By Randi Perez Helm
I was watching the Country Music Awards the other night. They did a tribute to Kenny Rogers where current country singers sang portions of his songs. At one point, Darius Rucker began singing, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run…” Maybe you know the rest of the song, “The Gambler”? The entire audience did! Young and old sitting side-by-side swaying their heads and singing with one big voice. The audio picked up the magical moment. I’m not a Kenny Rogers fan but I loved it! People were joined together by a song that resonated deeply; I’m sure for many different reasons. Everyone was focused in one direction, everyone felt welcome to share in the musical experience and the room was transformed into a unique corporate experience.
I am a volunteer worship leader for my church and I am absolutely passionate about pulling people together through worship singing and allowing God to create a sacred sound among us. We all use music in our services for more than one reason. I think one of the most powerful and underestimated uses of worship singing can be to lead people into an experience that creates unity and yet is intimately unique for each person.
I am very fortunate to get to work with many talented instrumentalists and vocalists on the worship team; we are able to attempt a variety of song styles for our church body. But stringing together a few good songs doesn’t necessarily mean that they will work well for a worship service. Careful consideration to the flow of music has helped give shape to worship singing. An approach I strive to implement in planning songs it to use songs that, engage, explore and exalt, typically in that order. Many other leaders I’m sure have a strategy that they use, maybe it’s even something similar to this? I have found that arranging songs this way have provided memorable and authentic moments for others.
Engaging others is the first hurdle to jump over. Using music to grab the attention of others or to invite them into a musical experience is a necessary entry point for most of us. How we may engage people varies. It can be a song with full energy, it can be a solo, it can be an orchestra piece that captures the heart and emotion, and it can also change from week to week. The desired goal is to get the focus in one direction. Every person’s response is unique but they share in this experience together.
Now that everyone’s attention is focused in one direction people are ready to explore more about faith in God. Placing songs that lean toward teaching Biblical themes or doctrine, aspects about the cross or God’s character, work really well after the heart has been engaged. In my experience people become more open to learning new music and receiving deeper Biblical truth once they’ve let go of their distractions and centered their thoughts on God through engaging music. There tends to be a collective energy in some of these moments that help build unity in the Church experience and bolsters our collective faith in God.
As our musical worship continues it’s important to create opportunities for people to exalt God in a corporately, personal way. Choosing music that allows us to bless God individually albeit a corporate setting; sets the church free to worship God. Giving God the sounds of our hearts worship reinforces the Church that we live to be fully His and that it’s His glory we are seeking.
Of course the Holy Spirit is always the driving force and He is the One drawing us to God. We can’t do this for ourselves but as worship leaders we can be intentional about how we lead people. There are always exceptions for each strategy given the uniqueness of each church body. The key is knowing your own congregation and discovering how best to lead them through the music you use. Having a strategy isn’t a bad idea when it comes to facilitating worship experiences. Moving a group of people whether physically, intellectually, emotionally or spiritually requires insight and consideration.
I love the story where Jesus was about to feed thousands of people. He had His disciples divide people into manageable groups in the grass. (Mark 6:30-44) He then went on to do His miracle and fed them all. He used His disciples to provide a strategy or structure to prepare the people for what He was about to do for them. We as worship leaders are no different than the disciple’s; we do the strategic work that the Lord instructs us to do to create an atmosphere for His work in our lives.
Randi Perez Helm is a volunteer worship leader at her church on a regular basis. She enjoys coaching other worship leaders/directors in ministry. Creating and encouraging tend to be themes that keep re-emerging in her life. She is married with 2 kids, lives in Southwest MI and blogs at www.randiperezhelm.wordpress.com