Worship leading has got to be one of the most difficult ministry functions on the face of the planet. It is impossible to please everyone, from the senior pastor to the people in the pew. What if your pastor is telling you that he wants more Presence-oriented worship, or that he wants you to “flow with the Spirit” in worship, but you don’t have a clue how? There are some simple things you can do to get yourself there.
1.) It starts with having a consistent prayer and Bible reading time. I know, I know. This is too basic, right? But we have bazillions of worship leaders across the nation who aren’t praying and absorbing the Scriptures every day — or, they do a quick five or ten minutes with Jesus. That’s not going to cut it, if you want to be tuned in to the Lord on Sunday morning.
As you pray and fill yourself with the Word, God communes with your spirit. You set yourself up to hear His voice — especially if you ask Him what He wants to say and then force yourself to be quiet before Him. You might not get immediate results, but over time, God will honor your faithfulness to listen for His voice. You will become more sensitive to Him.
2.) Listen to Presence-oriented worship music. I have personally known worship leaders who listened to a little dab of worship music — just enough to come up with some songs for Sunday mornings. The majority of their listening was secular. You cannot fill your ears with music which does not have the Lord at its center, and then expect to catch the flow of heaven’s sound on Sunday morning.
Furthermore, while the contemporary Christian music on the radio is not at cross-purposes with worshiping the Lord, neither is a lot of it geared toward God manifesting His Presence in church services. Contemporary Christian music tends to be fairly us-oriented, talking about our struggles and weaknesses, with a little bit of “but God and His grace …” thrown in.
So, you’re going to have to fill your spirit up with worship music which not only touches your heart, but God’s heart, too. Do you need suggestions? There is so much available out there! Some great places to start are United Pursuit, Bethel Worship, Gateway, Jesus Culture, Vineyard, International House of Prayer (IHOP-KC), Robin Mark, Lindell Cooley, and Housefires.
3.) Decide who your audience is going to be — God or man. Years ago, one of our church’s worship leaders decided to drill home to his team the importance of making God their audience. They were a very professional-sounding bunch, but although technical excellence was important to him, having their focus in the right place was even more of a priority.
Twice a month they spent an hour together simply worshiping the Lord with abandon, with no one else in the sanctuary except the Lord. God came down in there! (I know, because I snuck in to experience the Glory!)
If you want God to show up on Sunday mornings, make Him the focus of your worship, instead of how many or few people are there to hear you. Resist the temptation to let the size of the crowd influence your level of worship. Have a passion to pursue God together with the congregation, rather than putting on a performance for them.
4.) It’s not about style … but it is about style. While people can connect with God through many different varieties of music, some songs are so busy and complicated that the congregation has a hard time taking hold of the Lord with them. It doesn’t all have to be slow and majestic, but it does have to be simple enough so people can sing with you.
One reason I love United Pursuit’s music is because the key concepts in each song are repetitive. Repetitive music with words which extol the Lord’s greatness and our love for Him tend to lead the congregation into a continuing upward spiral of devotion — which He then responds to.
Make sure the words have substance, but still make sense without having to search hard for their meaning. If the lyrics are too cryptic, they distract from focusing on the Lord.
If you can include in your lineup some songs which allow people to close their eyes, raise their hands, and just meditate on the Lord, that’s a good thing, too.
5.) It’s not about energy or volume. I have heard worship leaders say that God likes it loud, and the louder it is, the more likely He is to manifest Himself. Music which is too soft can make people feel like they’re at a funeral parlor, but while that isn’t going to help them engage, neither will breaking their eardrums. Furthermore, God doesn’t suddenly wake up from a holy coma exclaiming, “Hey! They just cranked it up to where I can hear it way up here. I am impressed! I think I’ll go visit that congregation!” It sounds silly — but we sometimes act like that’s the way it is.
I have also watched worship leaders work themselves and their congregations into a lather of excitement and then announce that “God is really moving!” No, He wasn’t. There is a vast difference between being pumped up in your emotions and sensing the Lord’s Presence with your spirit. Being able to discern the difference comes through relationship with the Lord (see Point 1) and immersing yourself in true worship music (Point 2).
6.) Prepare for the service during the week by asking God what music He would like to hear when the congregation comes together. He will be pleased that you invited Him into the decision-making process, and He will be faithful to answer — maybe by speaking directly to you, maybe through more subtle means. The Lord has specific plans for what He would like to do in any given service, and when we ask for His input into the choice of songs, we partner with His purposes. That is an exciting place to be!
7.) Set the mood before the service. Have background worship music playing on CD which sets the tone for what you desire to accomplish once the service starts. Choose music which will make for a smooth transition into your first live song. A little thing like appropriate pre-service music prepares the soil of the congregation’s heart to enter in immediately when you and your team begin to sing.
8.) Don’t just assume God will show up. Ask Him to. The Lord loves to be invited to manifest His Presence among us. We must maintain a holy awe of Him, where we never take Him for granted. Entreating Him to pour out His Spirit in the corporate gathering builds expectancy in us, too.
You can’t make God show up. That is entirely up to Him. If you try to develop a formula for how to bring in the Lord’s Presence you will offend Him. The song which brings worship to a deeper level one week may fall flat the next, if you’re depending on a method to manipulate God into moving among you.
The key is to make yourself and your church a prepared container, ready for the Lord to pour into. He is eager to fill our congregational gatherings with Himself, if we will make ourselves available to Him.
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