As a worship leader, I used to struggle with where to focus my attention when my feet hit the platform. The music would start, the lights would come up, and immediately my perceived expectations of the crowd would come cascading over me like a toddler in ToonTown. I’d like to say I could easily abandon the voices in my head and set my undivided attention on the subject of my praise, but the drive to maintain a certain level of “excellence” had my heart divided.
I first came across the imperfect definition of excellence in high school. The worship team I was a part of would say that excellence is a well-packaged presentation. The implication was that if the time clock had not yet run out, everyone was smiling, and all our transitions were smooth, then we had achieved “excellence". Often excellence would be equated with perfection. To their defense, they were attempting to teach a bunch of hormone-ridden high schoolers how to feel comfortable in their own skin, on a platform in front of thousands. The Bible says, “Put your heart and soul into every activity you do, as though you are doing it for the Lord himself and not merely for others” [Colossians 3:23 TPT]. What this verse reveals is that excellence is not perfection, but simply doing the best you can with what you have, as unto the Lord.
The Main Goal
I’ve spent years trying to learn the methodology of worship leadership. I’ve studied several leaders and observed many environments, attempting to extract a commonality that would give me some measure of extraordinary insight. With an evaluative eye, I’ve watched the reverent sway of the worship leaders, I’ve heard the brilliant movements of the musicians, and I’ve seen the beauty of the production across the board. What I’ve learned is, beyond any commonly adopted mannerism, those who actively engage the presence of God and are wholly surrendered to His leadership, lead people into experiencing the true benefit of His glory as they worship Him.
Being married to a Health Coach, I am constantly confronted with the reality of what I stuff into my mouth each day. I’ve come to learn the effects that both natural and heavily-processed food has on my body internally and externally. It fascinates me to understand that sometimes, what may taste good initially, is actually toxic to the body over time. Alternatively, the organic or whole foods one may have to hold their nose and chew, prove to be the best to consume. I would argue that, in the same way, heavily-processed worship services that lack the genuine pursuit of God’s presence, and the surrender to His leadership become more toxic to the health of a church over time. The initial experiences may feel and “taste” great, but they slowly decompose one’s understanding of the personable nature of God.
Okay, this next bit of information is paramount. Often times, when someone references worship, we all think of music. Although music can be a vehicle to or an expression of worship, it is not itself worship. Contrary to my previous understanding, worship is not an act, it is a posture. The true posture of worship is surrender. This is liberating to most because they are then freed up to worship anywhere they are, and at anytime they desire. One does not need to be singing in order to surrender to God. Romans 12:1 says “Beloved friends, what should be our proper response to God’s marvelous mercies? I encourage you to surrender yourselves to God to be his sacred, living sacrifices. And live in holiness, experiencing all that delights his heart. For this becomes your genuine expression of worship (TPT emphasis added).” Our most genuine expression of worship is when we sacrificially surrender our lives to the authority of God.
I’ve been asked how a worship leader “balances” pursuing the presence of God, and the cultural expectation of excellent performance that exists at their church. My answer is: there is no balance. Balance implies that the pursuit of God’s presence, and the pursuit of our individualized definition of excellence hold equal importance. False. If the true posture of worship is surrender, then excellent performance during worship only occurs when one surrenders their neatly packaged presentation to God. This is not to say order isn’t important or biblical. It is. But our ideals and priority of order should never be the instrument by which we measure the quality of our worship. A better measure of our leadership maturity or worship quality is how readily we’ve surrendered our desires, knowledge, history and Planning Center packaging to God.
How then do we focus our minds on God while we lead others in worship? Aim towards complete surrender by asking God what He would like to see happen specifically in your gathering. Perhaps you’ve prayed, planned, talked, rehearsed, wrote, practiced and taught, now rest into surrender.