As worship leaders, writing and arranging songs for congregational singing is something most of us hold, or would like to hold, as a value. (By writing I mean creating an original song. By arranging I mean taking an already existing song, typically a hymn, and altering it instrumentally and on the very rare occasion, adjusting the melody).
Even if we don’t have the most talented musicians or the most expressive group of people to lead, music matters because it’s part of our calling, to proclaim the gospel through music. So we do the best we can with the people and resources God has given us.
At the same time, music can’t be the primary focus.
What always takes precedent over the music is the gospel. We aren’t going to make the gospel sound any better than it already is, so our goal in writing music or arranging songs must be approached with humility and with a desire to call attention to the creator—not the created. Arranging and writing music can be fun, but it’s not essential.
How to attract—and empower—a new generation of worshippers
Most music has a shelf life. While there are many songs both sacred and secular that span the generations, a vast majority fades into distant memory with the years.
The same can be said of worship music. We all remember and cherish the songs that we sang in our churches when our lives were first changed by the power of God. Those songs stay with us, embedded in the story of our relationship with Jesus. But on a regular basis, new, dynamic worship songs and albums sweep through the body of Christ and again transform lives. These songs are the beauty of God’s creation responding to its Creator.
As a pastor, you set the tone for true corporate worship.
Every pastor wants to raise up a group of people who God considers true worshipers. Jesus defined these people in John 4:23 as those who "worship the Father in spirit and truth." He even added that these are the ones after whom the Father seeks.
We have the chance to cultivate these kinds of worshipers every Sunday in our services by how we lead. Whether you are a senior pastor or a worship leader, you serve as a model for true worship. You play a key role in creating an environment that is conducive to the moving of God's Spirit. To excel at both of these requires some understanding of what I believe are fundamental principles of congregational worship.
• "Worship time" is not a setup for the sermon. If we're not careful we can develop a dangerous mind-set that believes the praise and worship part of a service functions merely to prepare the congregation for the preaching. Though preparing people for the message can certainly be one benefit of a good "worship time" (and I use that term begrudgingly), it must not be its primary purpose.
Worship leaders are some of the first people to get to church and some of the last to leave. We plan all week for a practice, only to find the singer we’d hoped to feature on a song has called at the last minute and says she’ll be out of town. We work hard to lead a team toward excellence, yet we all know the feeling of finding out five minutes before rehearsal on Sunday morning that our drummer is sick and won’t be there.
God, did you really intend for me to go through this? I used to ask this often. Our church secretary can attest to the number of times I’ve said, “I just wanted to play my trumpet and my piano, and that’s it; God got me into the rest of this thing!”
As I was thinking about these all-too-common worship leader experiences and pondering a point from my pastor’s recent preaching, something clicked for me. God knows what tree I’ve climbed! Let me explain.
In Luke 19:2-8, we find Zacchaeus strategizing so he can encounter Jesus. The short man ran ahead of the crowd traveling with Jesus and found a sycamore tree to climb to boost his chances. I imagine him saying to himself, “Thisis the tree I’ll climb to see Jesus. He has to come through this road!”
The truth is, it wasn’t Zacchaeus who knew where Jesus would walk; it was Jesus who knew where Zacchaeus would be.
Today, God knows every single struggle and joy you go through as a worship leader. He knows the number of hours you put into arranging a song, learning the chords and figuring out different ways to play it so it will sound fresh and new. He knows when the arrangements you work so hard on at rehearsal come out exactly as planned—as well as when they flop! (And we all have some flops once in a while.)
He knows the happiness you feel when everything goes well on Sunday and the disillusionment you experience when it doesn’t. He even knows when you struggle to reveal to others those inner feelings, for fear they’ll either think you’re self-consumed or that your sole concern is how the music sounded rather than what God did in the service or whether He was truly worshipped.
God knew where Zacchaeus was. He knew his status in society, his fears, his problems, even his thieving. He knew the emotion Zacchaeus would experience when Jesus called out his name in front of so many people, most of whom he knew despised him.
Let me remind you today that just as Jesus knew about Zacchaeus, He knows and cares about your emotions, triumphs and failures. You’re not just "Worship Leader No. 1087"!
Jesus also knows your name, and in the same way He called Zacchaeus by name down from that tree, He calls your name today. He knows what tree you’ve climbed into, and He wants to hear all about what’s going on with you. He cares for you!
Your tree may be the ministry or church that you’re helping to lead. It may even be the team you’re on. God knows why you’re on that tree and not on another, and He knew this is where He was going to find you and change your life.
I encourage you, as the Word says in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (NASB). Have a heart open to what God wants to teach you while you’re on this tree. Often He’ll even show you why you’re there and give you a deeper purpose.
Worship leader, you are not alone. Jesus knows what tree you’re on!
Denis Campos serves as the director of Christ for the Nations’ Advanced School of Worship and Technical Arts.