I’m excited to share with you another fun installment in my “leading worship” series!
I believe that when people see Jesus, really see Him, they don’t need to be instructed to worship—worship is the heart’s natural response. A person is suddenly confronted with the reason for his existence, and he reacts accordingly. You see it woven all throughout the pages of your Bible: people (believers or otherwise) see Jesus, and they fall in reverence, wonder, and sometimes trembling fear!
However, any pastor and worship leader will attest: not every worship service is charged with that kind of response. Sometimes, people will stare back at the worship team awkwardly, hands in pockets, murmuring their way through the lyrics. Now, I believe these people are there because they want to connect with God! It’s just that oftentimes, people don’t know what to do during the music besides follow the lyrics.
How do we as worship leaders help people cross the line from singing along to worshiping?
Of course, some will come to church bursting with faith. These folks know to worship God and know how to worship God. But this is not true of everyone. Some may be new to faith, some may have lost perspective, some may be walking through difficulty and have forgotten to take heart. This is yet another reason why a worship pastor’s job is to lead people instead of simply leading a song.
Worship pastors, give people something to do.
When people look blank, lost, or unsure during musical worship, here are some ways to lead people well and nudge them in the best direction.
1. Suggest a worshipful response.
Seasoned worship pastors and those in ministry will know what I mean when I say there are times when it just is right to lift your hands, or close your eyes, or sing spontaneously, or bow, or sing louder, or be silent, or pray in tongues, or… The list goes on. Other times, especially when you delve into ‘lyric-less territory’ or an ‘unscripted’ moment, many people just don’t know how to follow or what to do. And if the goal is to encounter Jesus together, then we as worship pastors must make sure not to “lose” people.
Naturally, some enthusiastic worshipers don’t need to be shepherded through the moment, but for those whom it would serve well, try prompting (for example), “Can we take thirty seconds as a church family and lift our hands to Jesus? Maybe you’ve never done that before, but let’s all take a step of faith and do it together to symbolize that we want Him more than anything else.” Or, “I encourage you to close your eyes during this chorus, and instead of simply singing the lyrics, make it into a prayer to God.”
Personally, I’ve found it’s more helpful (and makes stronger disciples) to encourage worshipers to respond, instead of demanding it. For example, instead of telling people to lift their hands, encourage or suggest it. Of course, the way that this happens will vary dramatically from context to context, but hopefully you can understand what I mean. One of the goals of leading worship is to teach and equip people to be authentic, Spirit-and-Truth worshipers of Christ (which is admittedly a learning process), and to suggest worshipful responses is doing exactly that: teaching and equipping.
2. Briefly explain why the action is important.
For people to lift their hands without knowing why is arguably not worshipful. I wonder if that would be more like little robot clones who know what to do without knowing why. We as worship pastors must remember that the goal is not having the congregation, say, lift their hands; the goal is having the congregation encounter Jesus! Therefore, it’s important to usually include why you are encouraging a particular response. Don’t preach a sermon, but try to say something like,
“When we bow low, it’s a way to show reverence and submission to God. For those who are physically able, why don’t we make some space and do it right now before Him?”
“Closing our eyes is sometimes a helpful way to block out distractions and help us focus on Jesus. So let’s all do that; let’s close our eyes and focus on Him.”
“Something supernaturally powerful happens when we sing, even if we don’t sense it here and now. Remember, it was when Paul and Silas sang hymns and praised God in their prison cell that their chains were broken! So sing out strong—even if you don’t feel like it!”
3. Give people a time-frame.
This one I just picked up somewhere along the way. Imagine me as a worship leader saying, “Let’s lift our voices and pray to God, out loud, all together. Here we go.” For someone who’s not used to that, that can be incredibly intimidating! But now, imagine me saying, “For the next thirty seconds, let’s lift our voices and pray to God, out loud, all together. Here we go.” Doing something for only thirty seconds sounds so much more appealing than doing something indefinitely that might make a person uncomfortable.
One of my classic go-to’s is, “For just a few moments, can we…?” or “For the next few moments, let’s all…” People are willing to jump in for just a couple moments!
Now, if this one doesn’t work for your setting, don’t worry about it. I’ve found that it’s helpful for the various contexts I’ve led worship in and it usually helps to ease worshipers who may be unsure—but it may not work for you, and that’s okay.
4. Lead by example.
If you’re asking people to lift their hands, you should be the first to lift yours. If you’re asking people to clap, you should be the first to start clapping. If you’re asking people to sing spontaneously, join along with your own spontaneous song. In your partnership with the Holy Spirit, you are the thermostat in the room, not the thermometer!
This post has been fun to write, but also very difficult. Leading worship is such a fluid thing—I’d almost rather discuss it with you than write it in black and white! Maybe this tiny teaching on leading worship is better “caught” than “taught,” but nonetheless, here it is. I hope you can learn a bit from what I have learned, and apply what works for your context.
If you have any questions for me, or maybe even input about something that works for you, please let me know in the comments below!