Engaging Your Church in Worship – The Art of Disappearing

Josh Pauley —  June 28, 2013

Engaging Your Church in Worship   The Art of Disappearing

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.

Josh Pauley

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Josh joined the team at the beginning of 2013 and now manages all things digital for Worship Together, which includes running the website, overseeing all online content, and handling visual design. Prior to Worship Together he worked for a record label that includes artists such as Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, David Crowder, and Kristian Stanfill. Josh leads worship in Nashville, enjoys trying out specialty coffee brewing methods, and heads outdoors on the weekends to hike, mountain bike, or camp with his wife Kaylee and their dog, Tucker.

3 responses to Engaging Your Church in Worship – The Art of Disappearing

  1. When the gift of leading is God ordained, it is God empowered. I do not go to church to worship. By the grace of God I bring my worship of Him to wherever I am. When I and the team have this first and foremost in our heart and soul it creates a contagious conduit that many get caught in. It is all dead without the Holy Spirit and faith. Time with Him is more important than time with our sheet music or instrument. I will keep reading my Bible…you do the same.

  2. Having been on both sides of the worship stage, I think one thing that would be helpful is to NOT sing lyrics that state you are doing something you’re NOT doing. Like doing the song “Stand” when the congregation is sitting down or any songs that mention getting down on our knees if we don’t then get down on our knees. The congregation can get desensitized to what the words are saying; they’re just singing along, reading the overheads. “It’s a catchy tune with a nice melody,” or thinking “I love the drums on this song.”

    Encourage the group in their worship, help lead them into worship with meaningful words leading into the song; and encourage them to pay attention to what they’re singing, to mean it when they sing it. I recently discovered that some of the songs out there just aren’t really worshipful songs once you strip away all the trappings and just pay attention to the words.

    And there’s an awful lot of lyrics that are “me” centered rather than God centered. We should be careful in our song selection in that respect. And finally, repetition can be extremely tedious if the Spirit isn’t really moving in the group. It’s best to be flexible and keep it short if the people just aren’t getting into it—or even encourage the group to pray during part of the song in some instances. It’s difficult to balance team structure with flexibility in the moment, but there could be some signals between worship team members when the script is being deviated from. Allow for the moving of the Spirit…(an “If you build it, He will come” scenario if you will).

  3. Great article! My church is starting a new series this week on worship – selecting some contemporary and modern songs and looking at their Biblical connection, and we’re spending the first week on how, what, and why we worship.

    As a worship leader, I often struggle with a balance of keeping my worship genuine and making sure the congregation is getting something out of it, too. I’ve found that the less I worry about that, and the more I just let myself worship, the more they worship, too!