Worship is something that all of God’s people do at some time or another and in different ways. We can worship through the sacrifice of our time and financial resources. Another way we show God that he is deserving of being at the forefront of our attention is through prayer; simply laying out your heart before him and seeking his will in your life is a beautiful form of worship that can be done privately or even with a small group.
But the form of worship that this article focuses on is worship in the context of the modern-day “church service”. The scene is familiar to many who attend large churches in first world countries. The lights dim, darkening the congregation’s seating area. The music starts, you can feel the bass thumping. It’s loud, but not too loud, and it’s crystal clear. A familiar song starts up, nearly everybody in the church is singing out and praising God, and half or more of the people are raising their hands. This weekly ritual is the only version of worship that some people are even aware of. When done right, it’s a cleansing, wonder-filled, refreshing time to spend in the presence of almighty God. When done “wrong”, it’s a strained, uncomfortable period of time that can bring dissonance to the body of believers present.
In my time in Music Ministry (Worship Team Ministry), I have come from being content with “just playing music for God”, to being one with a vision and a desire for bringing people to God’s arms. I have a suspicion that many people think ‘just walking through the doors of a church building’ means that they’ve entered the presence of God. Sadly, they are mistaken. They have merely entered the presence of the Pastor, some ushers, a few singers and musicians, and a whole lot of lambs who need to be fed. Now, these are fine folks to keep company with, but they are not God, and they cannot nourish as Jesus nourishes.
To bring people into God’s embrace, where they can feel vulnerable and secure, broken and mended, lost and yet found, we want to provide them with more than just doors to walk through. We must do what we can do make the way clear for people to walk directly up to God and pour out their hearts.
Here are some ways that we can help worshippers to approach God for a one on one encounter, despite being surrounded by dozens or hundreds of other people:
1. Lower the lights over the congregation, but not the Worship Team.
In our Worship Team, we talk about using the darkness as a “covering”. It’s mostly psychological, but the darkness has a way of helping people feel as if no one can pick them out of the crowd. Not that anybody is trying to pick them out of the crowd, but having the lights down is great for allowing people to “disappear” from the congregation. During this time, many people only want to be seen by God.
The Worship Team still needs to be able to read lyrics, chords, song order, notes, etc., they should still have some lighting at least for these purposes. One point of view is that the music team should not be lit up when the congregation is not, to avoid it feeling like a concert. Well, those who engage in the worship fully won’t even be thinking about how “concert-like” it feels, and those who aren’t immersed in worship will have something to look at.
2. The Worship Team should be *gasp* worshipping.
I like to apply the adage, “lead by example” to this scenario. If a member or a guest at the church is looking up at the worship team, they should see only people that love God and display that through their countenance. I have been in a less-than-worshipful mood, and been brought to humility and a place of worship simply because I saw someone else giving it all to God. Worship is addictive and effective. Let the worship team illustrate being comfortable with being seen worshipping, singing, even a lifting of hands. If the worship team can worship while leading the songs from a stage with the lights on, how much more comfortable will church attendees be from the pews.
3. The Worship Leader should lovingly encourage the congregation to worship freely in their own way.
There is a term used in worship ministry known as “cheerleading”. This implies a worship leader communicating to the congregation in a usually enthusiastic manner with a sort of “Go team! You can do it! Let’s worship God together!” sort of vibe. This can be an effective way to spark enthusiasm within the pews, but it can come across as unwelcome and forced among church goers.
Another method of “rallying the congregation” comes in a more subtle way. I like to pause for a few moments, to reflect with the group, the very reason that we are all gathered together at our appointed time and place. A great many people are so rushed in their busy lives that even at their regular weekly church service they are still at a hurried pace. God’s children need a few minutes to wind down and realize that they are in a safe place. They can take a deep breath and focus on the things of God. But if we don’t give them that opportunity, then Church just runs together with the rest of the week, another appointment on the calendar.
I like to ask a question, almost rhetorical,
“Why are you here today?”
“Did you come here to worship Jesus?”
These questions are obvious for most, but they demand an answer, at least in the hearer’s mind. No follower of Christ can sit there stone-face when the One that they live for is evoked.
When genuine desire is present, only a subtle call to action is necessary to launch full blown worship. And when that happens, it’s best not to stifle the worshipper, if they want to jump up and down because they are so excited for God’s Presence, then that’s what they should do, if they want to fall to their knees before Mighty God, then that’s what they should do. Just be careful to keep the jumpers away from the kneelers, you know, for safety purposes.
4. Playing music while someone is speaking or praying should enforce the speaking, not detract from it.
“Background music” is music that is in the background. This is a difficult concept for many musicians. A special sensitivity is required for playing background music, as the idea is not to draw attention. This goes against the very reason many people learn an instrument in the first place.
The music that a player or church band plays while the pastor or another is speaking must be behind the speaker in the mix. The words are of infinitely greater importance than the music at this time. Better no music than music that drowns out someone bringing God’s word to the people or a communal prayer to the Creator.
Another point I must make is that “lead instrument” players (guitar, piano, horn, etc.) must not see the opportunity to provide background music as a chance to “solo”. A solo can bless God and the congregation both, if it is done during a praise/worship song and the attitude behind it is right. A solo can not bless anyone but the soloist if they are treating these sensitive moments of background music as a chance to show off their talents.
The “fanciest” the music should get during these times where the music is supporting speech, is a very light melody, but preferably a simple arppegiated chord pattern. Arppegio will act as a light melody and provide less for the ear to follow. The last thing you want the music to do is attract attention with a spectacular improvisational solo. But, even little licks thrown in here and there, that would sound great in a live music performance, will draw the listener away from the words of the speaker and to the musician playing the licks.
I can’t stress enough how important this is. It’s an affront to the Christian who is trying to pray if you place a distraction in front of them. Especially with eyes closed and thoughts on God, if you dangle otherwise-good sounds in front of their ears and say, “Listen to this, isn’t it pretty?” Let them focus on the Lord unhampered.
Let’s remember why we came together in the first place.
As worship leaders, we cannot take ourselves too seriously or else we become overly self-important; we are to be servants, facilitators, guides, but not figureheads, and not centerpieces; but we cannot take our duties too lightly if we really feel that corporate worship of our God is vital to our relationship with him.
We can become insulted when others don’t display the same zeal for worship that the leaders do. We can develop a sort of “righteous indignation” toward those at the church service who don’t appear to give half an effort to pay God his due reverence. Should these attitudes begin to form, we need to remember why we came together in the first place, to help God’s people remember how to meet with him. Our focus isn’t on preaching the gospel to the unbeliever, our mission is to allow for Holy Father and his children to have a family reunion. If we are doing this in a comfortable environment with sincere motives, God will draw people near to him, and hearts will be changed, and because of God’s infectious love, his family will continue to grow. He orchestrates the ‘concert’, all we have left is to be thankful that we were a part of it.