Great Music AND Transformative Leadership

Here’s what the path of least resistance often looks like for some of us who lead worship communities:

We surround ourselves with the best musicians we can find and sing the most popular songs available. As things come together, we experience a rush of emotion and satisfaction. But this fades over time as tips and techniques become more important than prayer and time with God. We end up wondering why we’re not more appreciated, happy and loved. So we crank everything up another notch–hoping the intensity will increase the sense of intimacy with God we’re longing for. But it doesn’t, and we risk becoming another statistic: one more choir director/worship leader who stays less than 36 months in one church… just long enough to figure out where the good restaurants are.

Or, we can pursue a more excellent way:

1. Make Prayer the First Act Rather than the Last Resort.
Jer. 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” When we make prayer a priority, God can lead us. This is essential when making decisions for a worship community. What songs should we choose? Pray! Who should be on the worship team? Pray! How can we create a worship experience that is challenging and life-altering? Pray!

If you’re a worship leader, make daily prayer as regular as eating and sleeping. If you’re searching for a worship leader, find someone who lives out this priority.

2. Focus On Our Prayer Life Before Our Set-List.
A well-conceived set-list is important in the same way a well-constructed sermon is important, but it’s no substitute for a committed prayer life. If anything, it’s the result of one!

A leader with a vibrant prayer life will inevitably develop an awareness of God’s presence. Unfortunately, many worship leaders today feel pressured to simply sing the latest, most popular songs as if these have power to conjure up the presence of God. Again, there’s nothing wrong with new songs–but it’s essential that we prioritize actions that will actually affect outcomes.

If you’re a worship leader, consider investing more time in preparatory prayer and see what God does!

3. Learn to Worship Away from the Stage.
While a few hours on Sunday morning may constitute our “worship service,” our “true and proper worship” (Ro. 12:1) happens the other 165 hours or so a week when we are intentionally living for God’s glory. Jesus said his Father was seeking those who would worship Him in spirit and truth. Both are necessary for God-honoring worship. We worship Him based on the truth of who He is and the truth of who we are in Him. We worship with our whole heart and in total submission to Him. When we practice worship this way, we declare that God is worthy of our reverence.

If you’re a worship leader (or even if you’re not!), learn to live—not just lead—worship.

Prayer does change things; but mostly it changes us. There are lots of talented people in the world, but that doesn’t mean they have the capacity to lead and love a congregation and build long-lasting relationships. If we really want to take our music ministry to the next level, this will–more often than not–require us to spend more time on our faces before God. That’s when we’ll start to see true transformation.

Talk is cheap…but doesn’t have to be!

Worship leaders often ask me how much talking should be included during a worship set. Like you, I’ve been in worship services where there was a mini-sermon between each song. Other times, the music felt more like a concert where nothing much was communicated except the songs. So here are three simple thoughts about talking through transitions:

1. Only say something if you have something to say. Let that sink in: only say something if you have something to say. Our role as worship leaders requires discernment. We’re not cheerleaders with megaphones. We’re not party-hosts at a casual 4th of July barbecue. Rather, our collective worship is to be a profound experience where we are connected to God and to one another through song, prayer, Scripture and spoken word. What we say matters.

2. God’s Word can be the perfect word. And if we’re going to speak, remember that there’s often nothing more powerful than a short passage of scripture, especially when we invite the congregation to read it aloud with us. It can do more than just connect the songs together with the sermon, God’s Word actually transforms us as we focus on worshiping Him.

3. Even though we’re onstage, it’s not about us. My friend Vince Wilcox blogged about the importance of not being glib as we engage the congregation [Read “How Y’all Doing!” article here]. His point wasn’t that we shouldn’t greet folks with joy and enthusiasm–because we obviously can and should. Rather, his point was–as worship leaders–we should care more about loving our people and praising God than falling prey to the power of the microphone..

So let’s use our words meaningfully and sparingly as we lead. To paraphrase John the Baptist in John 3:30: “As we decrease, we can allow Christ to increase.”

God Sings

Can you imagine hearing God sing over you? Can you picture Him rejoicing over you? What must that sound like? Look like? Take a moment and close your eyes and imagine. Allow your mind to picture the God of the Universe dancing, rejoicing and singing. Over you! Several years ago I didn’t know a verse existed that mentioned God singing. But tucked away in the third chapter of Zephaniah, verse 17, it was there all along.

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Wow. Think about it. Why would God, who is perfect, sing and rejoice over us when we aren’t? I know we’re his children but as kids I don’t think any of us remember our parents singing and rejoicing over us right after we disappointed them. Do we? I love that His promise isn’t based on what we do. It’s just what He does.

This article is purposefully short. It doesn’t come with 3 points and a prayer. It’s simply here to remind you of the great truth found in this verse. If it’s the first time you’ve been introduced to the idea that God sings, welcome to another one of God’s blessings.

Put your trust in Him and know that even when you’ve had a tough day, or when you’ve failed him, He still sings over you.

Get Your Armor On

Bottom line: The enemy is after your soul. Scary? It’s just truth. He seeks to destroy all that is good. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes or what hoops he has to jump through. The chance of taking you down is the fuel that keeps him motivated. However, most of us live in a bubble that feels relatively safe. Our minds are rarely on the fact that a roaring lion is on the outskirts of our safety net. It’s not that we should live in fear. But we must be mindful of an evil presence that desires our worship and our very lives. This isn’t a middle school scuffle we’re talking about. This isn’t some tall tale. This is a life-or-death fight to the finish. (The Message, Ephesians 6:10-12) Apathy. Neglect. Carelessness. Fear. Anger. Passiveness. Busyness. Pride. Lust. Cheating. Addictions. When these words are present in our life, we’re inviting a powerful and persuasive spirit into our safe area.

We MUST use every weapon available. The shield of faith. The belt of truth. The breastplate of righteousness. The helmet of salvation. The sword of the spirit. Right about now you may be picturing a group of 1st graders at a little Christian school singing an out of tune, cheesy song. Hear this; God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. We MUST fill our minds and hearts daily with His Word so when it’s all over we are still on our feet. (The Message Ephesians 6: 13-18)
Be shaken! Not fearful! But shaken! If you aren’t then read this again and again until you feel the seriousness of the situation. It’s time to get our armor on.


Worship Without Limits

Worship shouldn’t have limits. However, when worship is placed in a box only to be taken out for the Saturday or Sunday weekend service, worship loses its flow. Psalm 150 says, “let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” We’re also told to “pray without ceasing“. And Psalm 34:1 says that our lips and life should offer praise continually. Continually means recurring regularly or frequent. Not interrupted. Steady. If we set boundaries around worship only to be visited certain times of the week, we miss out on an opportunity to experience the relationship with God we were meant to have.

It’s so important for you and I to live out worship every day. That’s more important than any song we can sing. This is a call to take down the fences and walls that divide and separate us from God’s presence.

Let’s throw away the box and let worship roam free. That’s the way it was meant to be.