The Importance of Creating Space in Worship

If you are like me you listen to a lot of music. In fact, music is everywhere. You can’t walk into a restaurant, store, or watch a simple TV show/ commercial without hearing music! Also, if you are like me certain types of music inspire certain types of moods or desires to do particular activities. For example, I listen to rock music when I run or lift weights because it motivates me to push my limitations. But… I wouldn’t listen to rock music if I were trying to relax because it heightens my senses and inspires emotions/ behaviors that are counterproductive to relaxation.

Music influences us more than we think… and every individual is exactly that… individual.

Our church music is no different. The types of songs and the way we present those songs can influence the individual. One of the reasons I think Hillsong and Bethel continue to be the driving force in worship music is because they’re not afraid to let their music breathe. As you listen to their music you aren’t bombarded with a “wall of sound” or driving forces that make you want to do everything but soak in the message they are presenting. In fact, I like watching live videos of each of those groups leading worship because when the camera goes across the stage I am often surprised by the amount of people playing so “little.” They have mastered musicianship, and they are both good at creating space in their arrangements.

How about us? Do we “overplay” and cram our arrangements so full of everything that the message is lost in the composition?

In American culture we tend to want to cram every nook and cranny of our lives with stuff, with white noise. Silence, calm, and stillness are avoided at all costs. And it’s reflected in our worship music. Now, in no way am I endorsing a far end of the spectrum approach to how we construct our worship services, but I would like to suggest that those of us who put the weekends together be intentional about creating worship space. Below are a few thoughts I have on this subject. Let’s think together!


It’s okay to linger.

I was convicted one time when playing a song that said,

We won’t move until you move.

But immediately after singing that portion of the song we rushed into the next section and then to the next song so we could keep our “flow” going. How hypocritical of me… in actuality I was moving along and I expecting the Spirit of God to keep up with me!

Where in our planning of sequence and flow are we allowing space for the spirit of God to guide our worship and influence our actions?

I’ve learned several things over the past few years and one of the most meaningful and worship sculpting things I’ve learned is: to linger is to listen. Lingering is good! This is something I’ve been working on as well. I call it “marinating.” Good things come from “mariniating” and lingering. We just have to make sure it’s not lazy, meandering, and uninspired lingering.

As you plan your service try to put yourself in the position of those that will be attending. Should they have to stand for 30 minutes? Should they have to read the lyrics on the screen for the entire service? At what point should there be a natural pause in the conversation?

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who either wouldn’t allow you to get a word in, or when you were speaking they were so busy thinking about the next thing they were going to say that you could tell they weren’t’ hearing a thing you were saying? I think we do that to God with our worship at times. The songs we sing make promises and covenants, express emotions and confess sin, and ask questions… but we don’t give the Lord time to talk back and respond to us!

There can and should be deliberate, prayed about moments in your worship set where you allow everyone to take a breath. Let’s give the Holy Spirit a chance to say something now and then. Be intentional with the lingering moments, making them musically beautiful.


Don’t feel like you have to talk in the empty space.

The word “Selah” appears 71 times in the Psalms, most interpretations point to it meaning “pause and think”. Once again, we’re not as programmed for this in America as in other cultures. Pausing is typically seen as wasted space or indecision. Have you ever just paused in silence during worship? If you have then you know what I’m about to say is true… people have no clue what to do! People stare at you wide eyed like you’re a caged animal at the zoo.

Why does silence make us so uncomfortable?

Psalm 146:10 says,

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

Why are we doing all the talking? We are domineering and creating a one-sided conversation while asking God to speak to us through our lyrics and our singing! It seems counterproductive! In fact, a few pauses in the lyrical content can greatly enhance our worship experience, allowing congregants to have time to contemplate where they are and who God is to them in that moment.

Our worship is a conversation between us, the congregation and the Trinity. It’s not much of a conversation if one person is doing all the talking.

I think being sensitive to these opportunities or places, as well as the sonic space, is vitally important and it represents how our posture and heart should be towards God. So many times worship is rushed, cloudy, and even confusing and our “talking” isn’t doing anything to clear it up.

Not talking in empty space and giving the Lord the opportunity to fill it is very important in experiencing ekklesia (beyond church as usual). We must make time to stop, listen, and be led. No talking, ad-libbing, or clapping. Just listening.


Less is more.

We’ve all been there. Rehearsing for the worship service and it’s just not working. The music isn’t what we hear on our favorite worship albums. We’re not sure what’s wrong with it, but we know something is up. The musicians on the team are playing parts that sound great alone, but together, the music just sounds messy. It sounds less like music, and more like a “wall of noise.” Or maybe you’ve had the “loudness war” where everyone on the team keeps turning up, because they can’t hear their instrument in the mix. Does any of this sound familiar?

We’ve all been there. It’s a struggle I had for a long time with a youth group worship team I led and played in. Then a brilliant musician and friend showed me something I’ll never forget. Spatial Awareness. A very simple concept that makes a huge difference in the sound of a band.

Just because I have 10 musicians on stage doesn’t mean they all have to play all the time. This goes for vocalists as well. When we arrange the music for the weekend we need to pull each song apart to see exactly what makes it go, eliminating every piece that isn’t vital.

I heard that Chris Martin of Coldplay once said that they consider a song “done” not when they’ve added all they can, but when they’ve taken away everything that isn’t necessary. Hillsong is good at this. Their arrangements typically focus on just a few key sounds, eliminating redundant tones. In other words, the creation of sonic space is also important to the overall feel of the worship service.


I understand that the term “space” can mean something different to every person, but the discipline of taking a moment, a breath, during worship can add a beautiful, even deep, dimension to your worship experience. I challenge you to try to add some “space” this week!

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Lead Worship… Not Songs

I’ve been playing and leading songs for as long as I can remember, whether it was in my bedroom on my first Fender acoustic guitar my Dad bought me, in the basement cranking out old-school Linkin Park tunes with my friends, traveling a large portion of the country playing in venues and at festivals, or standing on the stage in a church or youth room.

I’ve led SO many songs!

Let me ask you, in the songs that you’re leading where are the words pointed?

I would say that many of our song lyrics are more about the attributes of God, or how we relate to God, rather than being songs sung directly to Him filled with truth and praise/ adoration.

I look back and think about some of the first times I sang a song about God and truly felt the Holy Spirit move. I could literally feel something happen both in me, and on me, as I sang the words with purity and belief, and guess what… it didn’t only happen with me, but in the room! The chorus of one of the songs goes like this:

Holy Spirit you are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory God is what our hearts long for, to be overcome by Your presence Lord!

Does your heart truly long to give God the glory? Or just to lead another song and have some people sing along?

The acknowledgement of God’s presence in and during our worship leading should do something to us… in us. We aren’t just singing a song to the air. We are singing a song directly to Him!

At the time I didn’t know I could steward a moment like this or have the authority to release the Kingdom and lead emboldened and empowered by the Holy Spirit. I only knew how to be an excellent leader of songs. I had so many good things to discover as I grew from being a song leader to becoming a worship leader.

Who doesn’t love being in a room where a leader humbly, yet boldly, takes us into a place of encounter with Jesus. If you are anything like me, you want to lead with authority and partner with the Holy Spirit every time you worship. And even more importantly, I want to have confidence that it has nothing to do with my natural ability. Why?

Many people have a natural ability to lead people in songs, but it takes supernatural partnership to lead people into encounter.

In John 5:19 Jesus says it like this,

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.

Even Jesus was dependent to hear from the Father as He ministered to people every day! In the same way, we can do nothing in and of ourselves, it’s in submission to Jesus, in serving with obedience following the sound of His voice and leading that we shift the atmosphere, releasing faith!

You might be reading this and going “Yeah! Yeah! I want that. Where can I get that!” Well here are a few suggestions on places to start.


Worship before you lead.

I found that as I was growing as a Worship Pastor and in hearing God’s voice during worship, He would often speak to me as I would worship through the set at home or at rehearsals.

I often tell people that it is easier and more freeing to worship at rehearsals with my team. We don’t just fly through the songs. We worship as we practice and try to be receptive and obedient to the leading of the Spirit even in those times! Some weeks, I will see certain themes arising as I worship that I didn’t pick up on in all of my hard planning and praying. For example, this past week there was a real freedom in our worship during rehearsal on Friday and the theme of God’s authority and victory He has won for us made itself very clear in the songs we were singing and the way they worked together to usher us into the throne room of God. Maybe it’s salvation, physical/emotional healing, relationships, or even bondage.

I have found that in those times of true submission and freedom God will often give me a chorus (sometimes new), a scripture, or some type of invitation to present or theme to highlight.

Open yourself up to His leading by being “well-seasoned” on worship before you try to put yourself before others to lead.


Create a culture of feedback.

Isn’t this a scary thought?

But hear me out here… invite both your leadership and worship team to give feedback into what they sensed happening throughout worship. This will help you learn when you’re hearing well, as well as what you might be missing.

We won’t get it right 100% of the time. Some days my spiritual “well” is just running low and I have nothing else to give and I might miss a cue. But, these times don’t have to be a complete loss… if we open ourselves up to feedback and real conversations (not just someone telling you everything you did right and what you want to hear) then we can learn form those things and bounce back ready to follow.

Find some people you trust and give them permission to share their perceptions of each service. Trust me, it’s not easy to hear that we talked too much or missed a moment that everyone else sensed was happening. But if we don’t open the door to feedback, we won’t learn. This is where we practice humility. We serve Jesus and our congregation; we don’t serve ourselves.


Be willing to take risks.

There have been many times where God has spoken very specifically to one of my team members and I missed the signal. It’s a constant growth curve for me to be aware of what’s happening in the room and to what God is saying to me as well as checking in with the team. Be sensitive to what other team members might be feeling and when you invite them to take a risk, follow up with them afterwards.

Just this week my keyboard player took a risk and shared with me what she sensed as we ended rehearsal on Sunday morning and it confirmed what I was sensing and prodded me to go down an avenue that I hadn’t planned to right before service!

Don’t skip the view because you are scared of the trail before it! Encourage risk! Risk is faith in action!

The Kingdom of God invading Earth is very real, very powerful, and very tangible. The icing on the cake? God wants to advance the Kingdom through us! I encourage you to ask the Lord how to grow to a new place of trust with Him and a new place of faith in your activity as a worshiper. Maybe you already practice the points I mentioned and, if so, what is the next place of risk for you? How amazing is it that we have the opportunity to partner with the King of the world.


 

Seek Him and His glory first and the other things will fall into place!

How do You Approach the Throne?

It’s easy to get stuck in a spiritual rut. I know, because my entire life as a Believer I’ve either been growing closer to God or slowly fading away. Did you catch that? I truly believe that your faith never just “stalls” out and you maintain the same level. If you aren’t going forward then you’re losing ground. Contentment breeds complacency, and complacency causes us to drift.

Last week my wife and I were in the Rocky Mountains hiking through 40 inches of snow. There was a moment on top of a peak that allowed the scenery to open up in front of you that all I could think about was the fact that a single God created everything. Not only did He create everything we see, know, and believe in… but He created it all with excellence regardless of whether that particular creation would ever be seen or admired. It blows my mind! There isn’t a place on or off Earth that you could go and find a halfway created tree, or a “good enough” rainbow. It’s all magnificent! God doesn’t do anything adequately… only excellently.

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Sometimes, the best way to break out of a rut, whether it’s a spiritual rut or creative rut, is to get out of your comfort zone and explore a new facet of what it means to worship God. We serve a creative God, and He calls us to worship Him with all we are, including the creativity He’s given us.

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that,

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Our connection with God comes not from WHAT we do in worship but rather HOW we do it. We can read 10 chapters of the Bible and our hearts still be far from God, or we can wash our car in the driveway and have a wonderful time of fellowship with Him!

I love this quote about a lifestyle of worship from Martin Luther King Jr. He once said,

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Whether you sing a hymn or wash dishes is not as important as whether or not your heart is tuned in to the presence of God. As humans, we have the unique privilege to worship God with our entire beings, heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let’s learn to do so well!

If you want to go deeper in your relationship with God perhaps it’s time to explore new ways of worshipping Him, and check your attitude at the door. I’ll say it again… it’s not about what you do, your role, or your position. It’s about HOW you approach the throne.

Are you approaching God with the desire to worship and to worship excellently, or are you approaching to heap your meaningless statements and love songs at the foot of the throne half-heartedly?

Contrary to popular belief, God did not create us all to worship Him the same way. We’re different not just in our physical appearance and spiritual giftedness but also in the way we connect with God. And it’s a beautiful thing. One body, many parts, right? So stop trying to mimic someone else’s spiritual walk and discover the way God created YOU to connect with Him.

Your worship journey will be as rich, deep, and varied as you desire it to be. Start worshipping with the idea of excellence in mind. Worship throughout your lifestyle and your day and see how the rut fades!