The worship leader is called to educate believers in the wonders of God and to lead sinners into an awareness of His love.
A survey taken in churches in the United States showed that people forget 80 percent of sermons they hear within three days after hearing them. Even the best sermon illustrations are usually forgotten.
What do people remember? The songs! The words of songs stick in our heads because of the memorable melodies, rhymes and rhythms attached to them.
The New Testament hymns, which are woven into the fabric of the gospels, epistles and Revelation, teach many basic doctrines (see Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:6-11; 1 Cor. 13:1-13).
The rich theological depth of these hymns sends us a clear message--teaching is an important part of singing hymns. In assembling song sets, we are proclaiming the truth about God's identity and our own identity as His heirs, servants and reconcilers of lost people.
Telling the Story of Jesus. Worship leading is a celebration of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ. The story of Jesus remains constant, and the message is timeless and relevant for all people of all cultures. But in postmodern society, the story is needed more than ever.
Into the spirits of Christians and non-Christians challenged by changing values and beliefs the worship leader injects the unchanging story of Jesus. Songs of worship are a primary means of telling the story of Jesus.
Through singing the story of Jesus we give people a context for living. As we relive the coming of Christ into the world, our own lives make sense. In worship we see ourselves on the continuum of time--we live between the first and second comings of Christ.
This is more than an intellectual review of information. Within the worshiping community, we are formed by Christ in our midst. In worship, we experience the essence of family.
In worship we not only see who God is, but we also see who we are. As rays of revelation stream down from heaven, we say: "Oh yeah! Jesus is alive! He is real; He is here; and He gives me purpose for living. I am not just a carpenter, a doctor, a truck driver, a mother of small children. I am an eternal child of God."
As citizens of heaven, everything we are springs out of everything God is. We are a "chosen race" because we are children of the Chosen One; we are a "royal priesthood" because we are followers of the great High Priest; we are a "holy nation" because we are subjects of the Holy One of Israel (see 1 Pet. 2:9-10).
"Worship is a pathway and the atmosphere for people--the saved and the unsaved alike--to discover their royal calling in Christ, their destiny in life, their fullest personal worth and their deepest human fulfillment." This is Jack Hayford's eloquent explanation of seeing our identity in Christ through worship.
Paradoxically, worship is one of the most humbling yet ennobling activities we can do. It's humbling because we bow before our Creator, and it is dignifying because in it we realize that we are heirs of the highest royalty.
In leading worship, we give people a window to heaven. Our songs are the vehicle of fixing our gaze on things above, not on things on the earth.
Fighting Doctrinal Battles Through Song. Most worship leaders wouldn't think of giving themselves the label theologian. Yet through our songs, we present the truth about who God is. We paint a picture of the personality of God and the way He relates to humanity.
One of the most significant battles over doctrine in the early church was the Arian controversy in the fourth century A.D. The issue in question was the divinity of Jesus. Athanasius led the way in arguing that Jesus was "of one substance with the Father"--that He was not created, but was eternal and infinite along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. His opponent, Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, argued that the Son was created by the Father and was not equal to the Father.
This crucial doctrinal battle raged for many years. At times, popular opinion was on the side of Arius. This controversy was the main subject of debate at the council of Nicea in A.D. 325.
This episode of church history is relevant to our discussion because the hymns written by Athanasius and Arius were among their most powerful tools in fighting for their beliefs.
Through worship music, our souls are fed with a rich impartation of truth. The worship leader's challenge is to serve good food to the church every week, giving them a nutritious diet of truth, encouragement and exhortation.
Worship as Evangelism. We face our own modern-day Arian controversy, since we live in a culture where the majority does not accept Jesus as God. Our job is not only to explain the nature of God to Christians, but to also present the gospel to the unconvinced.
Tony Campolo, who teaches at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, observes that in past years, the voluntary chapel services were largely neglected by the students. However, in recent years this has changed dramatically, and students are enjoying extended times of worship in chapel.
Campolo writes: "Students are being converted by music. This is surprising to me, because I always thought sermons were the decisive factor in bringing people into a relationship with Christ. But, I am finding that worship can do that even more effectively and deeply. Young people are looking for a relationship with God more than a theology about God. Worship which is truly in the Spirit is giving that to them."
During an outreach, my friend Gary Best met three young men from Morocco. Almost immediately the discussion turned toward a debate over the Bible versus the Quran. So Gary steered the conversation away from the argument and invited the men to a worship service.
At the end of worship, Gary found the three young Moroccan guys that he had met earlier in the day. He thanked them for coming and realized that they wanted to spend some time with the team. When Gary told them the team was leaving the next day, one of the men said: "I want to know Jesus. How can I know Him?"
"You can know Him right now," Gary replied. So three of the team members led the men to the Lord.
These people hadn't been wowed by a concert; they had been struck by the spirit of worship. It wasn't a performance; it was a heart cry.
Christians and pre-Christian seekers are drawn to genuine worship. Today more than ever our cultural climate calls for genuine worship rather than glitzy shows or dry recitations of theological truth. People know the difference between a dead religion and a living relationship. So when they see people deeply engaged in worship, they take notice.
There is something tangible in the air, yet elusive. People aren't just singing to the ceiling; they are actually communing with God. When a pre-Christian who is hungry for God sees this happening, the light begins to dawn.
I see worship as a major factor in bringing people along the continuum from unbelief toward knowing God. With the added factors of hearing biblical truth and having friends who can personally interact with them, worship is a powerful tool for convincing and convicting people of God's existence and His love for them.
Worship leaders have multiple functions--we invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit, and we teach, prophesy and evangelize through the lyrics of our songs.
Seeing worship leading through this multicolored lens heightens our awareness of the breadth and depth of our ministry through song.
Through our music, the Holy Spirit writes on the hearts of men, women and children eternal truths of many colors and hues.