Authentic, Engaging, and Responsive Worship

Note: Based on a devotional I wrote for my church choir, which is posted on Grace Notes

Last week I introduced you to Soulprint by Mark Batterson.  I’m going to continue sharing some insights I’ve gleamed from his book today. Last week we specifically looked at what I called “Undignified Worship”, so let’s pickup where we left off…

I asked the following question: “Why are we so afraid to demonstrate our love, praise, and worship of God in physical actions?”  and I also asked what it means to look desperate for Christ (remember the song we sang this morning?)  This morning at my church we sange Breathe, which contains as it’s chorus, “And I, I’m desperate for you.” I found it ironic that as I stood up on the stage this morning and looked over the congregation there were a good number of people who actually did not sing that particular song (many who do normally sing), yet the song was one of the louder songs that was sung this morning by the congregation – even though fewer people sang!  Now there are many reasons people won’t sing, including not knowing the song, and I’m not judging their choice to sing or not sing as right or wrong or good or bad. What I want to focus on is the physical posture people took as they sang (or didn’t sing) this song.  There were people in the congregation with their hands up, others had their hands out in front of them with palms up, some were sitting, some had their eyes closed, and some just stared and looked forward.

While I can’t judge people’s hearts and attitudes in regards to the words they sang, I can ask the question, “Does your physical posture reflect the words you are saying (singing)?”  And for some the answer will be “No”, and for some (but not all) of those whose answer is “No” the reason is fear.

Remember the reference last week to 2 Sam 6:22 when David was caught dancing in the street in response to the return of the Ark of the Covenant?  Some people didn’t really appreciate how he demonstrated his excitement regarding what God had done for Israel – they even ridiculed him for it.  Batterson writes,

“When you get excited about God, don’t expect everybody to get excited about your excitement.  Why?  Your intensity confronts their passivity.  When you completely yield yourself to God, it convicts the unconsecrated by disrupting their spiritual status quo…After all, it’s much easier to criticize others than it is to change ourselves.”

Here’s the point…  I have noticed a marked – and I mean a marked – transformation in my church choir over the past several months.  We’ve spent a lot of time looking at what it means to worship individually and as a choir, moving towards becoming a worship leading choir instead of a performing choir (some of the devotionals I’ve written for the choir can be found by clicking here or here).  They are beginning to truly worship during the service, at least when I can see see them (only the Call to Worship and choir anthem, since the rest of the time they are behind me as I lead my congregation).  The looks on their faces as they sing communicates more about the message of Jesus than any words in any song I choose.  When they look up (instead of down), when they smile (instead of frown), they communicate a love and passion for Jesus that goes beyond the words you say.

As choirs model worship for their congregations people will follow, and the same is true for worship leaders.  Don’t be afraid to smile, get excited, or even raise a hand now and again.  Put down the music/hymnal and don’t worry about singing in parts – just look up and sing the words.  Let the congregation see a choir of worshiping musicians and not just a choir of performing musicians – for there is a huge difference.  This whole worship thing starts with us.

Don’t be afraid to allow your posture to reflect your heart – even if it might seem a little uncomfortable at first.  And don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel like people are following you.  Remember whom you worship and sing for – and it’s not the congregation.

Here’s what I believe: as the choir leads in authentic, engaging, physically responsive worship, others will follow.  And God will smile.


Undignified Worship

Cross posted on Grace Notes

This past week I read a book entitled Soulprint by Mark Batterson, a pastor up in Washington, DC (for a review of the book click here). While worship is not the focus of the book, Batterson shares some great thoughts on the subject which are relevant to our work as a choir.

Let’s begin by reminding ourselves that one of the main purposes of our choir is to lead people in worship. Now I’ve said before that worship isn’t limited to the music that is sung and performed on Sunday mornings, but for the purposes of our discussion today I am going to limit it to that. In the back of our minds, though, let’s remember that we worship all the time in many ways – not just via music. Music is a tool of worship, but it is one tool among many. Our job as a choir is to model the use of this particular tool in an effort to lead people to worship as well.

This morning as we sang a congregational song that made a reference to “lifting my hands” I was struck by the fact that I only saw one or two people in the entire congregation lift their hands. And, shame on me, I wasn’t one of those few. It struck me that here we were singing to God that we loved him so much we were willing even to lift our hands up, yet all we (and I say “we” because I fit in here, too) had were hollow words that were not backed up by concrete actions. Batterson writes in his book that,

“Religion is about protocol. Following Jesus is all about desperation. It’s about a God who is desperate for us and a people who are desperate for Him.” (emphasis mine)

Would you describe your relationship with Christ as one where you are “desperate” for him? Next week we’re going to sing a song in the AM service as a congregation that cries out, “I’m desperate for you.” But what does desperation look like? While I might not know exactly what it looks like, I can tell what it does not look like, and what it does not look like is what most of us were looking like this morning.

Why are we so afraid to demonstrate our love, praise, and worship of God in physical actions? I’m not suggesting here that we need to be “more charismatic” or “Pentecostal” with jumping and dancing and speaking in tongues (I’m also not saying there is necessarily anything wrong with any of that, either – don’t get distracted by the reference). What I am asking is why we are afraid to worship God in ways that sometimes take us out of our comfort zone. One comfort zone for our church (as a whole) is an unwillingness to “raise our hands” in worship and/or surrender to God.

I’m going to suggest here that one main reason (maybe not the only one, but a large one) is found in both our insecurity and our pride (now that seems like an oxymoron!). Insecurity because we are afraid of what others may say or think, or maybe we even struggle with truly believing God is there, and pride simply because we don’t want to look foolish (again, being afraid of what others may think or say about us). But here’s the real question: Why does it matter what others think or say? Isn’t God the only one who matters? Do we worship through song and lifting of hands for others or for Him? Batterson writes, “Pride is simply the failure to praise. And the lack of praise always gives rise to pride.” After being accused of making a fool of himself by dancing “half-naked” in front of all Israel, David replied, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Sam 6:22).

Now, again, I am not suggesting we all get “half-naked” next week during the service and start dancing around the sanctuary during the worship service. What I am suggesting is that perhaps we do need to be a little less afraid of what others think of our worship and more focused on what God thinks of our worship. I am suggesting that we be more willing to be so excited about what God has done for us that people can see it in how we act. It’s been said so many times it’s almost cliché, but it’s still true: too many of us get more excited about our favorite team winning a big game than we do about our God winning us salvation…. What does that say about what are we worship?

A Brief Review of Our Worship Study

Cross Posted on Grace Notes

The past five devotionals have focused us on worship – from, what worship is, to how we worship as individuals, to preparing for worship, to leading in worship.  So let’s take today to simply review some of the things we’ve learned.

  • Our definition of worship: “Worship is our response to God’s revelation of who He is and what He has done.” (Post 2)
  • Worship is rooted in relationship and continually fosters that relationship between God and us. (Post 2)
  • Worship requires both the mind and the heart (Spirit and truth) (Post 2)
  • We must prepare for worship – both in the time leading up to the service on Sunday AM as well as the days and evenings beforehand. (Post 3)
  • We have two primary jobs every Sunday – to worship God and also to lead the congregation to worship God as well (Post 1)
  • Because one of our responsibilities on Sunday morning is to lead people in worship, we are a Worship Leading Choir (Post 4)
  • The choir leads in worship by (Post 5):
  1. Singing the climactic song of the service
  2. Teaching new songs to the congregation
  3. Practicing worship during rehearsal
  4. Internalizing the text of the songs (both congregational and choral) so they minister to our hearts.
  5. Modeling worship for others to see (including physical posture and facial expression)
  6. Worship throughout the week so that Sunday is an overflow of Monday-Saturday, not an isolated event we prepare for.

Where does that leave us now?  I would say we need to begin focusing on what worship means for us Monday through Saturday.  We’ve spent a lot of time looking at worship on Sunday morning, but if Sunday is to be an over-flow of Monday-Saturday relationship, what does that Monday-Saturday relationship look like?

That’s where we’ll go from here – and we’ll actually start that next week.  For this week, just think about how you worship God in the every day – remember that worship is responding to God – and then examine your response to him every moment of every day.

Becoming a Worship Leading Choir

Cross Posted on Grace Notes

My previous post introduced the concept of us being a “Worship Leading Choir”, so let’s list some of the things we do at LBC to reinforce this concept.

First, song is selected in an effort to usher the congregation into worship.  In fact, as I select music for the choir I consciously connect it with the rest of the music in the service; the choir number is generally a culminating musical moment for the entire musical part of the service – all the songs preceding it lead up to it thematically.

Another thing we started doing about one month ago was to put the words to both the Call to Worship and the choir special on the screens.  This is meant as an invitation for the congregation to join us in singing.   Some anthems are more appropriate for congregational participation than others, but by placing the words up on the screen it is my hope the congregation will focus less on us and more on the text (and the text will naturally focus them on God).

Another element of this entire Choir as Worship Leader philosophy is that we sometimes do anthem arrangements of songs we sing as a congregation (Amazing Grace) while other times we do anthems that teach the congregation a new song we later use as a congregational song (Praise the Father, Praise the Son and You Alone Can Rescue).

Yet none of this answers the question, “How do we prepare to lead others in worship?”  And for that I’m going to draw on the very first item listed in last week’s list from Robert Eric Walker: “Don’t just rehearse the music, rehearse the worship!”

We need to shift our focus at our weekly rehearsals.  We should not view our time together on Sunday afternoons as a musical rehearsal time but a worship preparation time.  That’s why we spend time each week praying together and talking about the meaning behind the text we sing, discussing how the music complements the message.  I am working to lead you in worship during our choir time so that you can lead the congregation on Sunday mornings.  In many ways you are the worship leaders on Sunday morning, not me – it’s your faces they see and voices they hear most of the service (remember, when the anthem starts I turn my back to the congregation so I can conduct you!)

That very fact – that you are the worship leaders in the service – should challenge you to understand the text you are communicating.  Make sure that text reaches you into the deepest parts of your heart and soul – you need to truly internalize it.  Item #2 from last week was “A song will never mean more to the people than it means to you.”  That statement assumes the song means something to you – so ensure that it does!  And as we internalize the song and let it mean something to us, we naturally engage our hearts and worship becomes more than just musical notes but a spiritual exercise (item #4 from the list).

Finally, as we internalize the music, we take it with us when we leave, so that we can reflect on it during the week.  Remember that worship is not a once-a-week occurrence but a daily discipline (or it should be that way).  As I teach you music and text I am working to equip you not only to lead corporate worship on Sunday morning, but also personal worship throughout the week.  Use the songs we sing on Sundays to carry you through the week – reflect on them and pray them every day.

And what you’ll notice is that these are all connected – as you focus on internalizing the words you’ll engage your heart, which means you’ll be worshiping throughout the week, which means your worship on Sunday will be better focused, which means you’ll more easily internalize the text, which means…  It’s a beautiful cycle!

The Worship Leading Choir

Cross Posted on Grace Notes

We’ve been focusing on worship in our devotionals so far this year.   In the past few weeks I touched on the subjects of the role of mind and emotion in worship, how we prepare for worship, and even the importance of worship.  But how does all this really affect us as a choir?  Several worship leaders/choir directors across the country have begun to explore this concept in greater detail, and I would like to share some of their thoughts, as well as my own, with you.

The most important thing we need to understand with our choir is that we are not here to perform for an “audience” but to lead a congregation in worship.  Going back to our mission statement, we are here to “empower believers to worship Christ.”  This should put two thoughts at the forefronts of our minds: first, that worship is for Christ (and no one else); second, that we are here to worship, not perform.

What’s the difference?  Dave Williamson says that the worship leading choir

  • is not primarily about performance; it is primarily about worship.
  • is not about being slick, it is about passion.
  • is not about acquaintanceship; it is about family.
  • is not about momentary emotion; it is about eternal significance.
  • is not about competition; it is about servanthood.
  • doesn’t view talent as primary; it does view character and faithfulness as primary.

Robert Eric Walker also has this to say about the difference between worship leading choirs and performance choirs:

  1. Don’t just rehearse the music, rehearse the worship!
  2. A song will never mean more to the people than it means to you.
  3. God transforms us as we are committed to spending time in daily worship.
  4. As you sing and play, don’t forget to engage your heart!
  5. Don’t let people just sit there! Draw them in!
  6. Your depth of expression is a reflection of your testimony and witness.
  7. A life of obedience is the foundation of passionate worship.
  8. God expects us to be committed to “cleaning the inside of the cup.”
  9. Worship without passion is a contradiction in terms.
  10. Take the message of each song we sing and make it personal.
  11. God expects us to fulfill His command to forgive as we have been forgiven.
  12. What will it cost you to convey this song with total authenticity?
  13. There is nothing worse than a boring choir!
  14. God’s worth remains constant, regardless of how we are feeling on a particular day.
  15. God challenges us to walk in humility, seeking the last place.
  16. Our goal is to turn passive observers into active participants.
  17. God is the audience, we are the prompters, the congregation, the actors.
  18. Our calling is to help facilitate a Throne Room Encounter.
  19. Not just a worship ministry, but a ministry of worshipers.
  20. God blesses us as we are committed to lives of servanthood.

As I read this list (which I think is a pretty good one), I notice there is a huge emphasis on the state of individual hearts of each choir member, as well as the integrity of their individual lives.  I also see the common theme of worship running through the list and not music.

It’s also a great list to use to reflect upon in regards to how we measure up in each area.  This week why not focus on number #3 (daily worship).  Take some time every day to worship the Lord individually – either in song or prayer or however you best worship him.  That way our worship on Sunday will be an overflow of our worship throughout the week and not an isolated event.  And that will truly transform our worship.