One of the most frustrating things that can happen for worship leaders is to put large amounts of time and preparation into leading a worship set only to find that when they arrive to the service that other people don’t seem nearly as excited about what is going on. In fact, many seem to have wandered in by mistake and are looking around and taking in their surroundings as if to double check they are in the right place. What do you do when this happens? Here are a few pointers that will help you focus on the main thing as you prepare for and lead worship.
It’s God’s job to stir people’s hearts
It is all too easy to get discouraged and simply let a lack of involvement or interest in the worship service derail you as a worship leader. To be fair, musical worship can be a big part of our lives, talents, and hearts and when others don’t seem to be as engaged in corporate worship, this can really discourage us. When you feel discouraged, remember this, it’s not our responsibility to pull people into worship, striving and working harder, playing our guitar better, singing louder, displaying more passion in order to achieve this. Also, it’s not necessarily a display of how well we are doing or not doing for that matter if people are entering into worship. Of course, passion and musical excellence will likely be a bi-product of turning our attention to God first and inviting people into that space but it is something that first comes from God and not something we generate. Whenever you feel discouraged by an apparent lack of involvement in the congregation, remember this promise from the Old Testament:
1 Samuel 16:7: The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
It’s not ultimately about us
Although worship involves us as we lavish our worship upon God, we are not the focal point of worship. God is. We should realize that God has gifted us for a specific purpose as worship leaders and musicians to help lead God’s people in worship but also remember to never put the gift above the one who gave it. Furthermore, we shouldn’t express false humility by ignoring these gifts like when someone compliments our giftedness and we respond, “Oh it’s not me, it’s just all God.” When we acknowledge his gifts as in, “Thank you; I’m so blessed to serve him in this way. It’s all for his glory!”, then we are able to truly realize our place in the privilege of leading worship. Of course, we are often blessed in immeasurable ways as we bless the Lord through our worship, but we should never approach worshipping God with the focus being on what we will get out of it.
It’s ultimately a response to God
As we mentioned earlier, leading worship is a response to who God is and what’s he’s done. When we notice that people aren’t worshipping like we’d hope — and by way of reminder, we can never really tell whether a person is worshipping, what is in their heart (only God knows that) we should remind ourselves of who God is to us, all he has done for us, and ultimately for the cross, eternal life, and amazing relationship we now can have with him because of his astounding grace. As we tune out various distractions in worship and tune into who God is, we’re able to press through the clutter and provide a rich space of relating to God in which we can invite people into.
Keep the focus on what God is up to
One of the great commands is to love each other. Although leading people in worship is dear to God’s heart, leading worship is not solitarily focused on people. Our times of corporate worship involve us as a church body in meaningful ways but we must remember that leading worship is primarily a response to who God is, not to who people are. When we as a worship team respond primarily to what the congregation is doing rather than what God is doing in a moment, we can get off track and the congregation actually ends up leading us in worship! A prime example of this would be not leading confidently because people appear to be disinterested or uninvolved. With this being said, leading worship is a twofold process: reaching out to God (vertical ministry) and reaching out to people (horizontal ministry). We don’t want to just close our eyes and have our “moment” with God and hope people will come along, but we do want to first be worshipping him and making sure our gaze is first fixed upon him and his presence and activity and then inviting others into that space. Everything else will flow from that.
Lead yourself in worship
Your personal worship times throughout the week are a big part of leading yourself in worship before ever leading others. We must never forget that we can’t lead others where we haven’t first gone. If we expect to show up to a worship service and magically lead people with our uncanny ability to wing it musically or charm them with our clever words, prayers, or great voice, we’re missing the point. God honors the praises of his people and just as Jesus described John as the disciple he loved, we can also be known as the ones Jesus loves to spend time with. If we can cultivate this relationship throughout our days and weeks, then when we arrive at the time of the service, we actually have a place we can invite others into — into a relationship and presence that is already being cultivated.
At the end of the day, no matter if people have responded to God in a time of corporate worship, if you have responded to his character and presence in an authentic way, that is really what matters. May we first remember to be lead worshippers, not distracted or discouraged by the things around us. If we’ve done this, we’ve done our primary job as worship leaders and can enjoy ourselves immensely in the process, no matter what the visible outcome.
- Invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this article? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Is this a new thought, that leading people into worship isn’t ultimately up to you? If so, describe how this provides new perspective to you.
- How does the holy spirit engage in the process of leading worship? What do you think his role is in this?
- What do you think your primary role is as a worship leader? Are you currently fulfilling this role?
- What can you do better to lead yourself as a worship leader?
- How much time are you able to set aside time each month, week, day to worship when no one else is watching? If you are investing little time into this, what is stopping you?
- What are the biggest distractions you’ve faced as a worship leader? What has helped you overcome them? If you are still working on overcoming them, what do you plan to do to help you overcome them?
- Do you struggle with performance anxiety as a musician? If so, how can remembering your true role and identity as a worshipper help you with this? If you do not struggle with this, how can you be a support to others who do?
- What is your biggest takeaway from this conversation?
- Make a list of your priorities in the week and evaluate your schedule. Where does spending time in worshipping God on your own fall in the list? If it’s not a priority, reorder your schedule so it is. Have a mentor or friend you trust and respect check in with you to see if you are consistently applying this new practice to your schedule. Secondly, keep a journal while you embark in this new practice and review it to see how your life as a worshipper begins to change over time.
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.