"Hey, are you a singer?" It really wasn't all that weird that a random girl approached me with this question. My fiance, Jordan, and I were at an International House of Prayer One Thing Conference with some of our friends. In this space, people are always praying for one another, prophesying over each other, and sharing with people what they think God thinks about them. I was used to seeing it by then, but this question was awfully specific.
"Yes! I am!"
"I just feel like God wants you to use your voice for worship leading and He is leading you into that." She continued to speak over me the beauty that God made me with and how delighted He is when I used my gifts. This word spoke directly to a question I had been asking myself for a few years. I grew up with musical theatre and loved every bit of it. In college, I was having a hard time finding a place for that love and a space to use my voice. But this was the start of God letting me know how He wanted me to use my gifts.
At that conference, I received at least three different words about being a worship leader. The day after I got home from the conference, a pastor from one of the churches in Oxford texted me asking if I would audition for the new worship team. God spoke the word, and He was making the way. I auditioned, made the team, and haven't looked back. Since then, I've lead worship in multiple different spaces, grown in my gifting, and learned priceless things about the power of worship and God's heart.
At this point in my life, I am transitioning out of college and leaving behind the next generation of worship leaders in Oxford, OH.
This is for you.
1. Sometimes we sing because we believe it, and other times we sing until we believe it.
This was shared with me by a dear friend and worship mentor, Naomi Latta. The more I lead worship, the more I recognize music's and singing's power to align my whole being with the truth. Music knows how to tug our heart strings and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think it's beautiful that our hearts are so moved that our minds and spirits are inspired to meditate on truth and truly soak it in. And not only do we meditate on what the song is about, but, when we surrender to the Holy Spirit, He leads us into journeys of our own, to truths that we needed reminded of even if we aren't singing about them. Soon, as we keep listening, we start to have a revelation of truth and we've "sung ourselves" into belief. I think the Holy Spirit has an absolutely hay day loving our hearts as we soak in song.
I remember a time in my life where I could not sing the song Oceans. The song offended me through and through. Oceans was popular at the same time that I was believing some yucky stuff about God. I was so spiteful that I would sing the opposite of the lyrics true meaning. As I grew out of that season, I realized that I was missing a core piece to make my faith stable: how I feel and what is true are not always the same. I may have felt like God was abusing me, but the lyric of "my soul will rest in your embrace" was still the true state of my being. I may have felt like God was distant, but the lyric "and there I find You in the mystery, in oceans deep, my faith will stand" was still a true reflection of the state of reality.
Offense at worship points to a problem of trust. At least for me it did. Now, I don't register songs as invalidating or harsh, but, when I feel a twinge because of the song, I move my focus onto my heart and ask the Spirit to come in and heal. If a lovely truth hurts me, it's most likely because God and I have some talking to do. Or, we just have some crying to do.
Worship tills the sometimes hard soil of our hearts and that is an irreplaceable experience.
2. The Spirit uses you, the worship leader, to administer His love and grace in more ways than just your singing.
I like to pray and preach while I sing. Sometimes, when I'm leading a song, the truth of the lyrics just smacks me. My headspace and heartspace begin to chant, "Oh God, I hope the crowd gets this. I hope they believe this. I hope they are changed by this." Huge hope wells up in me for the Holy Spirit to transform people with His truth and love. So I intercede for the crowd as I sing and the song becomes not just a song, but God's truth preached in power.
Let your heart be broken for your congregation/crowd and God will use you to not only offer up a song, but powerful intercessory prayers for His people.
3. Voices still collapse Jericho sized walls.
I've actually been to literal Jericho before. It's not a very nice place. The city isn't all that safe and it reeks of ancient defeat. As our tour bus rattled through the streets, dodging kids skipping school, I thought to myself, "What did I expect of a place that's famous for its walls crashing down?"
God told Joshua, "I have given you Jericho, its king, and all its strong warriors...when you hear the priests give one long blast on the rams' horns, have all the people shout as loud as they can. Then the walls of Jericho will collapse..." (Joshua 6:2, 5)
God gave these instructions to Joshua not to earn a victory, but so that the people could see a victory that God had already given them. God didn't say 'if you do this then the city is yours.' He said 'the city is yours, go and conquer it.' I believe God tells us the same instructions in the spiritual, 'the devil is defeated, go and defeat him.' When we lift up our voices in worship to God, when we sing about His character, His might, and His deeds, the devil is reminded that he is finished and he flees. When we shout a hope filled praise to God, the devil and his hopelessness cannot stay. I think of the lyrics in the song Not Today, "I'll sing the night into the morning, I'll sing the fear into a praise, I'll sing my soul into Your presence, whenever I say Your name, Jesus, I let the devil know not today."
4. The Lord inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3).
I think God has many thrones. THE Throne Room in Heaven, His throne in our hearts, and the throne that our praises make for Him. Probably more, too. When we praise and worship God, He feels at home, He feels welcomed, He feels absolutely delighted and overjoyed. His children are doing what they are created to do and He shows up to watch. God is always present in us, yes absolutely, but there's a special access to His presence that worship and music are excellent at leading us into. When we worship, He moves in that space in power: physical healings happen, visions erupt, spiritual strongholds are broken down, new truths are planted into people's hearts, and we experience His love in an unforgettable way. As we grow in discerning His movement, we can partner with and pray in the miracles He wants to do in a space of worship.
5. The health of the worship team matters for the worship experience of the crowd.
The health--the good and the bad--of those in leadership trickles down into those they are leading and into their work. If leaders feel dry and unconnected, that's the kind of worship experience that's more likely to happen. God can absolutely still touch people through that experience, all He has to work with are broken people, but, when we as worship leaders are in a healthy and intimate place with Jesus ourselves, that shows in how we lead worship.
I think about James 3, (v. 1-2)"Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way...(v. 13-18)If you are wise and understand God's ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don't cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God's king of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favorites and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness."
There's a clear connection between those in teaching positions, the kind of life they lead, and what is sown into their environment. Friends, ministry ins't all fun and games. It is the best kind of work because God is the best. But, if we try to do it disconnected from Him and simply go through the motions of 'successful' ministry, we do a disservice to ourselves and those we are trying to connect to God's heart. We can end up sowing and reaping a harvest of little instead of plenty because we ourselves aren't investing into our own relationship with God.
If you want to lead well, live well.
6. It's not about you, so be you.
One of my friends, Naomi Latta, once described my worship style as, "A really excited soccer mom who wants to make sure everyone knows that her kid is the best on the field." I resonate. I lead worship with energy and I use all of my body. I love Amanda Cook, but I'm more on the Steffany Gretzinger spectrum. God made me to be kinesthetic so why would I leave that out of worship? That's how I worship freely but you don't have to. If you're behind a piano, awesome. If your guitar is your best friend, do it. If you stand still and sway through every song, that blesses Jesus' heart. We have freedom to worship Jesus and lead others into His presence in exactly the way we want because it's not about us: it's about Him. Because our job is to lift everyone's eyes onto His glory, we are off the hook from any performance anxiety, expectations, or fears that might stifle our joy.
Let yourself go. People know when they see true freedom and they crave it desperately. Your display of freedom might be just what they need to be brave and be free themselves.
7. Work to make your musicians and team members feel valued.
I used to be able to read music and play some chords on piano. Not anymore. I have to lean on the truly musical musicians on my team to figure out keys, talk rhythm, and spout out chord progressions. All I offer my team is my voice, the dynamics I want, and communication during the set when the Spirit moves or I want to repeat something. We are truly a team and all of us are worshipping Jesus with the giftings He's given us. I make it a point to call their giftings out and to praise their hard work and service.
Build real relationships with your team members. When everyone wants to support one another and is excited about worshipping together, the sound is better, everything goes much smoother, and it's all way more fun. My senior year of college, we had a worship team of all seniors for our last weekly Cru meeting. Most of us had been doing worship for years together and we were all amped to go out with a bang. It was one of the strongest, most cohesive sets I've been apart of because it was just friends worshiping Jesus together. Conga lines starting forming out in the crowd because our energy transferred out so well. A sweet, sweet memory for sure.
8. Hand off worship to your congregation.
All I mean by this is to let them lead sometimes. I started experimenting with cutting out my voice and letting the crowd take the song. I don't know what it is, maybe it's just the lack of the lead singers voice, but the crowd always seems to sing louder when it's just them. Maybe they rise to the challenge, maybe they can finally hear themselves sing and love it. I like to think that everyone is relishing in the power of hundreds of believers singing praises to the King of Kings. It blesses me and rejuvenates me immensely to hear people's love for Jesus burst forth in song.
9. Push the limits of your worship space.
I am a firm believer that God always has more for us. More intimacy, more blessings, more healing, more abundance, more wisdom, and more joy. If Ephesians says that God gives us more than we could even ask or even imagine, that's what I want to ask for.
I think "pushing the limits" of the worship space can be controversial but it should be always Spirit led. Sometimes it means having a different dynamic flow. Fast, fast, slow. Slow, slow, slow. Slow, fast, slow. You get it. Sometimes it looks like new instruments. Sometimes it looks like sitting in one song instead of moving onto the others in the set. Sometimes it looks like giving a word in the middle of the song. Sometimes it means facilitating a prayer time. If none of those things are customary in your space, give it a try! When we give God new ways to move in a space. we experience new parts of Him which is what this life is about anyway.
Maybe if the space doesn't need to be challenged, maybe you do. Try getting out from behind your instrument. Try learning an instrument (@me). Try not moving at all. Try kneeling. Try a song that isn't usually where your voice sits. Try letting your team members choose the setlist and lead more. Try anything that I've suggested here.
10. Read the Bible to learn about worship.
There is absolutely too much to write about. Read over the Bible asking the question "How does God feel about worship?" or "What are all the different expressions of worship?" It's a never ending and totally glorious treasure hunt.
I believe in you guys. God is so blessed by you.
What I've learned about what it means to be transformed into the image of Christ, be reconciled to Him, myself, & others, and how to be His disciple.