Music Is The Universal Language Of Mankind.
While worship is about so much more than music, there’s no avoiding the fact that music has a vital role to play in our worship. God Himself commands us to sing His praises all throughout Scripture (Psalm 96:1-3, Psalm 47:6-7, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), and we ought to do so to the best of our ability (Psalm 33:3).
We need to be careful, however, to always ensure the spotlight is on God, not us. After all, He’s the one we gather together to glorify, not the worship band. So, we can focus on choosing songs that will allow us to show off our voice, or we can focus on choosing songs that the congregation can easily learn and sing along to. we can focus on choosing the latest and greatest songs that may lack theological content, or we can focus on choosing songs that proclaim the character of God and the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. we can get caught up in our own little world while leading worship, concerning ourselves more with our own worship time rather than the congregation’s ability to worship, or we
can focus on helping people encounter God through the songs that we sing. While it seems obvious where our focus should be, how many times have you sat through a church service where the opposite was true?
With that in mind, I’d like to share with you this outline that can help you see God as the focus above all else. If you’re a worship leader, my hope is that while reading this how to lead worship you’ll prayerfully take these thoughts to heart:
Live a Life of Worship
Does your life throughout the week reflect the image you project on Sunday morning?
Does Your Life Throughout The Week Reflect The Image You Project On Sunday Morning?
As a worship leader, the greatest impact you’ll have on the lives of your congregation is the example you set with your lifestyle. It doesn’t matter how great a musician you are, or how well planned and executed your worship set was on Sunday morning if your life outside of church isn’t a reflection of the One that you lead people to worship every week. That doesn’t mean we need to be perfect. Far from it. But we can’t lead people in true worship if we don’t experience it in our own daily lives.
Is God the Center?
When we sing, the purpose should be to bring glory to God. Whether we sing songs about His holiness, His love, His righteousness, or the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, our songs should always be firmly focused on God. But so many modern worship songs today focus on us, rather than God.
So Many Modern Worship Songs Today Focus On Us, Rather Than God.
Other songs, while having a great melody that’s easy to learn and which may elicit an emotional response, offer little theological content. Do songs like this bring glory to God, or glory to us? Our focus must always be on singing songs that bring glory and praise to God alone.
Traditional vs. Contemporary
There was a time when I refused to lead my congregation in the singing of hymns. Because I grew up in a traditional Baptist church that sang only hymns and choruses (with as much liveliness as you’d find in a morgue) I associated hymns with that negative concept of church. I doubt I’m alone in experience. But because of that kind of experience, I believe many of us pit traditional hymns against contemporary worship songs as if they’re adversaries, when in reality the opposite is true. I now have a deep appreciation for hymns because of the rich theological content they contain, and I love how their more complex lyrics can so nicely complement the simpler lyrics of many modern worship songs. So, I don’t advocate singing only traditional hymns or only contemporary worship songs in your worship service. Instead, the ideal scenario is a healthy combination of the two.
Balancing Complexity and Simplicity
Poet William Cowper once wrote that “variety is the spice of life,” and I believe that’s true of the music in our worship services. If we sang only hymns we may gain a strong theological foundation for our worship, but we might lack modern worship music’s ability to emotionally stir our affections toward God. But if we sang only modern worship songs, we might make worship more about the way we feel than about who God is. So, it’s not a matter of focusing on how complex hymns can be, or how simple modern worship songs can be, but rather it’s a matter of balancing the two together. Personally, I incorporate at least one hymn into every worship service, and often it’s more than that. The real goal should be to ensure that your worship service has a nice mixture of more complex, theologically rich songs (hymns or otherwise) and simpler worship songs that enables everyone to worship God with both their hearts and their minds.
Avoid Mindless Worship
Mindless worship creeps into our worship services more than we realize. If we sing the same songs often enough, eventually we stop thinking about what we’re singing, and the words can lose all meaning.
If We Sing The Same Songs Often Enough, Eventually We Stop Thinking About What We’re Singing, And The Words Can Lose All Meaning.
That’s one reason why I like to introduce a new song at least once or twice a month. A fresh song can often give us a fresh perspective. It’s also the reason I don’t force songs on my congregation if they clearly don’t connect with them after a couple attempts. It doesn’t matter how much I love a song, if it’s not connecting with the congregation then there’s no value in singing it. But we can’t always do new songs, so it’s important to help the congregation connect, or re-connect, with the old faithful songs. That might mean incorporating a personal story with the song, reading Scripture that ties in to the message of the song, or simply reading some of the song’s lyrics before to let the meaning sink in. Whatever method you choose, remember that the end goal is to help people encounter God.
The Twenty-Year Rule
A few years ago I read a book by Bob Kauflin titled, “Worship Matters.” It’s a must-read book for every worship leader. But if there was one teaching from the book that stuck with me above all else, it was Kauflin’s concept of the Twenty-Year Rule, which he describes as follows:
“If someone was born in our church and grew up singing our songs over the course of twenty years, how well would they know God? Would these songs give them a biblical and comprehensive view of God, or would they be exposed only to certain aspects of his nature and works? Would they learn that God is holy, wise, omnipotent, and sovereign? Would they know God as Creator and Sustainer? Would they understand the glory and centrality of the Gospel? Or would they think worship is about music, and not much more?”
The Twenty-Year Rule is at the forefront of my mind when picking songs for Sunday morning. While every song I pick isn’t going to be a complex breakdown of the character of God, as we’ve already discussed, I do want to make certain that the songs we sing paint a picture of who God is. That might mean I focus on His holiness one week, His love the next week, etc., but in the end I want to ensure my congregation is getting a comprehensive view of who God is.
Tell the Story
In the end, it all comes down to telling a story. Years ago, when leading worship was still very new to me, I picked songs without much rhyme or reason. All I did was follow the standard worship service model: start with a few fast songs and work your way towards ending with a few slower songs. I’d make sure a lot of these songs were done in the same key as well, because naturally that meant they fit together better.
I’ve learned a lot since then. I’m still very concerned with songs fitting together, but in a much different way. I realize now that the songs we choose need to tell a story.
The Songs We Choose Need To Tell A Story.
A big factor in being able to do that effectively is working with your pastor to know the sermon topic and Scripture he’s going to be teaching on each week. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to more effectively select songs around a particular theme that will complement and enhance the message being preached. If the theme is about the holiness of God, then tell that story with your song choices. If the theme is about Jesus as our Savior, then tell the story of our trespasses with sin and the Amazing Grace that God offers us. People connect with stories. And if your songs tell a story, then your congregation will experience a greater connection with God through singing them.
Remember that in the end your primary role as a worship leader is to be a teacher. If you’re telling a story, it’s for the purpose of teaching people the meaning of that story. Through the songs that you sing, you’re teaching people who God is and what He has done. And that’s a great story to tell.