In the span of just one month, I’ve been to quite a few places in Luzon for youth camps, several youth conferences, and youth gatherings. You will not be able to separate music from these types of gatherings, so there we were (me and some of the young men I’m discipling), and we sang and worshiped with a multitude of young people in the span of the whole month of May.
We got to talk about the different styles of leading worship from the front, and here are some things we agreed that you should look out for if you want to lead Christ-centered singing in your group. I know that there are a lot of books and content out there about “how to be an effective worship leader” and all that, but how about just being a truthful leader? How about just making sure you point to the glory that is Christ’s and His alone? How about letting go of tradition and culture and relevance for once, and actually do your set with the explicit goal of lifting Christ up?
I’ve taken time to collect the strongest ideas I’ve had during this month and written them down.
Worship leaders, if you do not know who you are before going up the stage, don’t bother going up there, because that stage is going to destroy you. Know your identity. At the bottom line, your actions will be dictated by who you are. Understand who you are before Christ, a sinner saved by grace and no better than all those people whom you are asking to sing with you. If not for the grace of Christ, we are nothing. We are created and saved for the express purpose of giving glory to God.
If this is not clear when you come up to lead, then this is a recipe for disaster. A lot of pride issues lead to wrong decisions, wrong words, wrong spiel. If you let yourself go on the stage, if you do not keep some semblance of control and direction (towards the glory of Christ)… then awkwardness happens. Awkward words come out. Wrong words come out.
And also wrong requests — like “let’s lift up our hands, because this is a sign we’re truly worshiping”. I’m not saying the lifting of hands is wrong — I lift up my hands to worship most of the time. What I’m asking for is this: Why are you forcing people to do what you want them to do? If this be a natural tendency to worship, you won’t even have to force it. If this comes from an inner need for you to validate yourself and somehow feel good about your worship leading because the people are lifting their hands, then it becomes totally wrong. And the people will know it.
That’s just one of the slew of things that might go wrong if you don’t have your identity in Christ set as the foundation for worship. There are a lot more.
Informed by the Word
Inform everything — and I do mean everything — you plan to do on stage by the Word. If it is not consistent with the Word (and the right interpretation of the Word), then do not do it.
This is one of the primary reasons why worship leaders and song leaders need to be good in biblical interpretation. We tend to use and quote a lot of verses when we’re on stage, and people usually take our interpretation of it as gospel truth. If you’re quoting verses and do not know the correct interpretation and usage for such, you risk replicating your mistake in a hundred more people listening to you.
All of the requests you make from the stage — because basically, a worship leader gets to be the director of the worship for that moment in the church’s liturgy or worship program — make sure they are informed by the Word. If you are not sure of something, don’t hesitate to ask your pastors about it. For example, asking people to cry (with tears as evidence) — I’ve seen this done, because according to said worship leader, our tears are evidence that we are truly repenting. There are a couple of things wrong with that. First, tears are in most cases an emotional manifestation in the moment, not an evidence of true repentance. Secondly, repentance in the Bible has nothing to do with tears and more to do with a personal agreement with God on the things He deems as sin.
There are a lot more mistakes that can be discussed, but suffice it to say that these mistakes will somehow be lessened if song leaders take less from tradition (what they’re used to doing in the church/denomination), less from culture (what is popular these days), and more from what the Word says about God.
This is a very iffy topic, but let me share my thoughts nonetheless. What is your purpose of making the congregation stand up to sing a song? I believe that if it is not to ultimately give glory to God, then we can somehow miss the point of congregational singing.
Take for example — why do we sing a “commitment song” after a message? So that we can mark the message with an emotional feeling? Or do we sing it because we want to praise God for having spoken His word to our hearts? If the worship leader is not aware of his purpose in having a congregation sing, he might just be going for the lowest hanging fruit — which is to say, “let’s sing this song so we can all feel emotional about the message.” There in that lower purpose, worship gets lost. Jesus is somehow the lesser priority.
Purpose is also a great guide for choosing songs. I have my process when I select songs for a lineup, you might have your own. So let me share with you mine and where “purpose” comes in. Ideally, I will have the topic or theme of the Sunday/event/camp in my head. Then I select from a pool of songs which speak about the said topic. But as I select, I do so with a purpose of giving glory to God. If these songs speak more about myself than God, I usually avoid those. In this sense, I filter most of them by the express purpose of giving God the glory. Some of the songs I will pick may be old, or simple, or not musically challenging — but if by singing it I felt that the congregation will get an idea of the “why?” in worship, then that’s fine with me.
Instead of gunning for a specific emotional reaction, we who lead worship must instead be guided by the purpose of why we sing in the first place. It is not for an emotional hit, although we cannot deny that this happens. Emotions or no emotions, our single most important priority is to give glory to God.
Once we’re clear on that, we’re probably better off. The trade-off? Probably less emotional songs, less catchy riffs, more older songs — but more a Bible-informed worship, a more purposeful approach to lyrical understanding, and hopefully, a singing congregation that gives more glory to God than to ourselves.
If you are a worship leader or a part of a worshiping/singing congregation, please share some of the things you’ve discovered in the comments section below.