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Worship is simply attributing worth to someone or something. As Christians, we worship God individually and collectively. In my seven years of leading worship, I have wrestled and grown in my learning about creating these spaces for God to move in the moments when we gather. Specifically in worship through music, the following are a few thoughts (of many) in my church experience and formal worship arts education.
Churches can express worship differently: I’m reading a book right now called Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative. Robert Webber writes, “We need liturgical churches; we need contemporary churches. Both have a place in God’s church.” There is not a “right” style for worship when the content is centered on the Gospel.
But in the context of modern worship, we must not forget the generations of Christians before us; liturgy and hymns are not irrelevant. This remembrance may manifest through an antiphonal reading (fancy name for call-and-response) or revamping a rich hymn. I have recently been intrigued by antiphonal readings. I am awakened to something so profound about a church body collectively praying a united verbiage. These readings originated in a time that congregations needed to be invited and reminded that they are just as much included in the faith as the clergy.
On another note (pun absolutely intended) language needs to be inviting. There’s a balance a worship leader needs to maintain of not ignoring the deep history but remembering to take moments to teach a congregation and invite seekers into the shared, spiritual heritage.
Minor doctrinal matters may vary, but we gather on a Sunday morning to worship a God so much more unifying than dividing. When we remember what God has done and anticipate what He will do, our churches can then move forward to express thanksgiving in a contextually relevant way.
Theology in music is important: Leaving church on a Sunday morning, people typically don’t repeat the pastor’s main point over and over again in their heads. The music sung is what can resonate in their hearts throughout that next week, the words gently impacting their spirit. Music is a powerful thing. As a worship leader, selecting a worship set that echoes the truths of the preaching is essential. How a church service is planned must be intentional. It should reflect the Gospel more than the culture.
We need to know Scripture. We need to set aside time to scrutinize the songs we choose and analyze the theological stance they pursue. Worship leaders, be prepared to answer questions about the songs we choose to explain doctrine and lead our congregations into a greater understanding of Jesus Christ. What a dichotomy of privilege and responsibility.
Just like God did with creation, we get to make order out of chaos in our service planning. As a Type A creative (hey, we all need one on the team), our creativity gets to be reeled into service order and set lists. In our song choice, notice how many of our songs today seem to be “what can God do for me” as opposed to “what can I learn about God.” There is a place for both, but when we approach worship as a time to attribute all worth and honor to God, worrying about how we “feel” seems like less of a priority.
Emotion-driven worship isn’t a necessity: Something I have struggled through is understanding emotion in worship. In my own personal walk and in leading congregations, I have asked myself: “Did God really move if people aren’t raising their hands or brought to tears?” Or I’ve thought: “What am I doing wrong if I don’t ‘feel’ the presence of God in this worship set?”
In my Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs course, my professor lifted such a burden when we were having a discussion similar to this. Matthew 22:23 says, “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. My professor explained that the original language of this text translates to loving God with your heart, mind and all of your “vary,” meaning that whether someone is more emotionally inclined or intellect-driven does not make one person’s worship experience “better” than another’s. God wired us all uniquely and how we connect with God most deeply is different. An emotional response is not the only way we can love God in worship; some days I just sing the words over me, confident it’s the truth even though I may not “feel” it that day. Emotions are fleeting; the truth of Christ is unwavering.
Yes, I have crazy spiritual moments. Moments where I feel so consumed by the presence of God I am just absolutely engrossed in the most heavenly feeling. Sometimes though, I think we get caught up in trying to recreate that experience. We start to worship the moment we had as opposed to letting God have the current season or moment we are in. And trust me, you can stir emotion in a group of people without God in the picture, so don’t let that be the sole basis of determining the movement of God. I thank God for those moments of feeling His overwhelming presence, but I am confident that God works in more ways than just through emotion.
Although, as worship leaders, we are to give God everything we’ve got in these moments. We have the power to craft God-inspired moments. This honor can take a hopeless soul to a place of hopeful joy within one song. One of my mentors @shureerivera says that being a worship leader means being prepared to give all, so that others are encouraged to give their all to God. Whether that means tears and song, quiet meditation or shouts of joy, give it all in your worship.
Take care of yourself spiritually: Worship leaders, we’re the ones in ministry, so aren’t we supposed to have it together? Yes, it sure feels like it. But when we are doing Kingdom-related work, the devil is going to attack it from every angle.
You will have doubts. You will wonder what you got yourself into. You will hate your alarm clock some Sunday mornings.
As you pour so much of who you are into worship, make sure you frequently pause and remember its purpose. Remember the brevity of this life compared to the span of eternity. Remember that creating spaces where people can freely worship not only impacts today, but it invites souls to experience what Heaven will look like someday. He is so worthy of all the praise. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.