Don’t Forsake Corporate Worship

“Good night, Momma.”

“Good night, Daddy.”

“Good night, Grandpa.”

“Good night, Grandma.”

“Good night, John-Boy.”

For many, those words evoke memories of the 1970s CBS TV classic “The Waltons.” For those unfamiliar with the show, it was about a Great Depression and World War II­-era family with three generations living under one roof in rural Virginia. The series aired for 9 years, and its theme of a multi-generational family living situation was a look back at the way things were prior to WWII and ran contrary to the time in which the show ran.

In 1940, about one-quarter of the U.S. population lived with three or more generations in one home. After WWII, American families largely became two-generational, with parents and children living under one roof. Returning war veterans built suburbs and a new American family lifestyle emerged through the 1950s. The percentage of households with multiple generations started declining to 21%, reaching a low of 12% by 1980.

Most of us know that unlike the distant past we now live in very singular societies. This is unlike biblical times as well when the significance of people groups, families, and generations was emphasized, valued, and held dear. Our worlds now largely value individualism above all else. As Christians, combating this self-first culture is largely what drives our God-given mandate to serve and love one another.

As a Worship Pastor of a local congregation I can’t help but wonder how much this individualistic worldview affects our approach to corporate worship. We know that the apostle Paul warns us to not give up gathering together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

But… I believe that Paul not only emphasizes our corporate gathering in his writings throughout the Word, but I think he also has some things to say about what we’re doing once we’ve gathered!

For example, Colossians 3:15-16 says,

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Ephesians 5:19-20 says,

speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As a worship leader I’m aware of the need to lead people on a personal journey. I know that everyone comes from different places in life and that every individual’s response to and communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an intimate and personal thing. But I’m also aware that there’s incredible power when believers gather together with one song, one voice, in unity to worship.

What Paul writes in these verses makes a pretty clear statement that speaks of this power of unity. We see that while the worship of our hearts is directed to God, the psalms, hymns, and songs are actually directed to each other! Make no mistake, they’re all about God, but the recipients of the songs in these particular examples are the fellow believers!

For years I’ve known the following passage in Isaiah to be an incredible picture of heavenly worship, the seraphim endlessly giving praise to God.

Isaiah 6:1-3 says,

…I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy holy, is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

But read it again and see who the seraphim were calling to… each other! They were telling each other about the holiness and glory of God Almighty! What a powerful display of worship!

Time spent in worship individually and corporately are both incredibly powerful things and we can’t do without either. But they’re not the same.


Practically, I’d encourage you as a believer with a couple of key ideas when it comes to corporate worship gatherings.

1. Don’t quit showing up! We are members of one body and the whole isn’t the whole without its individual parts. Your contribution matters. Your faith matters. Your presence matters.

2. Sing like you mean it! Whether the worship team is singing your favorite song or not, your daily decision to sing audible truth of who God is encourages and teaches others. You may not be the best singer, but fortunately for you Paul doesn’t make any distinction about what you sound like. Make noise.

3. Seek to serve. Acts 20:35 says,

It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Suffice it to say, you’ll find more joy in being more aware of the needs of others in your worship than you are of the needs of yourself.

 


 

I pray that we all have moments regularly in corporate worship gatherings that leave us completely transformed as individuals, moments that we never forget. But I pray that our commitment to gathering and our faith to worship in every season isn’t limited to our own needs and expectations but that it’s grounded in a passionate desire to see Christ exalted and His bride, the Church, be everything that it’s called to be.

Helping Your Congregation Break Out of Its Comfort Zone

I recently watched the NBA finals and in Game 4 Steph Curry stepped up to the free throw line and knocked down 2 shots without batting an eye. He was in his comfort zone! In fact, throughout the finals he made 95% of the free throws he attempted. Steph Curry’s comfort zone is watching the ball go through the hoop.

What’s your comfort zone?

A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. In this zone, a steady level of performance is possible.

As a Worship Pastor, comfort zones may be one of the things I wrestle with the most! I take the story of Moses as an example and am encouraged that God is in the business of stretching the comfort zones of His followers. Moses, as most of you know, did not consider himself a great speaker… some would even theorize and say that he might have had a speech impediment, but God called him to go and plead with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. God called a person who was uncomfortable with their speaking abilities to be the voice of a nation, a voice of reason, and the audible voice of God.

We see a similar charge to Abram, when in Genesis 12 God tells him to “leave his country and Father’s house to a land that he will show you.” Even though it doesn’t say here, I’m sure Abram was hesitant at first. Leaving the land that he had known his whole life for a place that hadn’t even been given to him yet. A land that he didn’t know and couldn’t see!

So, Because of these stories I know that as a Pastor challenging my congregation to step out of their comfort zones is important and Biblical. But how do I do that? It seems every time I start to think on this topic so many more questions come up. What is the current comfort level at? How do we stretch without breaking people? How fast do we move? Am I stepping out of my comfort zone? How do we develop a method? Do we move with our church or as a separate entity?

All of these questions must be carefully weighed and thought out before deciding what stepping out of a comfort zone looks like for your individual ministry.

I have been on staff as a Worship Pastor at New Hope Community church for three and a half years now. I have learned a lot, and have seen God move in ways I couldn’t ever imagine! How can we come along our congregations and encourage the “fearful” steps out of the comfort zone? Let’s think together!


Find Your DNA

One of the most dangerous things I have seen over and over again with Pastors entering into new “home bases” is imparting their home church, or favorite “model” church, into the direct vision and end goal of the church they are in.

Now don’t hear me say that it is wrong to take things that healthy churches are doing and trying to implement them into the life of your church. That’s not it at all! The problem is when you try to make another church’s DNA your own!

Ministry takes a lot of time to figure out what the church’s “DNA” is. By that I simply mean what is natural and comfortable for them. For me I have to explore and find out if there is there a song that has been the church’s anthem that everyone raises his or her hands to? Is there a mash up that has helped bridge the gap in styles? The DNA is made up of these unwritten rules, and what the church is passionate about as a whole.

I remember the first time I led a song that “flopped.” It was within my first three months here and it was almost as if the other vocalists and I were the only ones singing along with it. I quickly realized that at that current time that song was too far outside of the norm for the church.

So… what did I do? Did I force that song down their throats? No! I stopped singing that song, and songs like it, for a time while I figured out what our DNA was. Interestingly enough, as the church moved and grew and developed a trust in me (we will discuss that shortly) I was able to reintroduce that song with great success!

You have to find what has been done, what has worked, what was forced, and what was taken away that should have remained.

For some churches their DNA is in their direct community; for others it may be younger families, older families, singles, multi-ethnic, middle class, upper class, lower class, etc. Neither is better or worse, it is simply the door God has opened for you and caused your congregation to become passionate about.

Effective ministers find out what the church is passionate about and integrate it into the service and life of the church.


Earn Trust

My wife and I love the outdoors and love adventure even more! We love to hike and climb/ shimmy into places that others might not want to go. Now imagine that you want to do an exploration in a remote and dangerous area. You have money to find a guide and you get several ads and read through them trying to pick your guide. Are you going to choose the “new guy” or the guy that has led numerous successful explorations in the exact area in which you plan to go?

On the other hand, imagine that you need brain surgery. Do you want the surgeon who barely got through med school or do you want the guy who was at the top of his class and has done hundreds of brain surgeries?

Before people are willing to go somewhere new with you they must know that you won’t abuse their willingness and trust. To earn their trust, you must let them know that even in stretching them, they will not be forgotten or misrepresented.

In the story I told about the song that “flopped” why do you think the song went over better the second time a year or so later? Did the musical taste of the entire church change? Probably not. The congregation trusted me more.

How do you earn trust? You do life with the congregation. You get to know their DNA and become part of that DNA. You meet people where they are at, because that is how God treats us.


Go With Them

I remember the first time I went hiking with my wife. If you know Alaina then you know that she is all legs… and that became painfully obvious when we reached our first hill! Now that I have grown accustomed to hiking at her pace we both have to be mindful of our speed when we walk/ hike with others.

As an artist I have to be mindful of the pace of my artistry and creativity. It is so easy for my ministry to seemingly move faster than the rest of the church. I can do this by updating our song selection and modernizing our sound, our stage design or our atmosphere. All of these are valuable tools and should be developed, but if they are leaving the rest of our congregation in the dust what are we gaining?

I like the idea of meeting people at their comfort zones and taking them one step further.

In fact, that is the way Jesus modeled discipleship. Jesus didn’t point people where to go without going with them, or call them from a place far away telling people to find their way to Him. Jesus’ ministry was based around walking with people, teaching as they went.

Jesus led people to places he was going himself or had already been to! As a leader are you trying to lead from afar?


Keep a Clear Focus

Lastly, if we are going to ask and challenge our congregation to take a step with us, we need to be stepping out in ways as well.

Stepping out of your comfort zone demands that you yourself are constantly moving forward in your own walk with Christ. We must be showing the congregation that we are moving forward as well as worshiping in ways that are outside of our preferences or comfort zone.

That comes from being transparent through the process of stepping out of our comfort zones both from the stage and personally in conversations.

Be real with people. If you aren’t a naturally expressive person, show your congregation that you are trying to move outside your comfort zone by raising your hands in worship. If you aren’t comfortable singing, then sing. If you aren’t comfortable with leading a prayer out loud, then pray for all to hear. Show your congregation that you are stepping out with them.

It is healthy for us to worship in ways we are not comfortable with!

If we practice worshiping in ways we aren’t comfortable with then we will get more comfortable stretching our comfort zones in all aspects of our life.


But change, stepping out of your comfort zone, isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon made up of consistent steps forward.

Meet people at their comfort zone and take them one step further.

Set the Table

A couple of months ago my wife and I got to do a couple of longer hikes in the Rocky Mountains. To save money and time, we decided to pick up Subway sandwiches on our way each day and eat them in the car before hitting the trails. It was so much fun eating sandwiches and other, primarily unhealthy, snacks picnic-style because there was fresh air, a beautiful view, my wife, and no real expectations or civilized rules regarding how or what I ate. I didn’t have to eat my sandwich before my gummy bears, keep my elbows off the table, or use my forks in the correct order… I mean how many forks can a person possibly need to eat a meal?

Another memorable meal was when I was in college. As a Public Relations class heading towards graduation we went to a conference to rub elbows with some possible future employers, and “professionals” in the field. After that conference there was an elaborate meal with waiters, multiple courses, fine dishware, and tons of utensils. The etiquette and expectations were high and completely different than my previous example.

As a kid we didn’t get out the classy dishware often, probably because my mom was afraid we would break it, and we would, or maybe because we didn’t have any? I’m not sure… but both of those examples paint a picture of my point, the way the table is set can determine the expectations for the meal.

Think about it! The dishware is not the reason you sat down at the table… the food was! But the place settings can determine the context and direction the meal will take.

As worship leaders, we set the mood for what is expected for the worship experience for the majority of the congregation. Obviously, there will always be those who are bold or mature in their faith who we don’t need to bring to the throne because they are already there. But for the majority of the church, we set the table and the layout for what is generally expected during a worship service. We can be the examples of what kind of worshipers we are called to be. I know that a meal with fine china versus a picnic will have two different moods… both are fine and enjoyable, but different. In the same way, a small group setting with an acoustic guitar has a much different feel than a Sunday morning service with a full band. Both are great and both can be incredibly powerful times of worship, but they are different styles. The table for each scenario is set differently.

As Pastors and leaders we are called to do the prep work through prayer, devotion, study, and thought to find out what message we want to convey to our congregation, what place setting and context we want to put before them. I once heard a quote that went like this,

Worship ministry is not about telling people where to go, but about leading them as you go there yourself.

Every week I try to encourage this mindset in the way our team leads. Whether the position is deserved or not, if you are onstage or have a role on the worship team, you are seen as a leader. What you do dictates to the majority of the congregation what is acceptable or inappropriate for the service.

However, as worship leaders, we can’t make the congregation do anything they don’t want to do. Just like a table-setter or host of a meal, I can bring you the finest dishes and cups, decorate the table extravagantly with candles, and set out fancy silverware, but I can’t make you eat the food or even like it, and I shouldn’t try to… that is not my job. If our goal is to lead people to worship and we begin to judge our services based on how many people raise their hands, we will become very effective manipulators. If we take a close look at Scripture, however, we can see that isn’t our job. In Psalm 23, God Himself does nothing more than prepare a table for David in the presence of his enemies, and it is David’s choice whether or not he will partake in the “meal.”

That Psalm says,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

What good is an elaborate meal with a way to eat it? Table-setting is about giving people the tools to eat the meal. Likewise, it is our job to prepare the setting for worship and then get out of the way.

I imagine that our experiences are often like Moses’s after he came down from Mount Sinai in Exodus 19.

Exodus 19:7-17 says,

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

 

When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

 

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

In Exodus 19 Moses had a literal mountaintop experience with God and was told to go down and tell the people to prepare themselves for worship… to prepare to have an experience with the Almighty God. Then on the third day, he led them up on the mountain so they might worship God.

Do we realize that when we worship we do so standing before an Almighty God?

One time I was exploring an old train tunnel with a buddy and once we got inside we were immersed in total darkness. As we trudged through the mud and water trying to catch a glimpse of the light emerging from the other side time seemed to drag on and on. After an hour or so I asked, “Have you been here before?” My trust had wavered over time and my primary concern was that he was experienced in the path we decided to take.

As many worship leaders, Pastors, or “creatives” do, we put a lot of time, prayer, and effort into our weekly services. We map out the flow of the songs so there aren’t any distractions, and we tie them together with the topic or theme we are trying to convey. As Moses did, we lead people up the mountain. But do you think the Israelites would have trusted Moses and followed him up the mount had he not gone before them already? He was experienced… he had been there before!

I highly doubt that Moses would have held the trust of the Israelites had he not first been to the mountain himself and stood before God. You cannot lead someone where you have not been yourself.

It is easy to gauge a service by how well the band played, how the tech team did, and if the congregation sang loudly or only a few people raised their hands. I fall victim to this mentality quite often, but leading worship is centered around trust in God. Craig Groeschel once said,

If we blame ourselves when things go poorly, then we will be tempted to credit ourselves when things go right.

The act of table-setting can be scary.

But we can do nothing more than that. So as you plan your service this week, think about what table you are trying to set. We lead our congregation to the table, not by pointing a finger, but by saying, “Come alongside me as we go together.”

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!

Don’t Settle for the Substitute

We have discussed the question, “What is Worship?” numerous times before here on the blog. To be honest we could attack that question from a different angle every week and end up barely scratching the surface of all that encompasses worship.

So today I want to discuss what it means to worship? Or more specifically, is there a right way or a wrong way to do it?

Is it singing, clapping and/or raising your hands at your local church on Sunday… or is there something more to it than that?

The question of “what does worship look like” is extremely important. Far too many arguments have been had over what is and is not a legitimate form of worship. Whole denominations have formed and churches have split over the nuances of this question! Preferences can too easily become elevated to precepts if we’re not carefully grounding our understanding of worship in what we see in the Bible.

Worship is singing… but not only singing.

Many Christians today understand worship as singing. When we talk about Sunday morning, we refer to congregational singing as “worship.” When we say, “I really enjoyed the worship,” we almost always mean “I really enjoyed the music.”

This isn’t entirely wrong… it’s just incomplete. There are clear examples of singing as worship found in Scripture. Exodus 15:1-2 says,

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

Judges 5:3 says,

Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the LORD I will sing; I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.

2 Samuel 22:50 says,

For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.

Psalm 5:11 says,

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.

Psalm 7:17 says,

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

These are just a select few of the vast examples of singing out of worship that we can find in Scripture, and as you know I could go on and on. The point is… we’re admonished to sing to the Lord and to encourage one another with hymns and spiritual songs.

So singing, biblically, is a part of worship.

However, we must be careful not to equate worship solely with singing and music.

The word “worship” at its most basic level means to ascribe worth… or “worth-ship.” This is helpful to keep in mind, especially when you consider the words translated as “worship.” The two most commonly used words in Hebrew and Greek that we often translate as “worship” are ḥā·wā[h] and proskyneō and refer to bowing or kneeling down, both to God and to men.

They describe an act of reverential deference.

This is the important thing to understand, then, about worship. It’s not merely about singing, but it’s about reverence. It’s about having a biblical fear of the Lord. At its most basic level, then, you could define worship as the humbling of yourself before the One who is your better. This, naturally, has serious implications.

Worship is not primarily about how you feel.

First, if worship is about humbling yourself before God, we have to consider the place of our feelings. Many today seem to equate fired up feelings with genuine affection for the Lord. The louder the music, the higher the hands are raised, the more our hearts must be inclined toward God… right? We all do it! We leave an energetic worship service where the atmosphere and mood was just right, the music struck a chord deep within us, and we feel as if we have “taken” something away and out of worship with us.

But this understanding places too much emphasis on feelings. We must always remember that while emotional expressiveness can be a sign of genuine affection, It’s what is in the heart that really counts and those things aren’t always demonstrated fully in a 25 minute worship set on Sunday.

Jonathan Edwards put it this way,

Nothing can be certainly known of the nature of religious affections by this, that they much dispose persons with their mouths to praise and glorify God.

His point is simple: people can fervently praise God with their mouths and still be far off from Him. This is much the same warning Paul gives when he tells the Corinthians that you can have a great outward show, but without love, it’s worthless. You can see that in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3,

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Is it any wonder that Jeremiah reminds us not to put too much stock in our feelings in Jeremiah 17:9?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Worship is what you do every moment of every day.

Second, in the Old Testament, particularly once the nation of Israel is established, there’s a definite connection between place and worship. God’s people were to worship in a specific place (first the Tabernacle, then the Temple). This was the meeting place between God and His people. At the Temple, God’s people would offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, peace offerings to God, and numerous other offerings and acts of service.

It can be tempting to take the imagery of the Temple worship and place it upon the local church. However, the New Testament doesn’t allow for this. Instead, starting with Jesus, the New Testament presents a definite shift away from “place and time” worship to “every moment, everywhere” worship.

In his discussion with the woman at the well in John 4:21-24 Jesus tells the woman,

Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Romans 12:1 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Hebrews 13:15-16 says,

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

While I’ve only included a few brief examples, the general thrust of the New Testament, while never neglecting the importance of believers gathering together in corporate worship, drastically broadens our understanding of what worshipping God truly is. It’s not a matter of getting together on Sunday, singing songs, giving money, listening to a sermon and heading home for the rest of the week to do whatever we want.

Every moment of every day is to be an act of worship to God.

This brings us to the most serious implication of the New Testament understanding of worship: our need for the Gospel.

The reality is: the Gospel perfects our worship.

On our best days, our efforts are half-hearted, our motives conflicted. The flesh is constantly at war with the spirit. If our worship were up to us alone, we’d be utterly lost. None of it would be pleasing and acceptable to God. But this is where the good news of the Gospel aids us in our worship… Jesus is the perfect worshipper. In His incarnation, He obeyed every command of God without flaw or failure. His devotion is unwavering.

He gives us His perfect worship to cover our imperfect offerings of songs, service and sacrifice.

The Gospel gives us reason to stand before the throne of grace, imperfect as we are, because we have an Advocate there who has completed the work for us, one who appeals to us to rely on Him increasingly to purify our motives, and perfect our worship. Hebrews 4:16 says,

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

That’s what biblical worship looks like. Don’t settle for a substitute.

Resolutions and Reminders for a New Year

Each and every year about this time I look back on the previous year and determine what progress was made, what progress needs to be made, and to set helpful guidelines and goals for myself in order to better serve the church in which I serve. Below I have copied over some of my own thinking about last year and how it impacts the way I do things this year. I hope if you are in a leadership position of any type in any place that you take time to evaluate and make this next year a more successful and meaningful year than last.

There is always room for improvement, and I’m always in need of a reminder. When it comes to being a Pastor that leads people and leads music sometimes I get pulled in many directions. What did we learn from last year and what are we going to do this year? Let’s think together!


Pull from the Well

We have all been at a concert or show where we only knew one of the many songs that was played. It just turns awkward… a bunch of people trying to sing along and making up words whilst looking around to make sure they aren’t failing alone. Sounds like late night college town karaoke to me!

Church shouldn’t be like that setting I described above. We will do a variety of music, some new and some old, but as a church family we’d like to collectively “own” only a certain number of songs from which we regularly draw.

We’d like for these to be “our” songs. Whether for a year or just for a season these songs can help shape worship services and speak to your congregation where they are and in the season that they currently find themselves in. These are songs that we love, that resonate with who we are, and that we enthusiastically engage as a church body. Worship Leaders, musicians, and Pastors almost always know far more songs than the churches they serve and are tempted to constantly introduce new ones. We need to throttle that down. I currently have an active list of about100 songs that I’d like to keep in rotation. I regularly add new songs at the pace of about one a month and rotate songs off the list, as needed.

Reminder… this isn’t YOUR list. It is your church’s list. You don’t get to head into a church and bring your list of songs while recycling theirs. Know your people!

Maybe you hate this idea of a list because it feels like you are always singing the same songs. However, remember, you constantly think about music. You listen to and write new music regularly, both of which are great things. The rest of the church, however, is not like you in that way. By the time you get to worship on Sunday, you’ve practiced at home, sung the songs as you prepared charts for the band, practiced with the band, and made changes in your head throughout the week. You know these songs well. The congregation, on the other hand, may sing them two or three times a year. Thus, it is important that we focus on our list of songs and shape it slowly and thoughtfully from there.

The music we play can shape the Gospel for our churches, so we must make sure they know what they are singing and proclaiming on Sunday!


Not everyone is a Musician

This may be one of the most important principles I constantly remind myself of, because it is not our desire that people just “see” us sing and the band “perform” with excellence. We want the church to join in and sing with one voice in worship.

Congregational singing requires that the congregation be able to sing the songs. That means that there are a lot of songs out there that, though they may be wonderful songs, are just not appropriate for corporate worship… at least not in their original form. That does not mean that you can’t use the occasional performance song (that is up to your discretion and context as a church), but the vast majority of what you choose needs to be singable by the average non musician.

Congregational singing requires that the congregation be able to sing the songs.

In that same vein, we must be sure to sing the singable songs we choose in singable ways. As a tenor sometimes that is difficult! There may be a lot of songs in the key of Tomlin that are solid and that might work, but they all need to be in a key that is reasonable for the vast majority to sing along with!

The congregation needs to be able to find and follow the prescribed melody. There is often a temptation for us as worship leaders who are gifted vocally to sing the “unwritten” parts and draw much more emphasis to them than the written song. Don’t get me wrong… we ad lib when led and sing spontaneously as the Lord leads, but we have to be aware that discernment is key and often these portions of our singing can leave the, primarily untrained, congregation without direction as to what they are meant to sing.

When people don’t sing they become disengaged and watch. We aren’t called to lead songs… we are called to lead people.

So be creative, but make sure the people know what they should sing. None of this is said to try to to stifle our creativity, but exactly the opposite. I am a HUGE proponent of Christian creativity and leading with beautiful Biblical excellence, and this inclusion of people in all contexts should actually drive our creativity to a new level.

Our primary concern should be for the whole congregation to be able to sing along. That means we tend to maximize congregational singing and minimize guitar solos, special arrangements, and even performances. It’s not that they are bad, it is that we have a limited time and want to focus on the congregation worshipping the Savior during the time we do have. A little of several of these things goes a very long way.


Recruit, Train, and Build

What does your team look like? What and who is it made up of? Are you raising up, equipping, and engaging your own people as volunteers to lead worship in your church?

I understand this always means more work for us. It’s easy for us to be content with what we have and close ourselves off to new comers, but who are we raising up to take our place? New volunteers will require a lot more time and energy to train and lead. I know we will have to work hard to build them up, but this is the direction we as a church need to move in order to truly “pastor” our people.

This year let’s commit ourselves to “expanding our net” in order to catch up more people for the Kingdom cause of Christ.



So what resolutions and reminders do you need for this next year?

Worship Leaders: Seek Him First

In this season of Thanksgiving and reflection that exists between November and the new year I want to write to all my worship leader friends, creative ministry volunteers, and musical coordinators and say… I appreciate you.

You are one of the most influential people in the life of your church.

Each and every week you are entrusted with the task of standing before your people and leading them into the very presence of God. Your role is to point people to Jesus, not yourself; yet, you do so through an art that is incredibly personal and that you’ve worked tirelessly to perfect. Trust me… I know the challenges, tendencies, and pitfalls! Our roles require us to be a gifted artist continually honing our craft, a theologian, and a leader all rolled up into one. All of those things combined make an arduous task.

The Bible references the predecessors of the modern worship leader in several places, such as the list of people in 1 Chronicles 25:1,

David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals.

The Scriptures are also filled with admonitions to worship, very often including song.

Psalm 150:16 says,

Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.

Hebrews 13:15 says,

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Colossians 3:16 says,

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

So the role of a Worship Leader or Pastor is, in my view, a clearly articulated biblical role.

Even so, your responsibility brings with it some pretty big challenges. The sad fact is that we all know that music can easily become one of the more controversial things within the life of the church. Everyone in our church has an opinion, often in direct opposition to another, and each will expect you to satisfy both somehow.

You will need to be more modern and traditional at the same time, louder and softer, and lead for longer but shorter time periods all simultaneously.

As someone who has been there, and who is there, I want to encourage you to feel free to listen to people’s suggestions, but focus on pleasing the Lord in the manner that you and your leadership have prayerfully chosen to affirm, stylistically and culturally. Seek Him first… the details will all shake out!

Matthew 6:33 says,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Jeremiah 29:13 promises,

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

And most importantly, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 says,

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.


To all of you serving week after week… I appreciate you. Your churches appreciate you. Keep on fighting the good fight!

 

Leading without Music… Off the Stage

Anytime someone asks me what my job is I almost dread to tell him or her that I am a full-time Worship Pastor. The reason for that is that I consistently get the response, “so you get to play music one day a week as your job?” Sometimes it isn’t worth the explanation and I just smile and respond with, “I guess you could say that.”

Being a Worship Pastor isn’t just for those with exceptional musical talent. Being a Worship Pastor takes exactly that… being a pastor.

In my opinion a worship ministry is very limited without the presence of a pastoral figure. Hear me out! People may worship along with that ministry… individually, but without someone nurturing them, protecting them, and caring for them we truly are just giving them a song to sing. A true Pastor watches over his flock to see that they grow spiritually. A Worship Pastor wants to see his congregation and team grow as worshipers. The term “Worship Leader” seems to place the emphasis on leading a service (which we do). “Worship Pastor” takes the emphasis off of the service and places it onto the people… the sheep.

Do you lead the singing portion of the service or do you lead people?

As a “music person” do you spend more of your time worrying about the songs or the message? The arrangement or the people? I come from a musical background and it would be really easy for me to focus in on the musical portion of my job and push the limits of what we are currently doing, but with what price?

I do ministry different than many “Worship Pastors” or “Worship Leaders” do, I actually spend more time pastoring the people than I do listening to the newest and most “relevant” song. Now don’t jump to conclusions… I do spend TONS of time finding, writing, rehearsing, and planning songs. My team has a routine and knows when they can expect new songs, worship plans, and when to be at church for rehearsals. I approach our music with Biblical excellence, but a couple of years ago I had a revelation that went a little bit like this: “Do our people even care about how good the music Sunday was, and are they looking forward to singing next Sunday?” Then, it dawned on me. I need to be thinking about my people throughout the week, and thinking about what they are thinking about throughout the week! The only way I can Pastor them well throughout the week is to be with them throughout the week and to live as they do… alongside them.

Below I want to briefly discuss three things that have been goals and good reminders for me to make sure I’m shepherding the people I lead on a Sundays on a weekly basis. Let’s think together.


  • Know the People

As a Worship Pastor or Leader do you get off the platform?

Do you truly know the people you lead on a weekly basis? Who is that lady on the right hand side of the third row? What is her story? What are her spiritual gifts?

Something about knowing the people makes leading them that much easier and that much more impactful. At the church in which I serve there are all kinds of people in need of things… some need physical healing, others need finances to pay their bills at the end of the month, some have children who have strayed or spouses that have died, the list goes on and on… but I know them and they trust me with their stories. That makes the singing of songs that declare God’s faithfulness and goodness super powerful and real. It brings the worship to a whole new level when you know what people are declaring and what that truly means in their life at the current moment.

After every worship service that I lead, I try to get off the platform and speak with the people, pray with the people, and get to know the people. You can’t possibly expect to nurture them if you don’t know who they are or what they need.

  • Be Visible and Available

As a Worship Pastor it is really easy to become isolated. In an artistic ministry we can spend as much time as we want in our particular area and we will never run out of things to do or things to practice. To truly Pastor we must fight this mentality… we have to get out of our area and be visible and available for people to see and interact with.

I personally try to be at events that our church puts on that have nothing to do with my ministry area… worship. For instance, just a few weeks ago our kids ministry put on a Harvest Festival. To be honest, as a guy with no children I really did not want to go… but my wife and I ended up going anyways and what I noticed was that it connected me with people from our church that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Being involved in the life of the church outside you ministry is healthy because it allows the people within your church to see you in an element outside of leading them in worship. It provides opportunity to have conversations and build relationships. So, if there are any events that your church puts on, try to be there and get to know your people outside of something you’re having to lead at or oversee.

  • Live with the Sheep

True discipleship and pastoring takes place up close… on a personal level.

John 10:11-14 says,

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.

I have found it interesting that the word pastor is derived from Latin where it literally means “shepherd” and relates to the Latin verb “pascere” which means, “to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat.” Shepherds in Biblical times lived amongst their flock. They consistently worked with them and taught them the best way to go. The sheep responded to the voice of their shepherd and trusted that he would not lead them astray. At night a shepherd would gather their flock into a pen or cave and sleep across the entrance in order to protect their sheep from predators that lurked around in the night. Shepherds cared for their sheep, and they demonstrated that caring by being there beside them and tending to their needs.

Are we being pastors? Are we being shepherds? If roles were reversed and you were in another person’s shoes would you trust YOUR “sheep” to you?

Proverbs 27:23 says,

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.

How can we truly know our flocks condition if we aren’t living alongside them? A Worship Leader who is a Pastor doesn’t have a one-way ministry. He’s not exclusively in the music department, but is involved in the body life of the church… he’s in touch with the congregation as a whole. I think that’s important on a number of levels. Shepherds know their sheep. They’re aware of the needs of the sheep. I think that’s going to be really important when it comes to song selection, but also in terms of how you love the flock well. I don’t want to see a guy just hanging out in the green room not being involved in the life of the church. With that, I would encourage the Worship Leader who is a Pastor to be accessible. Don’t allow yourself to be viewed as inaccessible, as someone on a platform, a rock star, etc. We should be seen out there mingling with the people.


I believe all these things are very important and very vital for us as Worship Pastors because it allows us to lead without a guitar on our back and a microphone in front of our face. It takes us from the stage and into the flock.

Sheer musical talents and abilities won’t cut it. Let’s set out to be Pastors together. We want to bring more than a song. Let us pray together for the compassion and patience it takes to shepherd God’s people. Let us pray for wisdom and the ability to carry each other’s burdens. Let us pray for sensitivity, and most importantly let us pray for change.

The Opportunities within the “Moment.”

If you are a regular attendee of New Hope Community Church, where I serve on staff and worship, then you are aware that compared to many other houses of worship the services seem… different. Some say it’s the music, others say it’s the preaching or our congregational prayer time, and still others have no clue what is going on but many will recognize that it is indeed… different. What’s the difference? Let me share with you what the I believe the biggest difference is, it is following the Holy Spirit’s leading for each and every segment of our corporate gatherings.

You might be saying, “Hey, my church worships the same as yours and any other church.” You may be correct, but I would ask what you mean by worship.

The ever-popular English etymology (history of the word) of worship can be described as “worth-ship,” or ascribing worth to another. But the Bible’s own language presents a more complex picture that can be organized in three word-groups.

The first word-group is the Hebrew word of hishtakhavah and the Greek word proskuneo. These words used in substitute for worship stress submission to another. Translated by the term “worship” in our English Bibles, they describe “bowing down” before another who is worshiped. This represents an ancient way of showing one’s vulnerability and, therefore, submission to the one worshiped. Those who bow down in “worship” indicate that they are consciously stating to God that He is in control of all things that relate to their life.

A second larger word-group presents worship as service or obedience to another, where the worshiper performs what God asks of him or her. Worship as service grows directly out of worship as submission. If I submit to another’s rule, then I am responsible to fulfill the wishes of the one whom I worship. Here we begin to see the unity between worship as “lifestyle” and worship as “praise” for both are ways in which I am doing what God asks of me. In Romans 12:1 Paul says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

This idea of worship stresses how one honors God in all things. Therefore, my worship is how I fulfill God’s desires for my life in every aspect and fulfill my responsibilities as outlined in the covenant He has made with me. This idea of worship focuses on a relationship founded on obedience. All of life reflects my worship of God. So I worship through both submission and service/ obedience.

The third word-group is often overlooked in worship studies: it is a word group that can be summed up as “remember.” The Old Testament Hebrew word zakar focused on God’s promises for his people in their worship. Every festival, sacrifice, and memorial was designed to promote the worship of God and was instituted as a “memorial.” The idea of a “memorial” is ultimately to “remember” something. We can view the Passover as Israel’s quintessential act of “remembering.” It repeatedly affirmed God’s unique act of covenant whereby he created Israel as a distinct people for himself.

Now these “definitions” or word groups mean nothing if we can’t relate them to today and how we worship… and most importantly how we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in our worship. We must realize that some people have differing opinions about worship services and what they should look like, sound like, and accomplish. But… whatever we think our worship should be should be firmly backed up with Scripture. We all have opinions on how we should worship, what we should be doing and sometimes, we just aren’t going to agree. Rather than using our own opinions to shape our beliefs and our worship, we must see what Scripture has to say on how we should live, what we should be doing, how we should worship, and what we should believe.

When it comes to the Holy Spirit, most evangelicals fall into one of two extremes. Some seem obsessed, relating to Him in strange, mystical ways. Their experiences with the Spirit always seem to coincide with an emotionally ecstatic moment created by an atmosphere or soundscape. Other Christians neglect the ministry of the Holy Spirit altogether. They believe in the Holy Spirit, but they think of Him the same way many of us think about gravity. They acknowledge it is a thing and it is always present, they would never choose to lose it… but they don’t really interact with it. For these Christians, the Holy Spirit is not a moving, dynamic person. He’s more of a theory.

But… we know that isn’t even scraping the tip of the iceberg for what the Sprit is to us! In John 16:7 Jesus makes His disciples an astounding promise about the Holy Spirit. In fact, I believe many of us overlook it because it seems so ridiculous.

John 16:7 says,

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

In this passage Jesus says that it is to His disciples advantage that He return to heaven if it meant they receive the Holy Spirit for themselves!

If you ask Christians whether they would rather have Jesus beside them or the Spirit inside them, which do you think most would choose?

So because of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit as a Helper! Why would we not “tap” into that Helper in the leading of His people in worship? Worship that includes: submission, obedience, ascribing worth, and remembering?

The Holy Spirit appears 59 times in the book of Acts, and in 36 of those appearances he is speaking. “But wait,” some say, “we can’t use Acts as a pattern for our time! The apostles were a unique group.” And I understand that Acts represents a special epoch of apostolic history. But you cannot convince me that the only book God gave us with examples of how the church walks with the Spirit is filled with stories that have nothing in common with our own. John Newton put it this way,

Is it really true that that which the early church so depended on—the leadership of the Spirit—is irrelevant to us today?

So… what happens when we follow His leading in our leading and worship? What opportunities are we presented with in our following? Let’s think together!


  • An Opportunity for Guidance

The Holy Spirit guides us. We’re really helpless in getting accurate guidance and direction unless the Spirit works within us. The Spirit is active and present in all junctures of our life. Again and again, Scripture suggests to us that when we open ourselves to God, the Spirit works in us with power and we can rest in His creative work.

Romans 8:26  says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Why is worship different when it is Spirit-led? There are many reasons… but I think one of the primary reasons it is different is because it’s not about us. It’s not about what we want to do, our time frame, our comfort. I have been asked what we have planned during the service and the answer always is the songs, the announcements, and the message. You might be saying, “well isn’t that it?” It might seem like everything is planned… but I believe the goal is to plan with room for the Spirit to manipulate your ideas for what the service is supposed to be.

In my particular case I have a loose 35-minute time frame to play with and I only plan 4 songs the way they are written. I know more… the band knows more… we are capable of playing more. But, we wait for the moment to follow the Sprit’s leading. Our Scripture reading (for the most part), prayers, and speaking that happens in the songs or between songs, are not planned; it is totally Spirit-led. We aren’t challenging or manipulating the Sprit to move, we are merely inviting and waiting. If the service comes where we play 4 songs exactly the way they are written and we have following the Spirit’s leading for the service then it can be deemed a success, on the other hand, if the service comes where we play 2 songs and an extended chorus totally unplanned and in obedience then it too can be deemed equally as successful.

There needs to come a time where we stop to listen and evaluate to make sure we aren’t just singing songs just to sing songs.

  • An Opportunity for Freedom

If we claim to live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Preparation should never breed self-reliance. A secular artist or performer can prepare a wonderful show, but our worship through singing has to be different. What’s the difference? It’s Spirit-led.

A true worship pastor does not walk to the microphone with a polished setlist to perform for the entertainment of the congregation. A true pastor and leader must take the microphone expecting God to work, expecting the Word of God to go forth with power, and praying earnestly for the Holy Spirit do what preparation cannot do… work with power in the lives of sinners to bring about salvation and sanctification. To bring about true life changing Spirit led worship.

Sometimes, it can be a little nerve wracking. There are times where it just seems like the pieces fall together and the will of the Spirit is like a 4 lane interstate that is easy to cruise right down, other times I think the Lord likes to take us down the quiet back roads that wind and bend treacherously. But the road is worth following! Take the opportunity for freedom in your worship!

Galatians 5:16  says,

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Don Potter was quoted saying,

I have been asked by praise leaders and musicians from various churches how they might obtain more freedom in their congregational praise times. “More freedom” usually means playing music longer, playing what they feel should be played, prophesying with song, or playing instrumentally when led by the Spirit, etc. This is a good question because we are told in II Corinthians that, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (3:17 NAS).

If we want the Holy Spirit to be in our worship services, there must be liberty, but all true liberty has boundaries and is gained by our becoming mature and responsible enough to use it rightly.

  • An Opportunity to Respond and Grow

Romans 8:14  says,

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

In our churches often people want to sit and observe, or just sit back and not participate. Following in the Spirit can help us to move past ourselves and begin to grow in His leading. We must allow ourselves to be stretched. Some of us aren’t always going to be comfortable with what is happening even though it is Biblical.

Remember, we are called to be believers and pursue Jesus more than we are any denomination.

Water amazes me. The way it moves and can find it’s way through the smallest cracks and crevices. Water, although unassuming, is POWERFUL. We have recently witnessed hurricanes and flooding, and to imagine the fact that water can over time cut through rock makes my head want to explode!

When you put an obstacle in waters path, it blocks it and the water has to change flow and go around it. Anything that is static in a rivers path, not moving or flowing with the river, is an obstacle to it. When enough obstacles are laid down, it totally blocks the flow of the river, causing a dam. When a dam is built, the flow stops.

Sometimes our unwillingness to respond and follow the Spirit causes an obstacle to His flow.

Since the gifting of the Spirit people have continually stood in the way of the flow of the Holy Spirit by not responding to Him. Some people who think they are being “very spiritual” or “respectful” by not responding to the Holy Spirit are actually being very carnal and standing in the way. Seems ridiculous that our unwillingness to cooperate could cause an issue, but we know that Jesus did all His works by the anointing of the Spirit. Acts 10:38 says that,

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

With that in mind we can take a look at a story out of Mark where we see that the Spirit’s work can be blocked or impacted by our unwillingness. Mark 6:1-6 says,

Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.”
Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

Here we see that He could do no mighty works. In other words He was prevented or blocked from doing them. This means the Holy Spirit could not do what He wanted to do.

We have to be willing to respond as we are led.

Notice that I said: respond. We don’t initiate the move… instead we should desire to be like a life in a stream that flows where the water takes it. Just like there are different rivers, with different strengths and flows, so there is diversity in the Holy Spirit. There can be different streams that come together and make up a river. The Holy Spirit is diverse. There are multitudes of ways in which the Spirit can move.

What do I mean by respond?

Well it is simple really. If a move of the Holy Spirit comes in in worship, and we all just sit there and look at each other, we are not responding! Not responding is to be as a rock that stands in the path of a river that is trying to flow. The rock becomes an obstacle and the river either has to go around it or is stopped by it.

There are times that we can get so into “our scheduled program” and routine that the Holy Spirit is limited in what He can do. I am not saying don’t have a program, but make sure you have the flexibility to allow Him to change it. If the program says it’s time to sing the last worship song, then have the announcements; and while we are singing an anointing to Praise comes in, then we have a choice: Go with the program or respond to Him.

Flowing with the Spirit can bring greater blessing than just sticking to your program or service schedule.

As a side note:

Don’t hear me saying that we have to be over spiritual and ecstatic extravagant worshippers. Often people only have learned one way to respond to Him so no matter what they sense they respond that one way. Some have learned to shout, so if the Spirit moves in soberness… they shout. If He moves in healing or in revelation… they shout. Because they are limited in their scope of understanding and expressing what He is doing. On the other hand, some have learned to sit in silence, very still and very quiet. There is defiantly a place for this, but if the Holy Spirit is moving in joy and loud praise, that is NOT the time for it! When God told the people to march around Jericho, there was a time He commanded them to shout! If they had stood in silence then, they would have been missing God.


Many people only know, or are confortable with, one response to the Holy Spirit and they have only learned to yield in that way, so every time they sense Him they think that’s how they are supposed to respond. No, there are many ways to respond depending upon what is right according to what He is doing. If the Holy Spirit is moving in peace and intimate worship, then responding with joy and shouting is the wrong response in the same way that sitting in silence during a time of jubilee would be.

We need to be able to tell what He is doing and flow with that! Going a direction He is not going is like trying to paddle your boat upstream instead of flowing with the direction the river is going.

The key is knowing what is right at what time. That takes discernment and learning to understand the way the Spirit moves, interacts, and works amidst His people. This takes developing sensitivity to His flow. It takes spending time with Him in prayer, developing closeness of fellowship and relationship.


To prepare ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities the Spirit provides in the “moment” we must worship through the week. We must pursue God each day and allow Him to speak into our lives. When we seek God through the week, Sunday will mean that much more to us, and on Sundays we must come expecting and believing God to do an incredible thing!