Posted by Layne Rogers on 19 September 2018

Dear Worship Leader,

Our job is pretty simple.

I cringe to write that, and I bet you are hoping that your lead pastor or others in your congregation don't read that line. I mean, we already have enough people who don’t take our role and responsibility seriously enough. They think we pick a few songs and sing and play guitar for a half hour on Sundays.

But it’s true. Our job description is simple: to facilitate an environment that is conducive to worship.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It can actually be a pretty lonely and difficult job, but at the end of the day, our task is clear, and it’s relatively simple to measure the results...isn’t it?

We have so many ways of evaluating whether or not we’ve had a “successful” worship leading experience. I used to work for a church that measured success by “engagement” from the congregation. I always got this picture of some bean counter with a ledger standing in the back counting how many hands were raised or how many people clapped along with the music.

Sometimes the metric is more nebulous, like, “the Spirit moved powerfully today.” I mean, obviously that’s our hope every time we gather, but it can feel so subjective and individualistic. Other times it’s as simple and cringeworthy as gauging the service based on direct feedback from the attendees.

Those of us who do this week in and week out know that there’s a lot more to it than that, but come Monday morning—and sometimes as early as five seconds after we leave the stage—some of us often start wondering if what we do matters, and how it matters, and what we’ve accomplished with our efforts. We just want to know if we’ve done our job well.

A few years ago, a major national worship movement began to refer to its worship leaders as “lead worshipers,” and for a while the moniker started to gain popularity with churches and conferences all over the world. The goal seemed almost to constrain the role of the worship leader to that of just another worshiper who happens to do it on stage. However, I think it misses a major component of what it means to be called to facilitate worship for others.

We aren’t just worshiping while facing a different direction than the rest of the congregation. We’re wrestling with God in front of people and inviting them to wrestle as well. We’re sharing our experiences of our journey with God and inviting others to join us in that journey—to know the God we know, to see the God we see, and to experience Him more deeply than they ever have before.

That is the real job of a worship leader, but how do we measure this? It is easy to get distracted by issues like engagement and experience and manifestations of the Spirit when considering whether our times of worship are truly transformative and pleasing to the heart of God, but I believe the most important measure of our worship is found first and foremost by examining the heart of the worshiper; we must ask ourselves, what should our worship look like?

 Jesus offers important insight for answering this question. After revealing His prophetic insight into the life of the Samaritan woman at the well, the first thing she asks for is clarity on the divergent worship practices between her people and the Jews. She says, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus responds, “You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:20,22 NET).

So here we have contrast between a people who are passionate and eager to worship but are uninformed concerning the truth and will of God, while the other group has an established relationship with the one true God but have become rigid and formulaic in their approach to worship. Here Jesus proclaims a better way. “But a time is coming—and now is here—,” He says,”when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24 NET).

Over the years I have led worship for many different kinds of churches across the theological and ecclesiological spectrum—from the super-charismatic to the “frozen chosen”—and everything in between. Only very recently have I begun to examine the differences based on Jesus’ metrics of spirit and truth, and I believe many of the deficiencies we find in our corporate worship experiences seem to stem from an inability to properly walk in the fullness of worshiping God with all of our spirit while maintaining complete fidelity to the truth of who He is, what He’s done, who He says we are, and what scripture says about what it means to faithfully worship God.

The difficult part is that many of us aren’t objective enough to examine our worship (or our worship leading) according to these standards. Those whose primary focus is to dutifully guard and uphold the truth can often be oblivious to the Spirit-quenching effects of their rigid approach to worship, while those on the Spirit-led end of the spectrum sometimes elevate the experiential aspects of worship at the expense of considering the full weight of the gospel and scripture.

Most of us probably find ourselves somewhere between these extremes, striving not to err one way or another, never really knowing where we are or just assuming everything is good, but we all typically look at those who operate differently from us and judge their approach rather than examining the ways that their experiences and understanding might better inform, challenge, and encourage our own worship paradigm.

Personally, I tend more towards the angsty wrestling-with-truth perspective, and I can find it difficult at times to shut down my anxieties and just open my spirit to the Spirit of God in adoration and intimacy. Many of my other worship leader friends often seem to float from cloud to cloud on a bubble of the love of Jesus, but rarely seem to wrestle with the weight of what it means to come before a holy and just and merciful God and to truly repent of the ways we fail to acknowledge Him and surrender to His will.

Maybe if we’re going to measure ourselves as worship leaders, as shepherds and pastors, we need to learn how to examine our hearts and our minds like David and ask God to “search us and know our hearts, test us and know our anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in us and lead us in His everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

We need to learn to ask ourselves some probing and honest questions. What does it look like to worship God in spirit? In truth? What might it look like when I find myself out of balance in one way or the other? In what ways have I avoided growth in this area? Have I assumed I have no need for growth? How have I judged those who worship differently from me? Is there anything God might want me to learn from them?

Only then can we stand before those we’ve been called to lead and truly know how best to invite them deeper in spirit and further into the truth and to facilitate an environment where true worshipers abound, and the kingdom of God becomes a reality in our midst.

It may be difficult, but sometimes the simplest things are.

From your fellow worship leader, 

Layne Rogers

 

Layne is a worship pastor for the Church in Franklin, TN and founder of The Merge, a worship collaborative. He is a father of ten and has been married to his wife Jennie for 21 years. Since he began leading worship in high school, Layne has shared the stage with artists like Mercy Me, Chris Tomlin, Audio Adrenaline, David Crowder, The Afters, Chris Rice, Shane and Shane, and many others. He considers himself the Forrest Gump of Christian music.

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