a first eleven: worship leading

I rise from the malaise that has engulfed me after NZ's dismal final week at the cricket World Cup to offer just one more 'first eleven'.
One of the more complicated roles in the church today is 'leading worship'. It is tough! I have a lot of empathy for worship-leaders ... In fact I have a discussion with a worship team tonight and here are the questions I will be encouraging them to ask:

How important is it for our worship to reflect all four seasons in human life - summer, autumn, winter, and spring? How could worship engage more authentically with peoples' winters and autumns - as this is where most of them spend much of their time?

How important is it for our worship to be always contemporary? How could worship connect more with what is pre-contemporary and post-contemporary, respecting both the history and the hope that is designed to impact our present experience as followers of Jesus?

How important is it for our worship to be something more than singing? We all know it is and yet we all keep defaulting back to this. How could worship be seen to be and nurtured to be something that includes singing ... but so much more as well?

How important is it for our worship to be biblically accurate in what we affirm? How could the teachings of the Bible better enrich and restrain our practise of worship?

How important is it for our worship to affirm the reality of both the transcendent and the immanent God, the God who is way beyond us and the God who is beside us? How could we ensure a balance in this area in our worship?

How important is it for our worship to be realistic in what we pronounce to God? How could our bold statements along the lines of 'You are the only one I want' be tempered by a greater truthfulness where we focus more on God and what he does, rather than on me and what I will do?

How important is it for our worship to be appealing to those who are not followers of Jesus? Should worship carry the burden of evangelism? How could we focus more intentionally on making our worship appealing to God - and then allow Him to carry the burden of drawing people to himself if he chooses to do so through the beauty of our authentic worship?

How important is it for our worship to be so similar to what is happening elsewhere? How could we think more independently and imaginatively under God's direction to do and to be something more unique in our own setting?

How important is it for our worship to be inclusive of everyone who gathers? How could we 'push back' the danger of worship teams becoming bands who perform as well as the danger of the congregation becoming mere attenders rather than genuine participants?

How important is it for our worship to feature an engagement with God's word so late in the 'worship service' (that climax to our week of worship)? How could more of the worship service be structured as a lingering response to hearing God's word, rather than having us rush out so soon after hearing it?

How important is it for you to convene as a small group for a season and work through Stephen Worsley's new resource together - http://www.onestepaheadworship.com/ ... I think it is very important!

nice chatting



dale said…
Thanks SO much for this post, Paul.

I've been a follower of Jesus for 8 years, and about 7 of them have involved 'leading worship' on a regular (sometimes 'hyper-regular'!) basis.

To be honest, I could describe my recent/current feelings toward 'worship music' as... well... fatigued.

With honest intent not to tear-down, but to build-up, I've often shared the various passages (Isaiah, Hosea, etc.) in the Old Testament that give witness to God's disgust at hollow worship.

Your points are very pointed and relevant.

'seasons' - absolutely...

'contemporary' - nice suggestion of 'history/hope' balance...

'more than singing' - good luck to us all!

'biblical' - Amen.

'transcendant/immanent' - So cool. I wrote a worship song a few years back (called 'Far but Near') in which I coined the phrase 'transcentantly immanent'... :)

'realistic' - In all I do, I honour you??? yeah right! :)

'evangelistic' - amen. trust God...

'similar to other styles' - No Paul! We must all strive to be JUST like Darlene Z. and Chris Tomlin! :)

'inclusive' - I think less "I"'s in the lyrics and more "WE"'s could help here...

Here's a random thought...

If we didn't over-spiritualise and/or over-emphasise the worship singing, perhaps we wouldn't see the performing as such a wrong thing? In other words, should there be anything wrong with people sharing their God-given talents with others (giving God credit, of course)?

this is becoming a book... I'll stop there...
Paul Windsor said…
Excellent Dale ... in the end there was some confusion over dates and I wasn't able to interact with the 'worship team' the other night ... but it certainly feels like I've interacted with you! Thanks

But would you expand a little more on your final paragraph please? I just want to make sure I fully understand what you are saying before I respond...

sincerely yours in the name of the 'transcentantly immanent' one (!)

Andrew Butcher said…
Paul - frankly this is excellent. Brilliant. Thought-provoking. Challenging. I've copied it and forwarded it to all the worship team at KBC.
BJ said…
I couldn't agree more with your question on the placement of the preached word within the worship service. As a worship pastor and now a lead pastor I've had the opportunity to influence how its been done in the contexts I've served in - I think where I've come out is the idea of the Word in worship as the hinge on which the whole worship door swings.

In my relatively simple view of the world and scripture I see the dynamic of God's engagement with humanity as one of Revelation and Response - so to have the preached message right at the end with at best one song before you head home is putting considerable faith in our congregations to remain in a place of response.

While I don't like to find myself in a rut with service planning I think a good general principle is to frontload the service with plenty of praise elements - extolling the attributes of God that align with the message, then provide time and space for personal examination/reflection on that part of our humanity that the message addresses - sin, injustice, brokeness, whatever - sometimes this is confessional. But it can also be multimedia, provocative or even just plain fun as long as it opens the worshipper to a dialogue with God. The message then stands as the hinge between who God is and who we are and provokes us to reponse in a significant time of reflection/action/prayer/singing - again whatever serves the revelation that a leadership team has discerned in their planning processes.

But there's plenty of ways to go I guess.
dale said…
Hi Paul,

well... I'll try to explain... :)

I'm wondering/suggesting/pondering that maybe 'worship-musicians' don't have to always play the 'humble card' (or 'play small', etc.)...

I think the tendency to 'play small/humble' is (partly?) due the over-spiritualisation of the almightly worship-singing-time (showing my bias, I know). We see 'it' as 'very spiritual', and the rest of our lives as 'less spiritual'.

(As for a corrective suggestion, I'm not sure if it's a matter of reducing how 'spiritual' we view our singing-times, or a matter of increasing how 'spiritual' we view the rest of our lives!) :)

In this light, my pondering/suggestion/wondering is that 'performing' - in and of itself - is not arrogant or prideful, esp. if done without inverting/ignoring the creator/creation distinction!

Does this make more sense?

Nick said…
Hey Paul,

This is interesting... I am currently working with some peps on this issue at ECC and your thoughts confirm our own. Though, what are you thoughts of worship on Sunday engaging with the world? For example., what social issues/concerns/celebrations can we interact with??? Could Sunday even lead the way in this area?? A thought i have often is how can we expect people to engage with the world during the week if Sunday is more like 'a pat on the back, here is a snak, now ya going back! Good luck.'

You feel me? :) I should have been a rapper....

Nick Mulqueeney
Paul Windsor said…
Sorry if I leave people waiting for a response (people tell me I shouldn't wait ... but I kinda like to leave space for others to have a say too! Conversation, rather than dialogue.)

bj ... I think I'd delight in your 'worship services'. What you express in terms of Revelation and Response seems as obvious as it is uncommon!

dale ... I understand what you are saying now. If the singing-stuff was a smaller part within a bigger worship frame then the 'performing' concern becomes less of an issue?? If so, I'd agree. It is not a new issue. In fact if you go back to the choir-age and the special-music-numbers-by-the-pros that is what we had. I remember sitting in church in the USA two decades ago longing to have a chance to sing a bit. I was used to participating. But it was only ever done by the performers from the front.

Nick ... you raise a good point. There is no reason whatsoever why Sunday cannot be more world-focused. What about intercessory prayer, for starters? Some young people in our church are starting to work through different countries in the evening service ... complete with ppt to spark intercession and petition.
dale said…
Thanks Paul,

Another concern of mine (and I think it's relevant here) is that we try to 'tick too many boxes' with our Sunday morning service. We try to 'connect people with God'(whatever that means), teach the scriptures, break bread/wine together, feature the children, feature the foreign missions committee, feature the local missions efforts, give announcements about this and that, announce the prayer meeting(s) that the people should go to if they really loved God, announce birthdays, pray, sing, contemplate, and more... AND, I've not even mentioned all the different WAYS in which people like the above list of things done... (longer, shorter, louder, quieter, more often, less often, more structured, less structured, topical, exegetical, and the list goes on...)

Between snake-handling and stale, dry liturgical services, there is a wide variety!

This is why I argue for simplicity in our church services. Ultimately, we're there for celebration, fellowship and to be taught the apostles' doctrine.

The difficulty (I think) comes when someone's special/personal passion/interest is expected to be everyone's special interest...

I think it's really healthy to recognise the role of Sunday morning meetings/services. Trying to achieve true, deep, meaningful community, personal-need-meeting, highlighting/celebrating this and that, praying 'for' all the things that need praying 'for', etc. all between 10am and 12pm is going to be like pushing water up-hill.

This is what community is for! This is what relationships are for! A couple of good 'filter questions' for me, are "Why must this or that be done during the church service?" and/or "Why can't it be done through the week, etc.?"

Another book-post... apologies... just thought it was a relevant concern, and would love to hear thoughts about it...


Paul Windsor said…
actually, dale, i think I would push back on a simplicity that is defined by 'celebration, fellowship and hearing the apostles' doctrine' ...
For example, I wonder whether that is explicit enough about 'prayer' and particularly a prayer that is more than glueing bits of the service together ... and, yes, I still have Nick's comments about the world in mind.
My favourite part of church services in the past few years has been an elderly woman with a capacity to gather the trauma in the world and take it to God on behalf of us all. Articulate passion. She gives us words that we cannot find ourselves. It is almost priestly! I think it fits in corporate worship...

dale said…
I hear ya, Paul.

I myself have memories of special times in a meeting/service where someone has prayed/sung/shared something, and there was just that sense of, 'Wow. What a special moment this is!' Indeed, to forbid such moments for the sake of a narrow 'simplicity' is a travesty...

Perhaps I'm just confused by my own 'over-thinking' about the issue!!?? :)

Something inside us longs for the intimacy, freedom and open-ness of (for example) what likely characterised the meal/singing/teaching/reading-scripture/praying/etc. home-church-meetings of the early church (and similar expressions since then - even till now?)...

Corporate church services are great, but all of us have different needs (let alone preferences!) and my concern is that we (maybe unknowingly?) are trying to craft/plan church services that are trying to achieve the above (intimacy/freedom/open-ness) result, in a setting (corporate/rows-of-seats/liturgy) that is less than ideal for it? Hence my suggestion for simplicity.

It would be plain silly of me to suggest that certain specific things never 'fit' in a corporate service, but things that are an encouragement/blessing/enjoyment to some in a corporate service may likely be just as much so in a different setting?

In my experience (while limited - only a few years!), I've been interested to see numerous occasions when something that was immensely special to one person is immensely un-special to another!

(an aside: Have you read/seen the book 'Why Men Hate Going to Church?' There are good questions raised there about how men are 'blessed/encouraged' by different things than women.)

But my whole point/query is: since when was the christian gathering EVER about 'me' being blessed? The larger the group the harder it is to achieve this.

Loving the dialogue (conversation), by the way! I certainly know my views need to be sharpened!

Nick said…
Yeah i think that is a good idea - expression of prayer and your young people... We pray for one of our partners in mission each week and have a family prayer too... It creates space to slow down....

What do you think of this:

Could something like a "social comment" be part of our Sunday gathering?? You could create a team of people (or existing small groups) who take turns each week engaging with a particluar issue?? (This team would of course interact with the wider church family. As Dale says; this could become just a 'soap box.'). I think of your sermon at S & U: This social comment could attempt to exegete the 'darkness', offering to shine the 'light' into it. Maybe only questions would be raised... other times a response to it. This could also be commented on throughout the service through the music and the sermon??? Maybe a Psalm captures our emotions of how we respond??? In this way simplicity could happen naturally as we look at engaging with one issue through different mediums in the service.??

Maybe our small groups during the week could look at this weeks social comment and enter into conversation in anticipation of the communities response??? Not a full blown debate but maybe something to take away and pray/think through....

these are just some thoughts.....

What say you? :)

PS: Dale, How are ya? Could you please clarify how your main point relates to what you have expressed so far...??? I am finding it hard to connect up - probably says more about me than you ha ha Cheers mate. :)

PPS: Not in till Monday so look forward to continuing the conversation....
dale said…
Thanks Nick,

(trust me, it's my rambling that is hard to decipher!) :)

I reckon the confusion is multiplied because the topic of 'worship music' is part of a larger conversation - Sunday morning meetings (which I've delved into), which in turn is part of a larger conversation - 'church'/ecclesiology in general (which I'd better NOT delve into!) :)

I had a chat with one of our 'worship leaders' (a contemporary role with no parallel in Scripture) just yesterday. There is SO much pressure on them nowadays... So many expectations. There are so many different types of churches, and (as we've all likely noticed) people are leaving the smaller churches and going to the mega-churches.

So many things come to bear on the conversation. Experiential leanings in our understanding of 'spirituality'; confused ecclesiology; and more.

The conversation is large. And important.

In general, my concern is that we need to urgently re-discover what it means to 'give preference to one another.' Pete McGhee would love little or no singing, but others want to dance and swirl. But BOTH give preference to each other. Beautiful, if you ask me. Now THAT's unity.

I'm not sure if that's helpful, or if it explains my main point (do I even have one?)... :)

I sense that in this conversation (you, me, Paul) my head is in the clouds a bit (principles, etc.), and you guys are tossing around some practical things, so I may be a bit off topic with some (all?) of this... :)


Nick said…

Well articulated:) I get what your saying. Your following comment that i have cut and pasted :) is very interesting. I agree that this is an expression of unity;

"my concern is that we need to urgently re-discover what it means to 'give preference to one another.' Pete McGhee would love little or no singing, but others want to dance and swirl. But BOTH give preference to each other. Beautiful, if you ask me. Now THAT's unity."

Cheers for clarifiying. There are a few things you have mentioned that i am tempted to engage with.... but maybe another time:)

One final thought;

Are people going to the mega-churches because even in a small church we still emphasize individualism and a slightly consumeristic style of following Jesus?? Why not go to a better performance?

Just a question..... :)
dale said…
Cheers Nick,

(I thought you were 'not in till monday!!??) :)

Glad to hear something I said made sense! :)

On your statement/question...

I like the way you phrased the question. I reckon individualism can sneak into what we do SO easily. It's something that we probably should all be aware of and give thought to.

The individualism conversation is a little slippery, 'cause we ARE indeed individuals, but also part of the human race and also we're a part of the Church...

Kinda weird to think that the following statements are both equally true:

-We are all EXACTLY the same in some ways...
-There are NO TWO people that are the same in other ways...

...life is 'one and many', I guess...

One of these days, we'll actually have that coffee we've been talking about! :)

Rhett said…
I've always thought the worship at BJ's church was particularly good ;-).

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