If you read this blog regularly you know I’m coming down to the wire on my “kind of” first draft for a book I’m writing for Crossway. THANK YOU to everyone who responded to my previous post asking about the challenges you face as a worship leader. Your thoughts are helping and guiding me as I write.
I had a fruitful day of writing yesterday and actually finished three chapters. I’ve been able to borrow from some of the posts I’ve written on this blog as well as some material from my first draft of the book. I very much feel the effect of people’s prayers. I’m really enjoying the process of writing, which is completely God’s grace.
The book will contain four sections: What Matters, Your Call, Healthy Tensions, and Right Relationships. In the second section, I take a chapter to unpack each phase of this definition of a worship leader:
A faithful worship leader
magnifies the greatness of God
in Jesus Christ
through the power of the Holy Spirit,
skillfully combining God’s Word
thereby motivating the gathered church
to proclaim the Gospel,
cherish God’s presence,
and live for God’s glory.
Here’s something I’ve included in the chapter on “motivating the gathered church.” When we lead corporate worship we aren’t limited to simply singing songs. We can direct people to God’s truth in a number of ways. In this section I talk about using brief comments or exhortations to help them focus…
Have you ever noticed how easily your mind can drift when you sing? I can be belting out biblical, powerful, brilliantly crafted lyrics while thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch, the movie I went to this past week, or absolutely nothing at all. On the outside I look like I’m fully committed to worshipping God. On the inside I’m doing everything but.
The same can be true for the people we’re leading. So how do I help them focus on the words we’re actually singing? At the very least, I have to be thinking about them myself. I’m constantly asking myself questions in my mind like, Why is this true? What difference does it make? What if it wasn’t true? What’s not being said here? What does that word mean? Why does this line follow the last one?” As I answer those questions specifically, it helps me interact more with what I’m singing, and it has a greater impact on my soul. When I’m leading, I’ll simply share some of the answer to those thoughts with the congregation through spoken or sung fills.
For instance, Darlene Zschech’s song, “Shout to the Lord” contains a break after the line, “All of my days I want to praise the wonders of your mighty love.” What makes the Lord’s love mighty? Well, a number of things. It covers all my sin, saves me from God’s just wrath, overcomes my enemies, redeems my trials and failures, and makes me more like Jesus. I may want to draw attention to a specific way the Lord’s love is mighty. So after that phrase I might sing or say any one of the following, “Thank you for saving us. You have rescued me. Your power’s at work in us. You’ve overcome my sin.” I could also highlight the word “love,” by saying or singing phrases like, “You gave your life for us. Lord, you loved me first. Your love will never change.” Of course, I could just repeat “your mighty love” to emphasize it. But I’ve found that adding to, amplifying, or extending the meaning of a line often helps people focus on it more concretely, and motivates them to worship God more thoughtfully.
Hymns are more challenging to add thoughts to because they’re usually fairly wordy and don’t have long breaks between lines. But even then I want to communicate an active interaction with the words we’re singing. For instance, one of my favorite lines in the hymn, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” is this: “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do.” What an invitation! We gather not only to remember what God has done, but to anticipate what he will do. So after “ponder anew” I might call out a jubilant, “Yes!” to accent what we’re being asked to do. I might also say, “We trust you.” Or, “You’re so good.”
Interjecting phrases like I’ve been describing takes thought and practice. It can easily be overdone, done poorly, or done in a way that draws attention to the leader. It requires finding open spaces in the song so you’re not competing with the congregation. If they’re singing while you’re talking/singing, they probably won’t be able to hear you and the effect will be minimal or counter-productive. But done well and with genuine emotion, brief exhortations can be an effective way to motivate people’s devotion to the Savior.
[I'd love to hear any feedback on what's I've written here. The book is a long way from being done...]