The Heart of Excellent Worship

Sunday morning you’re in your car and realize your guitar tuner is back inside the house; you run back in and search for 10 minutes before remembering (in an astounding demonstration of detail we collection) that it is actually at the church next to the soundboard because you set it there the previous week when you went back to help the worshiptech find the right channel for your mic. So, you head back to your car and find your neighbor’s dogs, the ones that constantly bark at you from behind their fence, are now barking at you from your own front yard - the place they have designated as the doggie toilet for today. After much deliberation you make another trip inside and return with a trash bag for your neighbor, but you end up having to do the deed yourself. This Sunday morning montage creates a mood that somehow overwhelms the heart of worship and replaces it with the heart entangled with the realities of every day life. But you have a job to do, and it’s almost time to do it.

Short accounts

Worship leaders are in a strange place; we have the privilege of creating the space of surrender for people to offer the adoration of their hearts over to God. The problem is that our position also carries a responsibility, one that requires out hearts to be in a place of worship before Sunday morning. And just like everyone else, we deal with allergies. We deal with missing our taxes, paying bills, experiencing the emotional needs of our families and every other thing that comes with real life.

If we expect to lead worship every week, we have to keep short accounts with God. We cannot allow sins to fester unconfessed and un-dealt with. Failing to do jeopardizes, first, our relationship with God, but also the excellence of whorship that we are offering. While that is a great responsibility it’s also one of the great blessings of serving the church. When we get in front of a group of people, week in and week out, who know us, who can almost read of facial expressions, who can read our hearts, we must deal with the sins in our lives.

We have to cultivate a 24/7 friendship with God, turning our hearts toward Him 1000 times a day in order to be real worshipers, which in turn makes us authentic worship leaders. Whatever we’re doing, mowing the lawn or picking up the dog’s mess, we should build the habit of being preoccupied with the Lord - working at being one with Him.

Relationships

That happens, not just on Sunday morning, but every day in our normal lives. Whorship has more to do with “relationships” than it does with “music”. And when we worship God with music, we are simply using music as a tool to help us connect relationally to a living God, to a person, a being. It is impossible to express honest worship to a living God - sacrificing our bodies, our emotions, our minds and our hearts to Him - and not have it affect other relationships.

Of course, we will go through seasons where life is hard or relationships are difficult. There may even be an occasional Sunday where you stand or sit before your church and you are just going through the motions. But we can’t do that for any length of time.

Mama said...

In a perfect world we would always be completely inspired and full of God and full of the spirit, but if we lead worship on a consistent basis there are going to be days when we struggle. That is part of life. Unfortunately, there are probably more days than we would like to admit when we didn’t take the time to get our hearts in the right place. There have been many times where I’ve been getting ready to go on the stage and thought, “wow, this is gonna be hard” - days when I’ve come to the sanctuary spent. But those are also the days to remember that our first job is to be centered in the Father. That is our top priority. Then our job is to try to help other people find that place in their lives.

Of course, realizing we need to be centered, and actually doing it are two different things. I find that when life has sapped me dry, right on cue at 8:00 am Sunday morning, I need to grab a couple of people on the team, even if it’s last minute, and ask them to pray for me. We have to let our community know when we’re struggling – that we need to be held up in prayer.

It is of the utmost importance to acknowledge our emptiness to the Lord. To say something to the effect of, “Lord, here I am – about to lead others in worship, and I feel so far from You at this moment, and yet I have a job to do. I don’t want to get in the way of what You want to do in the lives of these people. “

In my experience with those moments, when I have brought myself before the Lord, shared my brokenness with my team, God shows up. Sometimes even in the middle of the first song. There have been times I’ve had to back off the mic because the tenderness of the Lord has come upon me and filled that emptiness with His presence.

Wounded healers

They’re all also times when we can share a vulnerable heart with the people of our church body. Our congregations have lives just like us; we may be able to, in our sensitivity to the moment, make worship real by wrapping it in real life. We can do that by saying “I don’t know what kind of week you’ve had, maybe you’ve struggled with problems at work, perhaps some financial issues, maybe you wrestled with loneliness or depression.“ Then we get to remind them, while we are reminding ourselves, that He is worthy of our praise, regardless of live’s circumstances.

At times over the years, I’ve caught myself projecting my own moods - frustration, anger, loneliness – when the church might not have been feeling the same emotions as me. I’ve even seen it happen where the people enter a service, relatively lighthearted, happy and ready to praise the Lord, and the worship leader comes in, just off a bad morning, and immediately does five songs in a minor key, and executes everything is with a heavy attitude – changing the whole environment to suit his or her needs.

We need to be aware and examine our hearts before we lead a time of worship to make sure we’re not unknowingly projecting some kind of mood onto the situation or the congregation.

Time to deliver

There are also those rare moments when you are onstage and you feel as if the windows of heaven have been cast open and the wings of the seraphs are lifting the strings of your guitar straight to the throne room of the Almighty. The heart is right, the chords are right, the PowerPoint is on (except for one missed slide) - the hand of the Lord is clearly present in the service.

That is a wonderful gift. However, it is unrealistic to expect that kind of occurrence every Sunday, as if you’ve discovered the worship formula that humanity has been searching for since Adam.

When it comes down to it, we want people to connect with God. That has to be our heart and priority. So we prepare the song lists and think about the transitions, we prayerfully wrestle with all of that stuff to the point where we really care about it. But, inevitably, sometimes your “flare“ just doesn’t spark. The window to heaven stays shut, and it feels like the angels have turned their backs on your guitar strumming.

Just remember, it is not your job to bring down the mighty works of the Lord. Your job is to be faithful. Some days will be dynamite and some will feel less so. If we do anything right, it is simply surrendering. That may even mean letting go of the anxiety, the pressure to be “good“.

Make God‘s sanctuary your home

Here is the worship leader spiritual discipline that has been helpful in my ministry. It is a good way to make sure your spirit is in the right place before worship service, but it will also give you a devotional tie to your place of worship. This will help turn the place you go to do your job into place you go to get refreshed.

At least one day a week you should go alone to your sanctuary. While there, turn on the PA and, with your Bible and your journal open, walk around the stage. Pick up your guitar or whatever instrument you use for the service, and begin singing out to the Lord, just praying and reading Scripture out loud. Bring your set list for the following Sunday and begin to pray through it, listening for transitions and words from the Lord.

There is something about being in that same physical environment, conversing with God. At first it may feel mechanical or awkward, but start by reading the Psalms out loud – even on the microphone. Create a home for yourself in the company of the Father and get used to the whole environment that you try to welcome people to every weekend.

Then, using the microphone, pray – maybe that will lead into a song and then just take a phrase from the song and keep repeating the phrase. And then maybe that will stir your heart to begin praying for the people on your team. Or you might feel called to a time of confession, but the important thing is to cultivate moments with God, privately, in the place where you serve publicly.

If nothing else, it is a powerful, spiritual exercice for our own hearts, but it is also like practicing worship – practicing leading. And it encapsulates the devotion of your job as a worship leader because you are working with the music but also exercising your spirit. Then, when you stand up there on Sunday morning, there will be a level of familiarity, comfort and authority because you’ve been there, and you’ve had your time of worship in that please. On Sunday morning you won’t feel phony, you may still have tough times but you will have been there, Tuesday and Thursday morning, being real with God. You will have shared that space with the Father inviting him to your to rule your life in the same way you are encouraging your church to invite the Father into their lives.

This Sunday morning montage creates a mood that somehow overwhelms the heart of worship and replaces it with the heart entangled with the realities of every day life. But you have a job to do, and it’s almost time to do it...