What I’ve Learned as a Worship Leader

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6, NRSV)

Recently our congregation had a small group meeting with the title Re-imaging Worship.  The purpose of this short Bible study was to find out more about what worship is.  Out of the discussions came the following conclusions from the gathered group of believers:

  • we worship God because he is awesome
  • God is worthy of praise
  • No matter what is going on in us or around us we are always capable of worship
  • we are made to worship – if we aren’t worshiping God, we are worshiping something else

What is this worship I speak of?  Webster’s Dictionary defines worship as the act of showing respect and love for a god especially by praying with other people who believe in the same god: the act of worshiping God or a god.  So anytime, anyplace you show love or respect for God or his creations I would say you are engaging in worship.  It doesn’t have to take place in a sanctuary, but most of the time when we think of worshipping we think of it in the corporal sense that takes place in our congregations on Sunday mornings.

For the past four years I have served as a worship leader in our small congregation.  I vividly remember the first Sunday that I filled this role.  It was a Sunday that did not have a piano player, so I had to lead songs from the front step, by myself, with no musical accompaniment.    This is fairly normal for a Mennonite church, a denomination with a rich history of a capella singing, but for a former catholic girl brought up singing hymns with an organ, let’s just say that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with this prospect.  Since I had accepted the request to lead that Sunday, I decided to make the best of the situation, determined to do a nice job my first time out.  I consulted with the pastor about what songs would be good choices to pick for that Sunday, and he offered me suggestions of songs that he felt would be fairly familiar to our congregation.  Easy peasy right?  Not so much.  Turns out that the songs that our pastor felt would be old, familiar favorites weren’t all that familiar.  I learned the very powerful lesson that day as I stood up there on that step trying to lead songs I didn’t know to people who didn’t know them either that each and every congregation, regardless of denomination, had their own set of favorites.  So what was familiar to our pastor, who was new to our congregation, turned out to be an epic fail for me.  By the grace of God I hung in there until the last lines of the songs had been stumbled over.  Fortunately the congregation was incredibly supportive and good sports about the whole thing.

Thus started my walk as a worship and praise leader.   It was a humbling experience, but probably one of the best ways to begin.  It made me fearless when trying new things, because I couldn’t possibly fail any worse than I did the first Sunday.  Since then I have had some really great worship experiences as well as some that were just ok.  During this journey the twists and bends in the road have helped me to draw some conclusions about the nature of worship in congregations.  Conversations with worship leaders in other congregations seem to point in the same direction.  These conclusions may not apply to everyone, but I would say in general the overall congregation population struggles with one or all of these.   It is the humanity in us.  Fortunately for us with lots of prayer and trust, our father in heaven can help us through if we are dealing with any of these.

People have worship preferences.  Let me say that again.  People have worship preferences.  Fear of redundancy is the only reason why I am not making that statement a third time.  In fact, saying that people have strong worship preferences would be an understatement!  We all have ideas of what is acceptable forms of worship and what is not.  We criticise those who have practices that differ from ours.  At times we might even feel smug and superior to those whose worship we feel just doesn’t measure up.

People don’t like change.  Whether the piece of the service that is changing is something major, like changing from a traditional service to a contemporary service, or something minor, such as moving the place in the service where the offering is taken, changes are not welcomed in general.  Maybe this is because the thought of the awesomeness of a God above who was willing to sacrifice his son to redeem humanity can be over powering, possibly uncomfortable depending upon our guilt levels.  So doing what we have always done is more comfortable.  We cling to the familiar when showing our thanks and praising our gracious heavenly father.

People take the music used in worship very seriously, and it is totally personal.  It has been my experience that the method and music styles that were learned as children at church tends to be our preferred style of music for worshiping today.  Music comes in all shapes, sizes, and varieties.  Some incredibly rich in melodic accompaniment, others the simple harmonies found in a capella.  We hesitate to incorporate new types of music into our worship services for fear of using music that is not christian or is displeasing to God.  Psalm 98: 4-6 tells us Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.  Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.  With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord (NRSV).  Could it be possible that all musical endeavors that are used to bring praise and worship to God are pleasing to his ear?  After all, he gave us the gifts to create all of the endless musical options out there.

Regardless of the format or order of service, it is a great privilege and honor to be called by God and your congregation to serve as a worship leader.  You can actually feel the current of the Spirit moving through the sanctuary when true worship clicks on within the congregation.  Feeling that presence is incredible and awesome!

Surprisingly, being a worship leader has brought me more blessings than I ever would have imagined.  In leading others into worship, it has helped me worship deeper and more fully in ways I had never been able to worship before.  At times the task of leading can be overwhelming.  Some Sundays you feel overwhelmed by life and just don’t even know where to begin to even start to worship because you just don’t feel like it.  However, when I step into my place on the step in the sanctuary, all of my troubles disappear and I am transported to that place where true worship can occur.

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” (Romans 14:11, NRSV)

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