Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Call to Worship: Following the Leader

Ok, picture this with me now.

It's early Sunday morning, and if your family is anything like mine, you're rushing around trying to get ready for church. Mom is in the bathroom curling her hair and putting on make-up, Dad is rummaging through the bedroom, Brother is grumpy because he had to get up early, Sister is primping for her boyfriend, and the youngest Sister is complaining about having to take a bath and crying over getting her hair combed. You are probably trying to find that one shirt or pair of dress pants that of course are not in your closet or dresser drawers when you need them, and your good shoes are missing. You reach for your second best pair and hope no one at church will notice the scuffs. Everything is hectic rushing and running, and ALL so you can get to church (which is an hour's drive away) in time for the Worship Service.

 When you get to church, everyone meets and greets, talks and laughs, smiles, shakes hands, hugs, and drinks coffee before filing into the sanctuary and either sitting or standing (according to preference) to listen to music. Sometimes you even sing along if you know the words. The person who is on stage "leading" is strumming away at the guitar (or playing the piano) looking about as scared as a deer in the headlights, while the back-up vocalist to the leader's side is rocking out on their mic, totally oblivious to everything around them including the tune and the beat of the song. The kids in the front row are already bored and the girls are playing with dolls while the boys are causing trouble among themselves. The Youth Group are standing where they always do, but only half of the teens are pretending to pay attention or care, and the other half are busy sneaking glances at that one cute guy or girl over in the corner with the confident air and the popular clothes that they have a crush on. A few of them are visiting. Parents all around the room are mouthing the words to the songs, or have their eyes closed as if in prayer though in reality they are mentally going through a checklist of all that has to be done that afternoon and on into the week. And some of the old men in the back are already dozing off. It's a typical Sunday morning.

Now tell me friends, what is wrong with this picture? Have you figured it out yet? Have you noticed the lack of interest, the distracted glances, and disrespectful whispers? Where is the reverence? The passion? The fire?

 My friends, this is NOT how a Worship Service should be.

Now, I'm not saying that every church is like this. In fact, I feel rather blessed to have a home church where this particular scenario is not the usual case. But lately I've had the chance to visit a few other churches around my area, and let me tell you, I don't like what I've been seeing. It's not that there aren't people who love God with all their hearts IN these churches... there are! And I know some of them. But my question is, why is this happening in the church in the first place?

And I have come to a conclusion. It's the Worship Leaders.

I'm not trying to condemn Worship Leaders here; I am one, after all (or rather, I have been, and I'm still on a worship team). But there is something in the position title that I think a lot of people overlook. 

Worship Leaders are supposed to be leaders. They aren't just the first ones to sing or the loudest ones... they are supposed to lead a congregation in worship. And believe me when I say, it’s not an easy task. Worship leaders have a lot on their shoulders… they’re not just up on stage to perform; they are up there to bring a body of very different people together in unity in celebration and praise for the Lord most high, and to prepare hearts and minds for the sermon about to be spoken. Worship leading isn’t just singing in front of people; it’s a constant state of prayer where you are not only reaching out with your heart and soul to the congregation and to God, but you are also preparing yourself. You are looking deep inside yourself for your flaws and you are praying for the strength to overcome them. 

And worshiping leading doesn’t just happen on Sunday.

 When my church first started, all of the members of the worship team would get an email early in the week that would give us the songs we would sing on Sunday so that we could practice. Then, early Sunday morning, we would get together to practice before the actual sermon. This worked for a while, but it was confusing… Sometimes people would show up late on Sunday morning for practice, and sometimes the songs wouldn’t “fit” the mood of the sermon or the word that someone had been given, etc… After a while, our team decided to try a different tactic. Throughout the week we would each pray about what songs should be in the service on Sunday in order to best prepare people’s hearts for the sermon and for God speaking. On Friday, the whole team would meet and talk to the pastor about the sermon he felt compelled to give that week. (I usually went early to play guitar and sing.) Then we would write down a list of the songs we had prayed about, pray over the list together, and choose the ones that fit best. After that, we’d go practice in the sanctuary. On Sunday morning, then, we’d do a run-through and have intersession and prayer after practice until people started coming into the church and it was time to start. And not surprisingly, the worship in the services after we started this routine improved not only in the leaders and the musicians up on stage, but also in the congregation.

The point of all that was to show that worship leading is not just a one day thing; it should be happening all week every week behind the scenes, as well as Sunday morning on stage. There are a lot of people who go to church on Sunday just so they can say that they go to church, but Worship Leaders can’t be like that; it’s not just a performance, it’s a way of life. Worship Leaders are called to lead in praising the lord, not just singing. Singing is a gift, but worship is a calling. We must fashion ourselves to be as David was, dancing and singing in front of the lord so hard that people looked at him and called him a fool… but David said, “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”

Worship Leaders! We have to put away our fear of being made a fool in the eyes of the people. That fear is what makes us performers, but not worshipers. True worship comes from the heart, and it is oblivious to fear or worry or care… it is sweet abandonment in the assured knowledge of God’s love and grace for his people and all that he wants for us and all that he has already done. We must humble ourselves and prepare ourselves before God long before we get up to sing and play, because whether you like it or not, people are following our examples. Without God, we are nothing but performers, but with God we are worshipers.

 So this is a challenge to any of you out there reading this. Even if you are not on stage playing an instrument or singing into a microphone on Sunday morning, be a worship leader in your church. Even if you feel you have no musical gift, be a worship leader. For this is the reality; God has called us all to worship, and making a joyful noise before Him does not have to be strictly musical. Worship God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and others will follow your example. And if all the body of Christ lifts their voice in true and heartfelt praise to God, just think of what a beautiful noise Heaven will be filled with!


 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 

 Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"

1 comment:

Philip Nelson said...

I like to play the pipe organ, and I've been encouraged to perform or make recordings. It's something I've wondered about, and my answer so far has been this:

"Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints." (Psa. 149:1)

Specifically, I gather that one must first learn to sing to the Lord, and then one may sing to the Lord in the congregation of his people.

So, I want to learn how to sing a new song to the Lord. And that reminds me of this:

"...singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord..." (Eph. 5:19)

It seems evident that singing to the Lord is a way of life, and one doesn't need to make a sound to do it. I get the impression that if the praise is real inside us, it will eventually come out, one way or another.

That reminds of how George MacDonald mentioned pent-up praises in one of his fairy tales, which in turn reminds me of this:

"I will also clothe her priests with salvation: and her saints shall shout aloud for joy." (Psa. 132:16)

And there's this:

"My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes." (Psa. 119:171)

So, if I let him, God will teach me how to sing to him, and no praise can I do until then.

And finally, there's this:

"For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." (Rom. 11:36)

I get the impression praise is a power circuit that begins in God, and ends in God, and someday I'll be able to complete it in full. And there's nothing like that. :)