I was in a worship service recently where a truth about leading worship became so glaringly evident, I felt it presented an example worth sharing…
The worship time in this service was led by a team that had done it many times before. A young man led the congregation in a number of worship songs that have become popular to many over the last decade. The band was spectacular, complete pros, some with years of experience in the studio and on the road with professional artists. The sound was great and the young man leading had quite a phenomenal voice and presence. But something was lacking. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it … great songs … pro musicians … quality sound … and the right motivation. Most churches dream of having all those things in consistency! This church had it in spades.
Then, about half-way through the worship service, the senior worship leader began to lead. He hadn’t sung half of the first line of a song and the atmosphere completely changed. By the end of the song, it was as if the glory of the Lord came down and rested among us. The congregation seemed overwhelmed with gladness, shouts of praise, tears, and even a few dancing with joy. For those skeptics who might think it was because he sang the hottest new song, or because the band “cranked it up”, nothing could be further from the truth. When he took the reins, there was spiritual authority in his voice. Not great volume. Just great authority. Confidence, expectation, joy, and pure worship. This leader carried an anointing like few we see today.
Why is it that some carry such an anointing for ministry, while others seem to lack it? And can those who lack it, gain it? The answer to the second question is “yes”. The Lord says that we have not, because we ask not. He says that He is pleased to give us his Holy Spirit, and more of his Holy Spirit. That anointing must be sought after. It can be found in the secret place of intimacy with the Lord. And that’s the reason for my blog post today.
While the record labels seek worship leaders with musical giftings, the Church hopefully seeks those with spiritual giftings. I’ve had the opportunity to know many worship leaders over the years. I’ve been in hundreds, if not thousands, of worship services, worship conferences and worship events. I’ve had the opportunity to work with worship leaders on a creative and administrative level to help them write, record and distribute their songs to the world. But professional musical training, showmanship, money, platform, strong communication skills, and even a heart for worship, does not add up to a leader of worship.
(As a side note, in the case described above, the senior worship leader was mentoring the younger leader. And that mentorship process included much more than musical mentorship. The senior leader was leading WITH this young man and did take the reins when it was appropriate. I commend him for that. But this particular service reminded me of the many other churches I’d been in where no true spiritual mentor was to be found for those leading worship.)
The rising popularity of contemporary worship music and recording artists that sing worship songs has provided some great songs as resources for today’s Church (as well as some not so great songs that the Church now uses). But the Church’s new focus in covering the popular songs of the day, and dare I say, the new focus (or trend) in hiring trained and even professional “artists” to lead the church in those worship songs, has sadly moved the Church too far away from first seeking individuals that are spiritually equipped to minister unto the Lord. We often complain about our worship services being performance based and this is exactly why. Trained musicians can give us a wonderful “song service”. Only those who spend quality time in the secret place know how to lead others there. Those who spend adequate time in the presence of the Almighty are changed. They can’t help but worship and adore the One they have been with. And His presence abides with them. When they open their mouth He speaks through them. They hear the Lord as they lead us in worship. They recognize his movements within the congregation. They know and they love His presence. If we expect our senior pastor to spend face-time with the Almighty each week, listening and receiving the message of the Lord for us, then why would we have any less expectation of our worship leader?
Worship is not music. We can certainly worship Him without musicians and without a song. And by the way, God does not actually seek worship. The Word tells us that He seeks worshippers. He’s not looking for those who make the most beautiful music. He’s looking for those who worship in spirit … and in truth. Music is only one of the ways that he has ordained for us to express our worship. Yet too many worship leaders today spend more time honing their craft and planning / rehearsing their worship sets, than they spend on their face, alone in worship.
Worship is something we do, because we’re compelled to do it. It’s out of the abundance of our heart that we speak or sing words of worship. The worship songs that we select to sing should only help express what our spirit wants to communicate to Him at the time. When His presence and goodness moves among us as we worship corporately, our leader should be one who helps us express what we want, and need, to say in the moment. This is why the overly structured worship service today can often quench the Spirit … and quench what our own spirits need to say as we worship. And it’s why the worship leader must be spiritually equipped to lead us, much more than musically equipped.
Now I’m one that loves a great band. And I’ve said many times, as a musician myself, that poor musicianship or pitchy vocals can really distract me from worship in the corporate setting. But that’s really a cop-out and my wife reminds me of that quite often. The truth is, I’ve been in many worship services with less talented musicians, where the Spirit of God came in supernatural power and blessed us all with His presence. Although I would prefer that all churches had talented musicians and singers, it is immensely more important that they have a worship leader (and worship team) that is spiritually equipped and prepared to lead us into the presence of the Lord, where we can minister to Him in spirit and truth.
May our first love be the Everlasting God. May we lavishly worship Him both privately and corporately because our bodies, minds and spirits can’t hold back a single ounce of adoration and praise for the One we love. As musicians, may our preparation first be spiritual and only after that, musical and administrative. My prayer is that in His presence He will anoint you with spiritual giftings and spiritual authority as a leader / minister, in the name of His dear Son and for the cause of His kingdom. May you be blessed in His presence not because that’s what we seek, but because that’s what happens when we seek to bless Him!
Reprinted by permission from Steve’s blog at http://songsphere.wordpress.com/. You can also follow Steve on Twitter @songsphere.
Music industry veteran Steve Rice has served as music publisher for some of the most recognized Christian songwriters, producers and artists throughout the world. Rice has served in senior management roles at both EMI and BMG/Universal, as well as with Integrity Music and Maranatha! Music, with his primary focus being on Christian music. Steve currently serves as Vice President of Centricity Music Publishing. He has published the songs of some of the most successful and talented Christian artists and songwriters of all time, including Chris Tomlin, Switchfoot, Toby Mac, Newsboys, Andrae Crouch, Michael W. Smith, Hillsong United, Steven Curtis Chapman, Delirious, Matt Redman, Jars of Clay, Third Day, Israel Houghton, Nichole Nordeman, Kari Jobe, Paul Baloche and hundreds more.