Practical Tips For Worship Leaders

The Lonely Church

The Lonely Church (Photo credit: Stuck in Customs)

 

As worship leaders, our priorities are in this order:

  • To give God glory (Ps. 106:47; “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.”)
  • To draw the congregation into God’s glorious presence (Ps. 42:4; “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”)
  • And to express our creativity and style passionately through excellence in musicianship (Ps. 33:3; Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”)

When you think about the congregational melody of a song you want to do, think of the tone-deaf person who can’t sing, and doesn’t like to sing!  Can they sing it and learn it?  If not, don’t do it.  If you remember anything from this little essay, remember this- Always consider the least common denominatorThink of the person who wandered in and has never been to a church.  Think of the outcast in the corner that feels marginalized by Christians.  Think of the stubborn religious person who doesn’t want to express any emotions to God.  If you plan your worship set and approach worship leadership with people like this in mind, you will likely reach everyone else also.  This doesn’t mean focusing only on the least common denominator, this means including the least common denominator as priority, and not a throw away, in your worship planning.  A good school-teacher doesn’t just cater to the smart people in the class, no!  A good teacher captivates the failing student who is a class clown, and inspires them to learn and earn a good grade.  So it is with worship leaders.  Inspire the least of them, and you will more likely reach the rest of them.

Yet when you’re up there on a Sunday morning, I’d recommend focusing on the people in the congregation that are the most excited to be there!  They will minister to you while you’re up front.  Look for the person/people who is/are really engaged in worship with their eyes closed, belting it out.  Or maybe the person that has their hands raised or is doing a little dancing.  This focus encourages a worship leader to be excited to be there.  If you look at the person that is sitting down asleep, or the one who is standing up with their arms crossed and a grimace on their face, then you’ll get discouraged and potentially feel that God is not using you, or you’ll get frustrated and potentially say something to the whole congregation that is offensive.  It may be in an effort to challenge people towards greater worship passion, but remember, it’s probably the least common denominator!

When putting together a set of music, think of the variety.  Would a 10 year old boy be engaged in any part of this?  Would a 93 year old lady enjoy any part of this?  Would a 53 year old ex rock n’ roller be engaged by any of this?  Blended worship is a shotgun approach to congregational worship.  If anyone sticks to any one preference too much, they’ll alienate certain people in the congregation.  For example- if you do all stuff that young people like, then older people will feel excluded.  But it you do stuff that all older people will know, young people or people who grew up outside of the church will be excluded.

I would add that it’s wise, maybe even imperative, to only do one new song a week, and then rotate that song (unless it totally flops) for at least two more weeks after, maybe even three or four depending on how well it’s received.  After you intro a new song, it then becomes part of the repertoire, and can be pulled out again at a later time if desired.  All the other songs done on a Sunday besides a new one should be a part of a repertoire that you’ve developed.  It’s not wise to assume that “everyone will know this one!” Remember the least common denominator!  What about people who have never heard it?  What about people who are Christians but don’t listen to any Christian music?  You’ll never engage the majority of the congregation until you learn to patiently teach them songs slowly but surely.  The great thing about a powerful worship song is that when more people are singing it, there is more power in it as an offering to God.  When shy singers sense that everyone around them is lifting up a joyful noise, they may be more inspired to belt out some notes as well!

With planning of every service, think of these things;

  • Will a new person that’s never been to a “church service” be engaged in this set of music?
  • Will a person that is totally uncomfortable singing in a worship service be compelled to sing?  Even just a little bit??
  • Will a new believer who doesn’t know music well, especially Christian worship music, be engaged in this and inspired to sing?
  • Will people who have been in the church since the 1950’s feel that they are included in this song selection?
  • Are people spectators at a performance, or are they being led into the presence of God?
  • Is the set too boring and low tempo?  Or I’m sorry…  “reverent”?
  • Is the set nothing but up-tempo with the potential to make everyone break into a sweat?  Or I’m sorry…  “passionate”?
  • Are the melodies too repetitive?
  • Are melodies too complicated to follow?
  • Are any of the songs corny and irrelevant?  Obviously some hymns and oldies are worth preserving and redoing, but some are ok to throw in the trash. J
  • Are all the arrangements of the songs based on the same formula?  (V, Ch, V, Ch, Bridge, quiet chorus, loud chorus, tag, etc…)  Keep things interesting and it will keep you on your toes as well.  It’s ok to challenge yourself!

Please remember always- leading congregational worship isn’t a chance for people to come and listen to your sweet music skills.  It isn’t a chance for people to think that you’re deeply spiritual as their worship leader.  It isn’t a chance for people to hear your favorite worship songs and how awesome you do at leading them.  It’s about them encountering God.  The job of the worship leader is to make that as easy as possible.  Worship is easy melodies to sing that are rich with biblical, theological meaning.  Worship is low distraction presentations of music that point to the awe and wonder of our King.  Worship is not boring, but highly engaging and excellently done with creativity, variety, tact, and taste.

Live in all of these tensions constantly as leaders of worship!  It’s definitely a process of learning.  That may be the best thing about it!  You never arrive, and can only constantly be refined and made to be more effective!

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Digging Beneath the Surface of “The Lone Ranger”

The Lone Ranger world premiere at Disney Calif...

The Lone Ranger world premiere at Disney California Adventure (Photo credit: insidethemagic)

 

My wife and I had the privilege of going to the movie theatre yesterday.  I say it was a privilege because we have a baby daughter who is almost a year old, and rarely get to attend the picture show these days for fear of being caught in an uncomfortable scenario filled with crying and soiled diapers in the darkness.

We got the chance to see The Lone Ranger, a summer blockbuster featuring an all star cast; including Armie Hammer, Johhny Depp, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, and Helena Bonham Carter to name a few.

The setting of and characters in the story describe well what I believe to be the philosophical quandary we find ourselves in today.

The bulk of the story is set in Colby, Texas during post-Civil War America in 1869.  So we have an era of America set forth that is displayed as traditional.  Early on in the story we are shown a group of Presbyterians heading towards the wild west on a railway train to “convert the heathens”, and they are portrayed as paranoid, pious holy rollers who have an obvious inward mentality.  On the same train we are introduced to our first protagonist, the lawyer John Reid who will later become the Lone Ranger.  Influenced by the writings of John Locke, John Reid could be described as a rationalistic humanist.  He has an acute moral compass that is based on reason, and even idealistically believes that society can perform and uphold pure justice and goodness.  This is an ideal that he is proven drastically wrong as he encounters tragedy, isolation, and corruption veiled by hypocritical pretense throughout the story.  Thus, John Reid is transformed into what many virtuous baby boomers became as the idealistic sixties cascaded into the hedonistic seventies and the materialistic eighties.  He becomes a self-made man, a pioneer, an entrepreneur outside of the laws of society and religion.  He becomes the Lone Ranger.

On the train we also encounter our second protagonist, Tonto, an American Indian mystic played by the hilarious and engaging crowd favorite, Johnny Depp.  In addition to being eccentric, Tonto is deeply spiritual in the tradition of ancient Native American beliefs.  He carries around a dead crow on his head that he constantly feeds bird-seed to, and believes in many ancient Native American traditions, though not all of them are necessarily indicative of Comanche belief.  Yet this amalgamation of mysticism that is present within Johnny Depp’s Tonto is a perfect representation of post-modern mysticism.  Tonto doesn’t fit into any sort of ancient, traditional paradigm.  He himself is just as much, or more of a maverick than the Lone Ranger.  He may be the sole reason in the story why the Lone Ranger becomes “Lone”.  To our present culture, Tonto represents the wild spiritual mystic who mostly rejects rationality in favor of the unseen, unexplainable, and superstitious.  For Friends fans, He’s the Phoebe Buffet of the story.  In the current non-fiction arena, he’s like Russell Brand.  He’s someone who follows the spiritual, and isn’t afraid to be eccentric or go against what everyone else thinks.

So there we have our current philosophical quandary between the Lone Ranger and Tonto.  The tension between rationalism and mysticism.  Their squabbles in the movie represent society’s inability to see a connection between the two.  Can one be both a rationalist and a mystic?  A mystical rationalist?  A scientifically sound spiritualist?  Though the film doesn’t solve this tension, but rather leaves it at the end with the Lone Ranger and Tonto arguing about what is real and true, it does offer a solution to us.  The solution is to abandon traditionalism and materialism, and head down the maverick path of existentialism.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto have to reject the Christianity of their era, which unfortunately is assumed to be Christianity proper.  Christianity is displayed in the movie as either a bunch of pious separatists trying to force conversions onto “heathens” (via the Presbyterians on the train in the beginning).  It’s also represented in the ultimate hypocrite in the story- Latham Cole.

Latham Cole is a railroad tycoon and a politician.  He displays a facade of caring for the community, country and nation, while secretly his real motivations are greed and power.  Of course it’s revealed later in the movie that he is a Christian.  A Christian who is even in cahoots with the evil villain of the movie Butch Cavendish- a cannibalistic, sadistic psychopath nihilist.  Their common threads?  Greed and power.  The tension in the movie is between these antagonists and the protagonists of the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

Yet once again, no beautiful portrayal of true moral purity and love is displayed in any one character in this film.  The Lone Ranger and Tonto are heroes because they go against the hypocrisy of traditional society and stand up for what is right to some extent.  But they, like any human being, have plenty of flaws and selfish motivations.  Yet like in all works of literature, art and film, the true perfect protagonist doesn’t exist.  Why would a perfect ideal hero exist in the minds of those that couldn’t possibly fathom such a One?

Yet Jesus, as He was accurately depicted in the scriptures, fulfills all the perfection of a perfect mystical rationalist.  He was completely sane and made claims about reality that came true with historical accuracy, like the Jerusalem Temple being destroyed (Mark 13:1-2).  He also said amazing spiritual things that people of His time didn’t understand, yet understood later.  When a few of His apprentices asked Him when the Jerusalem temple would be destroyed, likely hoping that Jesus would take over the world as an earthly King and protect Jerusalem from corruptive Roman authority, Jesus answered with an entire discourse that would encapsulate both the immediate and long-term events to come (Mark 13:3-37).  Obviously, His apprentices had no idea what He was saying at the time, but it would make sense as time went on!

The line between mysticism and rationalism is what Francis Schaeffer called “the line of despair” in his great work “The God Who is There”.  He postulated that our culture views this line as one of desperation and sadness, because in their view, there is no logic in spirituality, and no spirituality in logic.  He offered the same solution that I believe Jesus and the Word of God present in the scriptures reveals to us.  There is logic in spirituality and spirituality in logic.  This is revealed in the God man Jesus Christ who was both fully human and fully divine, and presented the intersection between history and the unseen, observable fact and the supernatural, time and the space beyond time, as well as perception and the hidden doors behind the perceivable.