Two weeks ago, I wrote a post called “Worship Service Evaluation” where I made observations concerning the things that went well and the things that were distracting in a corporate worship service that I had recently attended. I really struggled with whether to publish the post for fear some people would take my observations the wrong way. Indeed, I received one email that chastised me for going to a worship service with a critical eye.
When I entered the space for worship that Sunday, I had no intentions of “evaluating” the service. As the time moved along, however, I was disturbed by the overwhelming lack of participation of the congregation. I feel very strongly that worship is not a spectator sport. Immediately, my God-given evaluative tools began to engage to determine why things had gone so far from the desired path. More on this later.
In a few days after the article was posted, Musicademy, an internationally-known organization that promotes worship and worship training, picked up my article and ran it on their blog (with my permission). What really got the commenting going was the title that the Musicademy folks renamed the post, “What would a professional ‘worship consultant’ make of your services? (The reason for the title change is posted in the comments under the post.)
Most respondents received the post in the attitude I intended, but a few took major issue with it. Since I feel that some of you may have also been troubled by my comments and wonder about my motivation and intentions, I would like to help you understand my perspective.
God has called me to the work I have at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina as senior consultant for worship & music. My calling is specifically to help churches renew – breathe new life into – their times of corporate worship. Worship across our state (and our world) is in tremendous need of renewal. God called me to my present ministry for the very purpose of helping churches get on the right course by helping them understand the true meaning of worship and showing them how we as worship leaders can help our congregations grow in the understanding of worship and the experience of God in corporate worship.
To equip me for this task, God has wired me to look at corporate worship through a lens that evaluates everything we do as to whether or not it helps the congregation on its journey of worship. There are things that we as worship leaders do that cause distractions in worship. There are things we can do to turn the congregation into passive spectators rather than active participants. Many “worship leaders” do not have a clue. They are awesome musicians with great hearts. All they need is some help in understanding worship and what we can do to help our people worship and what we need to avoid that hinders their worship.
Some people would argue that the worship leaders in the service I evaluated may have had their hearts right and proclaim that that alone is sufficient—that God can work in worship despite what we do. Can God do awesome things with our poorly planned and implemented services? Of course. But, I believe that we need to offer our best to God and to create environments that help people to offer their sacrifice of praise and worship to Him. As one who is responsible for crafting a time of corporate worship for the body at a particular place, I feel there is great responsibility to do my best to create a corporate worship environment that helps people to express their worship. My best, your church’s worship team’s best, and the worship team at the big church down the street’s best may all be vastly different—and that’s okay. I get that. But in returning to the evaluation of the service from two weeks ago, almost nothing I brought out as lacking was related to skill levels; just knowing and caring about the hindrances would make a tremendous difference in that church’s corporate worship if the leaders would implement the changes.
In the evaluation, I mentioned a lack of transitions in the worship service. Some argue that there is no need for transitions between songs or other elements of a worship service. To arbitrarily choose songs, play them one by one, stop in between with no thought or consideration of helping the people in their worship journey, merely resetting the music and starting the next song DOES NOT create an optimum worship environment. Corporate worship is a specific meeting of many worshippers to join together in their expressions of worship. Worship is not a show, but I certainly hope that it is an experience. We should go expecting to encounter God, to offer our worship to Him and to experience Him. The problem with too many churches is that people go away from the corporate worship experience without ever having a Divine encounter.
So back to the title of this post, The Curse of the Calling. Some would say that I am cursed by the call and equipping that God has placed on my life due to the lens I so often look through in evaluating worship. I see it totally differently. There was a pivotal time in my life (see posts, The Tale of Two Churches) where God gave me a glimpse of what He sees in corporate worship. I now have a tremendous desire to do all I can to help churches renew their passion for worship and create environments of corporate worship that help people encounter God. That often involves disturbing the status quo in love. Seeing one church after another begin to find renewal makes it worth it all. Believe me, I still worship passionately and have a great love relationship with my God, but there are times He allows me to glimpse the things that we do that hinder His children from expressing their worship to Him as they should. There is nothing God desires more than the worship and adoration of His people.
As worship leaders, we should constantly be seeking to improve. We should welcome observations that help us see ways we are hindering worship so we can do all we can to make the times of corporate worship real and vital.
Remember that your personal worship is a prerequisite to corporate worship. Worship continually and passionately.
Nothing you can do will make people encounter God. Great music and form without the Holy Spirit is nothing but a show.
And some final words:
- Keep your heart focused on God continually through the week.
- Constantly pray for God’s guidance as you plan.
- Seek God’s guidance as you lead.
- Get out of the way (i.e. don’t cause distractions).
- Give God the glory!
Joyfully serving Him!