Worship is so much more than music, even music that uses the name of Jesus or espouses correct theology. Worship is the pouring out of our lives out at Jesus’ feet. If we are to see our churches become all that God has called them to be, it is vital we understand what our worship should be in church, its importance and how to enable that worship.
One of the most common mistakes that we make as a church is that rather than allowing the worship and music to lead us into the presence of God and towards Jesus, we instead produce a musical performance, albeit a very professional looking and sounding performance. By striving to appear professional or to appeal to people, it is easy to lead a time of music in our flesh which, in all honesty, is little different to a secular music concert.
The difference between a music performance, (be that in church or in the secular world,) and worship that the Father requires, is that His worship is led by His Spirit. True Spirit-filled worship will draw people to Jesus, and God Himself inhabits it (Psalm 22:3.) It is a reflection of the worship that is taking place in Heaven around the throne of Jesus, it is His will in Heaven being done upon the Earth, (Matt 6:10.) It does not merely sing the words of Jesus, Jesus lives in the words and the music, and they are poured out as an offering to Him in the same way that Mary of Bethany poured her perfume onto Jesus’ feet, (see John 12.) It is not the style of music that defines true worship, but whether He is present in it.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23.)
In this article, I would like to discuss how we can transition from performance based music to worship that is unequivocally spirit filled and serves to glorify God.
The first cause of performance based worship is having worship leaders with little hunger for God’s presence and a lack of desire to follow Him. The reality is that many of our worship leaders are merely musicians in a church setting, as opposed to being people who thirst after Jesus. They often have a passion for music, but not for Him. Music is all that they understand, and hence music is all that they can operate in. Christian songs can actually be used as a mask to hide a lack of genuine worship, as singing the name Jesus does not necessarily mean that we are worshipping Him. Flesh based musicians leads to flesh based and counterfeit worship.
If a worship leader does not dedicate their life to ministering to God, it follows that they will be unable to lead other people in that role. The worship leader must be a person with a passion for God and for following Him. They are a person who has given their whole life to seeking and glorifying Him. They are set apart, not concerned with what the world is doing but only with what Jesus is doing. There is no other ministry within the church that is more important to our ministry to God. All other ministerial roles, as vital as they are, such as teaching, evangelising etc. are of secondary importance to our devotion to God. It was our calling from the very beginning, even before the fall of man to simply love the Lord and to dwell with Him.
A person with such a passion and lifestyle of true worship is a person who will walk closely with God. When they lead worship in the church, genuine worship flows out of their being, clean and holy worship that comes from a heart that is pure before God. Their praise is a fragrance to Him, (Ps. 141:2.) They go far further than simply singing songs, they minister to God Himself.
“Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…” (Ps 24:3-4.)
The second cause of performance based worship is a more practical issue, and relates to our understanding of how to actually lead congregational worship. If a worship leader is a genuine worshipper themselves, then they also need to understand how to lead others in that worship. This is where we require an understanding of use of music in worship.
We must begin to learn how to allow the Holy Spirit to lead our worship if it is to truly be His. The way that most of our worship teams operate at present is to produce a list of the songs that we are going to do within our church service, we practice them and then we perform them in the meeting. The problem with this model is that although we learn the songs and how we are going to present them, it leaves little room for the Spirit to operate or to move though us a we try to use them in ministry. The Spirit is unable to move in us because we have already rehearsed what is going to happen and what we are going to do. We have already established what our worship will be before the meeting, and as such that is the limit of what God is able to do through us. Not only that, but when the Spirit does want to lead us we have neither the mechanism nor the musical ability to move the music in line with what He is doing. All sensitivity to both God and the people is removed as only performance has been practised. Such a system leaves little space for us to actually minister to Jesus out of our hearts, it only allows time for songs.
A worship leader is a leader is a leader not just to a congregation, but to the other musicians. They do more than simply perform their part of the song, they direct the worship in the same way that a conductor directs an orchestra. They set tempos, keys and rhythm, and a well practised worship team will know how to follow the leader even as they change all these things during a time of worship, and they allow worship to manifest out of the hearts of the musicians in praise with their voices and instruments. They have more than a list of songs that they are going to play, they have a flow of direction into God’s presence in mind, and they communicate with the other musicians to lead them seamlessly into that place. The ultimate role of the worship leader is not to perform to the congregation, but to lead the congregation to a place where they too are caught up in the presence of God and are ministering to Him. They must be able to follow the Spirit as He moves, and then lead the other musicians. For that, a worship leader needs both spiritual vision and musical excellence.
The church desperately needs worship leaders who are worshippers first, and leaders second. We need people whose hearts are for God above all else, who then understand how to lead both musicians and non musicians into intimacy with Jesus. God wants His presence to be a reality in the centre of all of our lives and our churches. Without Him, we merely become religious organisations that use the name of Jesus but have little of His life or power. We need to allow the reality of Jesus to be the centre of His church.