There will always be someone who can sing better than you, play an instrument better than you, or look and sound much cooler when encouraging the Church to sing along. The good news is that God hasn’t called any of us to be the best singer, the best musician, or the coolest looking person on stage. Our calling as musicians and worship leaders is to lead people to a place where they are engaging with God in those moments and experience His presence in their lives – a place where the daily grind of life and everything surrounding them in those moments fades away and it becomes just them and God. That is what I call “the art of disappearing,” and that is what you are called to do.
In most churches today, we are standing on a stage in front of everyone, with lights focused on us and everyone singing whatever we sing. Nothing about that makes it easy to even think of disappearing, let alone actually figuring out how to do it. Sometimes I wonder if they had the same challenges we do today in the early Church. In the Old Testament, the Levites led worship while standing along the wall, very much in front of everyone. The model of worship we see in the New Testament is similar. It was usually in smaller groups with the person leading in front of everyone. There isn’t a right or wrong way to lead worship. Whether it is done by standing on a stage in front of everyone or from an organ in the back of the sanctuary, the art of disappearing takes more than trendy visuals or solid talent. It’s about fostering a heart for worship in ourselves and in those we lead.
Not too long ago, I heard a conversation between a couple of worship leaders discussing the lack of engagement during the times of worship at their church. They were trying to come up with things they could change to encourage the congregation to sing and make the time more meaningful. As I listened, they landed on the idea of removing the music stands from the stage. My heart sank a little at this. I knew that it wouldn’t help or, if it did work, it wouldn’t create the lasting change they wanted to see. By removing the music stands, they were relying on two things to create an atmosphere of worship – the visual aesthetic and their own performance. They thought if the stage looked cleaner and they weren’t glued to their music, they could make eye contact, smile, and nod at everyone which would magically make people begin lifting their hands in worship. These two leaders eventually figured it out and went back to the drawing board. They realized that what would be created was an atmosphere of worship that, at best, only worked if everything looked and sounded like a concert. Removing the music stands probably did look a lot better, but it wasn’t going to be the solution they were looking for to encourage worship.
The way the stage and sanctuary look are important aspects of worship, but don’t forget that they are just the means to an end. The kind of worship you want to foster is worship that can take place in any environment, at any time. That is hard! The art of disappearing is learned over time, and you have to allow it to be a process. The things that work today will not work the same way tomorrow, but here are a few ideas you can try to jump-start the worship in your church:
1. Personal Worship. First and foremost, you have to make sure that you are spending
personal time in scripture and prayer each week so that you are at a place where you can effectively lead on Sundays. You will have weeks where not everything is clicking spiritually. In those moments, don’t be afraid to be honest in your worship (John 4:24).
2. Small Groups. If your church uses small groups, try to find someone in each group that may be comfortable singing a song or two before everyone digs into scripture that night, and encourage each group to regularly include worship. Sometimes people are more comfortable worshiping in smaller groups at first, especially when it is new to them. The hardest part of including worship in small groups is that it can be awkward at times. But give it a try, and see what happens. If you can incorporate worship each night, over time it will start to feel more natural.
3. Teaching. Many times, if you listen to people talk about worship, you will hear them say they do not understand the purpose. It may help those people if you lead a seminar on worship. Include it as a Bible study that all small groups do together, or work with your pastor to develop a series of messages for your church to better understand the reason, purpose, and even what it looks like to worship (hint: it’s different for everyone).
4. Exhortation. At times people just need to be encouraged or reminded to worship. This can be as simple as saying, “Let me hear everyone sing this!” Or maybe you sing through a chorus that is really resonating with everyone with no music, just voices. The key here is that you have to be aware of what God may be trying to do in those moments by being in tune with the people you are leading as you all sing together. When done right, you will find that these little details can help create some of the biggest moments of a worship service. There are a lot of well-known worship leaders that do this well. Included on that list would be Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Joel Houston (UNITED), Matt Maher, and Tim Hughes.
If you are in a time of trying to get your church engaging more and going deeper in their time of worship, I want to encourage you to not give up. You are already succeeding because you are trying to get them to that place, and you know that it is more complex than just removing the music stands or any other visual fix. The thing is, as worship leaders, we will always face the challenge of taking those we lead deeper in worship. Everyone in our churches are at a different place in life and a different place in their faith. Sometimes we will succeed and sometimes we will fail. It’s a constant journey of discovery to see how we can best encourage our congregations to engage with God in their time of worship as we disappear into the moment and allow it to just be them and God.