ATTENTION ALL WORSHIP LEADERS!!!!! This is my attempt at helping you get your heads on straight, so listen up. Are you aware that effective worship-leading needs to have MAJOR thought behind it? It’s not just about planning weekly services and picking cool new music…there are entire systems and philosophies behind why you do what you do!! Have you ever wondered why your congregation doesn’t seem incredibly engaged? Why is no one clapping with you?? Why is no one making eye contact? Why aren’t their mouths moving…? Wait… are the words even on the screen? Because I am getting a “deer-in-the-headlights” look from 90% of them…
I’m not claiming to be an expert by any means… but I have spent a lot of time giving this a good deal of thought, and I’d love to share my conclusions with anyone who is looking for ways to grow as a worship leader and service planner.
Growing up in a musical family, worshipping through music and art has always been a vital aspect of effective worship to me. I strongly believe that music can touch people in ways that words alone simply cannot. Personally, I have experienced some of the most powerful encounters with God through times of excellent music in worship (both as a worship leader and as a member of the congregation). As a worship leader, I have truly felt a strong call to provide an environment for these experiences to happen for others as well. Music provides such a complex and intimate form of worship during a service… not just for me, but for pretty much everyone attending, whether they recognize it or not. It is crucial that the worship leader and band members recognize this importance so they can facilitate this type of environment and then get out of the way and allow God to honestly and genuinely work in the hearts of those in the congregation. Because music can be such a tender yet powerful way of reaching people, I believe that it needs to be done with excellence. God has given us voices to sing, talent to play instruments, and creative minds to write music, so why not use these gifts to our greatest potential, especially when it’s for the purpose of glorifying Him? He has called us to honor and glorify His name, and when we perform at less than our best, we are not bringing Him all the glory He is due.
Another important aspect of effective worship leading is following the direction of the Holy Spirit. Because God has displayed Himself in infinite variety with no limits of imagination, music is also a reflection of God’s creativity. I believe that there is not one “right” style or taste of worship music. The Holy Spirit is able to lead and change hearts through a variety of music styles. I don’t think that it has to be just traditional or contemporary, new or old, loud or soft, fast or slow in order to experience God in a meaningful way. I think that it is important to integrate all of these styles into a worship service so that people from every walk of life can feel comfortable and safe in the worship environment that is being created. In today’s worship services, in many cases music style has become a divisive issue. I, on the other hand, think it can provide an opportunity to teach scriptural principals such as that found in Romans 12:10. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” This verse instructs us to put aside our personal preferences to honor our brothers and sisters who may prefer a different style. To me, this means that I don’t choose my personal favorite songs to the exclusion of all other styles.
Many of you may know that I recently started my new job as Director of Contemporary Worship at Wooddale Church in the Twin Cities. When I accepted the job, I was aware (but not REALLY aware) of the vast amount of responsibilities I was agreeing to undertake. After all, over 10,000 people call this church their home church… that’s a lot of people to consider while planning services! As I’m settling in, I am discovering my favorite (and the most rewarding) part of this position: thematic planning. Many of you might not be familiar with this concept and I think it is one that is often overlooked. At Wooddale, we plan services sometimes months in advance. The senior pastor prepares his sermon topics up to a year in advance, complete with summaries, scripture references, and themes. As a “service planner”, this information comes in EXTREMELY helpful for planning. I am able to really spend quality time listening to music by scouring Spotify, iTunes, SongSelect, CCLI, worshiptogether.com, and many other resources to find the appropriate songs to mesh with and support the sermon. How many times have you been to a service where the pastor preaches an AWESOME sermon and you stand up to sing a song that has NOTHING to do with what you just heard? Do you feel a little thrown or maybe like your train of thought was just derailed? As a worship leader, I strongly believe that striving to support the sermon each week with the music you plan is of utmost importance. If that means that you have weekly meetings with your pastor, then by all means, DO IT! As a matter of fact, I think you SHOULD have weekly meetings with your pastors!
Above all, I find it extremely important to truly be a vehicle that God can use to touch people who might not have otherwise felt His presence and power. In other words, worship leaders, get out of the way, and let God move.