Tuesday, June 17, 2014


The report I received from a friend on a worship workshop for musicians and clergy was enthusiastically favorable. The discussion during the event, however, hit upon one sour note.

When the attendees were asked to “describe a memorable worship experience,” a frequent response was something like “I don’t get to worship because I am always thinking of the next thing that needs to be done." They had to reach back to the rare experiences where they were not leading to find anything worthy of “memorable.” My friend said this raised the question for her, “How can worship leaders lead worship when they do not have worship experiences themselves?”

That is an excellent question in and of itself.

Anyone who leads worship, clergy, musician or layperson, knows that there are always details of the service that need persistent attention. These can be significant distractions, drawing the leader’s attention away from the reason for being there: the worship of Almighty God.

At the same time, however, the reality of bits and pieces in a liturgical service, does not preempt the possibility of the leader actually worshiping with the community. Leading worship is not separate from and exclusive of actually worshiping. It’s entirely possible—even desirable—for the leader to lead by actually worshiping.

One Sunday on the way out of church a parishioner approached me with a sympathetic face and said, “Had a rough week, huh?” Since it was, as a matter of fact a rather nice week, I replied, “What do you mean?” So he explained, “Your silent prayer of confession took up a long time, longer than I needed, so I figured you had a bad time.”

There are some, I know, who count so many seconds for the duration of a silent prayer. That’s arbitrary and more than a mere distraction—it’s giving in to separating leadership from worship. I had long since learned that if I were going to take part in the worship I was leading, I would just do it.

This works in other parts of the service too. Leaders like to sing hymns, so go ahead and belt them out enthusiastically with the congregation. Don’t give up the joy of that to worrying about where the offering plates are hidden.

Prayers are not just for the people in the pews; leaders can, and should pray them as well. If you use one in the BCW or other source, rework it to make it yours, or write your own. In the preparation of prayers pray them as you select or write them, and give them a second shot heavenward in the service.

Reading Scripture also is a worshipful event. When reading the morning lessons on Sunday you can hear them afresh yourself; the Spirit brings life to the Word, so listen as you read.

All choristers know well that singers can be uplifted and stirred spiritually by their own singing. Choirs don’t perform to congregations, they perform in praise to God.

All of this is to say that one cannot adequately lead worship without worshiping. When that happens, something is out of sync in the worship experience. Furthermore, it’s a formula for stale and dry liturgy. When distractions rule, enthusiasm wanes.

Søren Kierkegaard, 19th century Danish philosopher/theologian, used a metaphor of worship-as-drama in his lover’s quarrel with the church. It’s time to dust it off again and put it to work.

S.K. saw that most people who went to church viewed worship as a drama (often true today as well). God was recognized as the Prompter cuing the Actors (clergy and musicians) who performed for the Audience (people in the pews). The only problem was that assigning the roles that way was wrong. Weak worship was the result.

According to Kierkegaard, the roles should be shifted one space around so that the congregation becomes the Performer, the clergy/musicians the Prompter, and God is the Audience.

When we reassign the roles properly, we find that the worship leader is not a performer, but a prompter, part of the worshiping community. The leader has a role, not separate from the liturgical action of the people, but a significant part of it. If the leader will worship with the people, than there is more passion in the readings, more soul in the prayers, and more zeal in the singing of praise to Almighty God.

Finally, worship on Sunday morning by the whole community is supported by a discipline of Daily Prayer. It is critical that worship leaders and preparers have developed for themselves a pattern of “continuous prayer” (I Thess. 5:16-18) that will carry over into the Lord’s Day worship of the gathered community.

This will overwhelm all silly little concerns that threaten to skew our focus on glorifying God and enjoying God forever.

1 comment:

  1. I so appreciated this blog, Don. Thank you!


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