Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Leading Worship

There's a difference between leading worship and performing.
Most worship bands don't understand that.
If you are asked to be the entertainment for a group, and everyone will be listening to you, and enjoying your performance, then go ahead and perform. Be excellent!

But if you are called to "lead worship" at a convention or a weekend service, that's another thing entirely.
Your goal should be different. You can't merely "worship" in your own little over-lighted stage world. Your job is to pull from the audience their praise and direct it to the highest heavens while you stand out of the way, enjoying the inevitable presence of the Holy Spirit who comes to honor sincere worship.

Having attended over a thousand worship services in my lifetime, I've made a few observations that may be worth the time of an aspiring worship team:

I. The focus
It should be on Christ, not on you. This isn't the time for little jokes among band members, for idle banter and flattering introductions. If you play and sing well, the audience will be aware of that; you don't have to prep them by describing your talents and applauding each other. You don't need to entertain them with quirky stories about those who invited you to come. You need to direct them to worship.

II. The songs

An audience cannot worship if they don't know the songs. Even if the melody line is simple enough to play on two lines of the staff, learning a new tune and new words requires concentration. Nobody worships while struggling to learn the song. You probably think it isn't "cool" to sing last year's songs, but you have to think about why you're singing at all. You don't want to hear your own solo voice, however impressive it may be. You want to hear a river of praise--voices moving along together, harmony overlapping melody and ascending.   So sing songs the people are likely to know--not the three you wrote last week.

If you must sing the latest compositions, then teach them to the audience. Repeat them the next day, and the next. Give the audience a chance to really learn them; mix them with familiar songs people can sing without craning their necks to see the screen. I know, they will never get to see the massive range of your repertoire, but so be it. That's not why you've been asked to lead worship.

Don't just sing songs taken from albums of popular singing groups. They sound good. They have great chords and elegant key changes. But they are also pitched for professional singers. The average person out in the audience might have heard the songs, but they can't sing them--beyond joining in on an occasional "Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh".  If you are leading young people, who've memorized these songs as they heard them on the radio, it might still work. Otherwise, avoid them. Worship isn't supposed to be a group try-out for "Who's Got Talent?"

Keep the order simple. Don't take off swooping and diving from refrains onto bridges leading to sub-bridges and back to verse two again. If the slide-runner has trouble finding where you are in the song, so will the audience, particularly since they don't know the words and music. And, if they are stumbling all over the song, they will finally give up in frustration and sulk--an activity not very conducive to worship.

I'm not saying you should avoid new songs all-together, but use them sparingly, until they, too, become familiar melodies.

III. The power

Before you ever get up to sing, pray. In fact, prayer is a more important part of preparation than tuning the guitars to the keyboard. Also, include prayer as part of the worship. It's uplifting. It points to Heaven. It leads an audience to worship, something you can't force them or shame them into doing.
Worship can be powerful. There have been times when God's presence shook the house as worship and prayers were lifted. It was a phenomena that can't be evoked. Don't try to imitate it by screaming the guitars and turning up the amplifiers to make the place shake and all souls tremble. That's not power in worship. It's just noise.

Sometimes the greatest power in worship comes quietly...after the shouting.

So...ask yourself. Am I leading worship?
Are the people singing, praying, worshiping?
Who's getting the applause?
When it's all over, will they remember me?
If not, maybe I've been successful.


Carina said...

Very true. I've felt this way for a long time, but it's hard to explain. Now I can direct people here.

Mari said...

Such a timely message!

aftergrace said...

I totally agree! I was thinking about this blog entry last night during worship...and wishing the team had read it!!!