I have very strong feelings about worship. Worship has opened many doors for me in ministry and gives life to my personal relationship with Jesus. It has been a continual study of mine, and I think it about it so much i even wrote a book about it.
According to one personality profile, music is so important to who I am that not having it in my life for an extended time can actually be harmful to my mental health, and the vast majority of the music in my life is worship related.
Worship is a powerful element of our life in Jesus Christ. It isn’t something new, finding purpose because of the growth of the worship music industry. Quite the opposite, actually. It is because of our inner desire for and benefit from worship that kept lead worshipers going and be able to take advantage of today’s technologies to explode worldwide.
But maybe you go to church and wonder what the big deal is about worship. Maybe you haven’t grabbed hold of what it can mean for you. You are not necessarily opposed to the music at church, it just does not affect you like it does others. You love God, but this worship thing is not really a “need” in your life.
In a previous post I talked about how COVID-19 is giving us an opportunity to rediscover personal worship, to spend time with God, singing to and about Him, all on our own. This post cracks the idea of how it is different from congregational worship and bit of how to make it happen.
One thought we introduced about worship was to consider it a spiritual discipline, vital building blocks of our daily journey with Jesus. When we talk about spiritual disciplines it is important to note the value of participating together in a corporate setting and engaging privately.
Scripture is the living and active Word of God. Prayer is communication with God, asking Him to meet our needs and lead us in His ways. Worship is a declaration of God’s attributes, His work in our lives, and our dependence upon Him.
To read Scripture or pray in a church service is beneficial in reaching a group of people with the same truth or joining our hearts in seeking the move of God’s hand for a specific need. This does not mean reading the Bible or praying only have a place in the assembly. They are also powerful when employed personally, alone, away from the crowd. It is the same with worship.
Designing worship: For one or for all?
A potential challenge for worship leaders is creating a congregational worship experience that is rooted, not in their individual experience with God, but in how God can relate on a more universal level. While it is a fundamental element of the role, I don’t believe it is taught or communicated very often.
Worship leaders serious about their role are worshipers outside of the congregational setting. They learn to have the private worship times we are talking about developing, doing so for a number of reasons. Some of these include familiarity with songs, determining which songs are easier to learn and sing, and discovering how songs can flow together.
One also learns how to simply worship while listening to or feeling the leading of the Holy Spirit. Those times take the lessons above and put them into practice on a personal level in preparation for employing them at a congregational level.
But if a worship leader is having those personal, private worship times, they are having personal interaction with God. While the leader is right to want the same experience for the congregation, the individuals in the congregation have different struggles and victories on their journey.
When the leader hasn’t learned this lesson they set themselves up for frustration as they seek to have a meaningful worship experience but few congregants engage. The leader wants to take the group where they have been but the group is not in the same starting point and therefore cannot arrive at the same emotional or spiritual response.
No one can deny the attributes of God – greatness, goodness, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, love, peace, grace, mercy… The more universal and God-focused the group worship time is, rather than personal and individual-focused, the greater the opportunity for wider participation.
This is one reason I believe in the importance of a personal worship time. Congregational worship should be focused on God and a more universal, a.k.a “generic”, experience. A private worship time creates opportunity for a more personalized, intimate experience in the presence of God.
Over the years as a worship leader and pastor I have received more than a few complaints about this part of the Sunday gathering. “I don’t know these songs.” “That song is not my style.” “I really wish we would sing such-and-such song.”
While there is a heart issue we could address here, there is also the fact that corporate worship times are not going to fulfill every person’s worship needs all of the time. It cannot be done. Seeking to do so will only create a worship schizophrenia which will likely cause more harm than good.
It’s true, there will be incredibly powerful moments of worship gathered together. But these are not a substitute for the fulfillment private worship provides.
- Do you have message you need to remind your heart of for a while? Grab a few songs and put them on repeat.
- Is there a favorite song you’re just itching for? Listen to it.
- Are you thirsty for an atmosphere you can just be still and lift your voice when something hits you? Make a playlist of instrumental versions of songs you know and can easily recognize.
- Want to shout and dance and wave your hands in the air? Crank the worship in your basement and be like David in the Presence of God.
Impacting the group experience
I mentioned earlier how I believe serious worship leaders will spend time in personal worship prior to leading congregational worship. This is more than just being technically ready for a musical event. It is also spiritual preparation for a Holy Spirit event. You may have noticed the theme of how group worship gatherings will not always be the most fulfilling or even super powerful every single time.
One of the byproducts of a growing number of believers learning to spend time in personal worship away from the crowd will be more powerful group experiences.
If you read, memorize and attempt to live out the Word of God, you will get more out of every sermon you hear. When you spend regular time speaking to God in prayer, asking Him to meet your needs and surrendering your life to His guidance and path, prayer meetings will be more powerful as more voices join in God-inspired prayers.
Can you guess where I’m headed? Just like these other spiritual disciplines, the group experience of worship is enhanced when we worship more in our private times with God.
Musicians who practice are better prepared to join other members of a bad in the playing of a song. Worshipers who are “practiced” in the declaration of the goodness of God will be better prepared to join other members of the Body of Christ in proclaiming God’s greatness.
Now we will not have to smash some personal, “me-focused” button in our congregational times to find the fulfillment our spirits ache for. Being more personally fulfilled we will find it easier to join in the collective praises focused on God. What glory that will bring!
Don’t get trapped in the mindset that fulfilling worship has to take place in a crowd with colored lights, a large band with loops and effects, words on a big screen and hours of singing. While they can be amazing and uplifting, once they are over the lift only lasts so long.
Anyone can worship, anywhere in the world, at any time of day. It isn’t a new concept, as Paul and Silas proved (see Acts 16:25). But we have access to tools like never before, and not just for the “musically talented” people in the church.
Worship can become part of our regular lifestyle. This should excite us! If we are so desperate for the experience in a congregational gathering, why not be over the moon to bring it to life every day?
This is the heart I hope you will grow into. A heart like the shepherd boy, making worship a part of who you are, not just a once in a while activity.
I lift you high in praise, my God, O my King! and I’ll bless your name into eternity. I’ll bless you every day, and keep it up from now to eternity. God is magnificent; he can never be praised enough. (Psalm 145:1-3a, MSG)