I’m not sure what spurred this on, but I started thinking about what “principles” are working through me as a worship leader; not just what I do “up front”, but on the larger scale as one who desires for his life to “be worship” for God. I’ve often said, whether I’m up front or sitting in the congregation, I’m always “leading worship,” in the sense that I don’t go “off duty” just because I’m not strumming my guitar and singing into a mic. Not that I’m trying to up-stage anyone or draw attention to myself; it’s simply a part of who I am and how I live life as a result.
These aren’t things that I “figured out” how to do; rather, they are things that I’ve taken notice of as I’ve looked back over the years. Whether I “caught” them from other leaders (probably) or they are a part of the gifting and character/personality traits God had given me (also probable), I’m not sure. All I know is that the fruit of these principles working have been positive, that being: assisting and enabling the people of God to actually engage with God in times of corporate worship. This is not just by my observation; this is the testimony of many who have spoken to me personally over the years.
So I thought I’d share some of these principles. Whether you are fortunate to be one gifted and entrusted to facilitate corporate worship or no, I hope these things will be helpful.
When I’m leading I don’t want the service to become “The Worship Leader Music Show.”
It’s supposed to be corporate worship. I remember in one church I was a part of where I would intentionally sit near certain members, because I knew once we got started we would all be singing at the top of our lungs, harmonizing, blending, and in this way pouring out our hearts together in worship to God. You might say we were operating in “spiritual concert” with one another. That’s my desire for the whole of the congregation when we celebrate the Lord together. So how can we facilitate this? A few suggestions:
 Choose songs that genuinely move you. Yes, you know what’s coming; “I pick the songs that make me cry.” No, I don’t have entire sets that turn me into a blubbering mess! But I pay close attention to songs that stir me to my depths. Chances are if you feel it, genuinely and deeply, the people will too.
 Choose songs that are relevant to the congregation; that is, keep in mind the context and culture. Of course this is easier to discern in your own home church; not as easy when you’re out and about. But as a rule of thumb, try to keep these things in mind. For instance, some worship cultures use a lot of “in house” songs which have meaning and substance to that group. Others use songs that are popular across the spectrum of church culture. Both approaches are good for the respective congregations. Learn to be discerning and sensitive (there is SO MUCH MORE I could say on this topic but time won’t permit).
Oh, the rabbits I could chase down this path! Let me just list three(3) areas where this can be done.
Intellectually (challenging). Singing “Jesus I love you, I love you , I love you, I love you….” (ad nausea-um) may be emotionally moving at times, be we need more than this. Faith in God is not ‘mindless;’ quite the contrary it is uniquely intellectual. Something to think about.
Theological (soundness). I tell my kids all the time “everything is educational.” The questions is not “is it teaching?” but “what is it teaching?” Music and song are both influenced by and are influencing the culture. We want to make sure we are not engaging and absorbing the current ‘pop-culture’ ethics or theology. We want our time to together to be influenced by Biblical theology. That doesn’t mean every song has to be a “Bible verse-verbatim” song or a doctrinal discourse; but our worship times should be informed and influenced by Biblical truth.
Musically (emotionally). A.W.Tozer once said, “a person that merely goes through the form and doesn’t feel anything is not worshiping.”1 While worship is more than just being emotionally stirred, emotion is certainly a vital component. Too often I’ve found folks climb on the pendulum and swing too far to one side or the other: the head (intellect) or the heart (emotion). We need to avoid both extremes and aim for the center. You can’t read very far in Holy Writ to see that God is not only All-wise and All-knowing; He is incredibly emotional, and we are created in His image!
This is actually the counter-weight to the “stimulating” principles. Don’t over-complicate things. Again, there is SO MUCH that could be said here. Just bare in mind that worship leaders are worship facilitators. As such we are trying to understand both the pulse of the Spirit and that of the congregation in order to facilitate the coming together of the two. Be a HELP not a HINDRANCE.
GENUINE and VULNERABLE
Of all the principles at work, this has been the most important for me. There are fewer times when I’m more “me” than in worship, whether private or corporate. When I come in contact with The Divine Presence of the Lover of Souls, I am undone, and there is no hiding from Him.. and often no hiding from those around me. Genuineness and vulnerability are alluring and inviting. It says, “Yeah, I’m a mess, you’re a mess, and God knows it. He’s OK with that. Even though He loves us too much to leave us that way, He loves us none the less.” The worship gathering is not a time to “strut yo’ stuff” or “show what you know.” It is a time of intimacy with God… and with one another. Like in everything else, we want to avoid extremes, but at the same time we shouldn’t avoid this place.
To wrap all of this up, all of this is a matter of communicating communion, and here things are more “caught than taught.” Ask any parent, pastor or mentor worth their salt. Folks are not always listening to your words, but they are always watching what you do. Be honest, be genuine, be intentional, and always be open-faced to Heaven. Own and hone your gift, to be sure. But beyond that, step out of the way and let God the Holy Spirit do through you what you cannot do on your own. This works not just in worship ministry; it is a principle of life in God.
1. A.W.Tozer, WORSHIP: The Missing Jewel of the Evangelical Church; Christian Publications, Camphill, PA. As far as I know this is out of print, but I suspect this quote can be found in other works to his credit on the subject of worship.