to sing better than others but those who have an ‘anointing’ to lead people into the presence of God. Their anointing enables them to discern the heart of God and the people so that they can help both to meet. They hear the leading of the Spirit, understand His direction as they choose the songs that help us arrive where the Holy Spirit would take us. There should be a clear distinction between the person leading the worship and the worshippers in terms of choosing the songs and leading the people, but otherwise there should be no gap between those leading and those being led.
The congregation needs to be involved as much in worship as possible. They need to encouraged from time to time, but not distracted with all the directions that you try to give them as you lead. Worship leaders can be frustrated preachers who use their time to ‘preach’ which turns into a distraction and turns an active worshipping congregation into passive listeners.
I always remember my father, Thomas Mathews saying to me when I did anything like this as I led, “Do what you want the people to do. Don’t just keep telling them to open their mouth and praise, you open your mouth and start praising and they will follow.” At times, my wife comes and tells what a wonderful worship experience she was having until my ‘encouragement’ threw her off balance and she lost touch with that sense of ‘Presence’ that was there.
Being clear about who leads the churches worship, does not mean as leaders we never listen to the congregation. The congregation can really be caught up with God and we need to pay attention to their response. There are times when loud and boisterous praise comes from the congregation and the worship team is ready to slow down and go back to our seats. I always respect what I see is happening in the heart of the congregation when you know they have the heart of God. I immediately respond to that and pick it up to further enter into the presence of God.