By guest columnist, Meredith Andrews
I find much joy in gathering with the people of God on a weekly basis and lifting our hearts and songs heavenward in worship. What a privilege to serve the same body for an extended period of time and grow with them in our understanding, expression and passion for worshiping Jesus. For me, there is little else as fulfilling as entering into the presence of God with His beloved bride and offering up our adoration, thanksgiving and praise. The goal is to make much of Jesus and respond to His revealed Word and manifest presence. But how do we get there? Where do we start? If I’m honest, there have been countless times I have literally run onto the platform during the intro of the first song, and it felt like, “Oh hey, God. I’m here!” Whether I was late dropping my kids off, left my monitor pack in the bathroom, or was still wiping spit-up off my shoulder while approaching the mic, there never seems to be a shortage of chaos just before engaging in one of the most meaningful and beautiful exchanges of my week. It is no different for the people walking in the door and shuffling to find their seats. There’s the guy who woke up to a flooded basement because his sump pump stopped working in the middle of the night. The couple who had a fight on their way to church and are still nursing wounds as they plaster on pleasant faces. The mother who feels guilty leaving her newborn in the nursery for the first time but is desperate to have her soul filled. And of course, everyone (without a garage) had to dig their car out of 4 feet of snow because we live in Chicago and this winter was bonkers and we’re all still thawing.
How do we move past our stuff and get to God? And how do we as facilitators of worship help our people get there? Authenticity is a good place to start. When I was younger, in many ways I separated and compartmentalized my different roles because I wasn’t quite sure how they could seamlessly intersect or if I could be vulnerable about my weakness from stage. But then I realized, these precious people aren’t looking for a perfect, super-spiritual worship leader. If they can’t relate to me, how will they let me serve them? So the day my baby boy puked on me and I didn’t have time to clean up before the countdown clock hit 0:00, I made a joke about it in the call to worship. People laughed. And relaxed. And we all embraced this truth: we all have our burdens and distractions, but if we can just get to Jesus and lay it all at His feet, our stuff seems insignificant in comparison to the glory of God. What joy and freedom and rest there is in His presence!
Oftentimes at our church, we will begin a service with an invocation from the Psalms or a prayer asking God to have His way in and among us. Our first song is always what we refer to as a “Gathering Song,” one that is a call to worship in itself, and focuses our hearts on why we are there. Some of our favorite examples of Gathering Songs are “Hosanna (Praise is Rising)” (Paul Baloche/Brenton Brown), “Here for You” (Matt Redman/Matt Maher), and “Open Up the Heavens” Vertical Church Band/Meredith Andrews). In singing these lyrics, we are choosing to lay aside distractions and are asking the Lord to do whatever He wants to do in us. Kicking off a service with a song like this is something we feel strongly about as we know our people need that time and those words to let go of what happened five minutes ago and set their gaze upward. If we begin a service with “Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering,” we may actually lose people without trying. They may not be quite ready to sing such heavy content until after they’ve been able to clear their heads and quiet their hearts. For our congregation, beginning our services with songs of invocation and gathering sets the tone for the rest of our time together. It’s a journey. We’re ascending the hill of the Lord as His people, preparing our hearts for what He will do in us along the way. We’re asking that He would “rend the heavens and come down,” (Isaiah 64:1) and “show us His glory like we’ve never seen before,” (Exodus 33:18). Only then will we be different from when we walked in the door.
For more on Meredith Andrews visit her site, meredithandrews.com.