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Teaching Worship?

Have you ever been in one of those services where the worship leader (and maybe that leader is you) is more concerned with whether or not you raise your hands or step out into the aisles than if you are having a genuine interaction with the living God?  They keep yelling out commands, straining, begging for you to play along – to express your worship louder, with more passion, on the 2 and 4 counts, just like they are.

It’s no doubt a struggle for a worship leader to look out into a sea of blank faces, who don’t appear to be worshiping to the extent that they hoped.  Of course, the leader is pouring themselves out, vulnerable and raw in their worship to God, and they genuinely desire this for the people they’re leading.  But when they don’t see a reciprocated effort from the congregation, they become disheartened, distracted, and quite often desperate.  God knows I’ve been there a thousand times.

And so we feel like we have to teach people how to worship, how to lift their hands, how to raise their voice, how to shout and whoop and holler and clap with the beat.  And this may stretch some people out of their comfort zones and help them connect more fully with God.  It may give people permission, or perhaps courage, to do what they already felt stirring deep within.

But if you read the introduction to this section, titled Rediscovering Worship, you’ll hopefully realize by now that we all have the inner-knowledge of how to worship, and it will look different every time, coming out in more ways than there are people on the earth.  Worship is a response to the greatness of God, to His mercy, to His love, to His desire.  It is imperative that we understand this as leaders.  Our job is not to teach worship – it’s to teach (to reveal) God!

When we are able to bring people before God, they will worship all on their own.  You won’t have to play a note, sing a word, or count in the beat. 

Granted, there are some ways to influence this type of worship, and the number one way is to make sure you and your team are worshiping in this same manner.  While it may be easy to be distracted by the music – the chord charts, the lyrics, the rhythm, the harmonies, the epic guitar solos – or to be distracted by the environment or the other people in the room, making sure that you and your team are focused on the immensity of God and are worshiping in response to His greatness, His purity, His mercy, His beauty, His power, … well you get it, is the number-one essential piece to helping your congregation enter into the presence of God.

Incorporate time into your practices and take a moment before your services to inspire this in yourself and your team.  Take time to reflect on the character of God, to pray, to sit in silence and just receive before you begin your response.  Meditate on the psalms or on specific scriptures that are related to the songs you’re singing.  Let God come alive to your senses.

When you’re planning your services, step away from the “radio version” of your songs, though they may be familiar, and let your musicians find their own responsive expression in the songs.  So what if the guitar solo sounds a little different, or if the backup vocals find a different harmony, so long as it brings forth genuine worship.  I’ve witnessed too many worship teams that are so focused on getting the part right, staring intensely in concentration and the fear of making a mistake, that they never enter into true worship, and I’ve known too many musicians who are burned out or frustrated, because they’re too busy replicating someone else’s worship experience to find their own expression of love and devotion through their music.

Give your teams the freedom of knowing that practice is practice and worship is worship.  Let them figure things out as much as they want in practice, but make sure they know that when your worship service begins, practice and perfection go out the window.  Sure, we want to do all things with excellence (thus the practice), but when it comes to worship – give your all to Jesus, and let the congregation learn what true worship is all about (and just in case you don’t get it yet, that’s not about the chords, notes, harmonies, or even the words).

Another way to influence this genuine, responsive worship in your congregation is this: choose songs that remind you of God’s goodness and greatness, and choose songs that use a language of responsiveness (singing to God, not just about Him).  There’s sometimes a place for the other stuff (maybe in the middle of your service, after a message that the song helps to reinforce, or in between sections of teaching), but maybe it’s not in your primary worship time.  Let that time be completely focused on God and a response to His character.

You can also provide moments for response by giving your congregation something to respond to.  Just like you can incorporate reflection into your practice times and encourage it with your team, you can offer encouragement to your congregation as you start your corporate worship.  Give people something to respond to by reminding them of God’s character and goodness in their lives.  Help them reconnect with a verse, a short word, or a prayer, and then watch your worship come alive.

It is important to keep this short, though, and to not mix too much teaching into your worship, as this breaks up the interaction with God, much like someone who is constantly interrupting a conversation between you and your best friend.

And don’t forget (and I find this is one of the biggest pieces missing from our western-culture worship services), sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is provide some instrumental time (or even silence) for people to reflect and listen and hear from God for themselves.  Don’t be afraid of silence, for it’s in silence that we hear God best.

Watch your congregation as you lead, and notice the times when they need to engage and when they need to reflect.  You don’t have to change the sacred order of anything, or plan this into your service, but maybe you just motion to your team that this chorus should be instrumental.  Or maybe you come to a place of pure holiness in your worship, and you just stop for a minute, and then wait until the cry of worship begins to build out of the silence.  Some of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced and witnessed in corporate worship have come out of unplanned times of silence.

You may even decide from time to time to move your worship until after the teaching, or to provide an extra worship opportunity after the teaching, to allow people to reflect and respond to what they’ve just heard.  Work with your Lead Pastor to coordinate when this might fit best into a teaching series or even your regular worship schedule.  Giving people this time of response can help them take a message from just words to activation, from concept to life-altering reality – something that is often missed when people move straight from the message into eating lunch.

To recap, teaching worship is less about method and more about modeling.  Create an environment for your true worship to come forth, and for your team to enter into true worship, and you will have already created a place for your congregation to follow.

We so often think that worship is ours to initiate, and we hope God will respond by doing something great – whether through healing, deliverance, an emotional move of the Spirit, a word of knowledge, or just the feeling of refreshing or release.  But when we recognize that, by it’s pure definition, worship is our response, we’ll begin to find that all of those things we’re looking for are just waiting for us to enter in.

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