This article was originally published in Worship Leader magazine (March/April 2012). For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.
Confession: I didn’t feel much like going to church this morning. This week has been a never-ending sequence of stuff, stuff, and more stuff, much of it late at night. I just felt like allowing Dr. Charles Stanley to be my TV pastor today, still in my robe and slippers.
However, it’s not that often that I’m home on the weekends, and I thought it would be nice to experience my pastor’s teaching “live” instead of online. Plus, my wife was all sparkly-toed and ready. I dressed and got in the car.
Don’t Talk To Me
We arrived, walked in the door and quickly found a seat toward the back of the room. Saw a couple of people I know, waved. Trying to avoid massive interaction today.
At precisely 11:11, my worship pastor (Jonathan Allen) and the band and singers took off. They sounded terrific. I began singing in spite of myself, and I felt my spirit begin to lift. I watched others around me plunge deeply into worship, and I felt tears begin to fill my eyes. Then, Jonathan said: “Let me sing this chorus for you, while you keep silent and let God speak to you, before you join me again.” And in that moment of contemplation before God, I knew why I had come.
In that instant, I had an encounter. With God. And it changed everything.
I firmly believe that it’s impossible to worship in a vacuum. All of the Christian life is a response to God—to Who he is, to what he has done. So, I’m finding it more and more disconcerting to presume to be worshiping God without listening. But—”Sing it again!” “Louder!” “Clap!” “Jump!” “Shout!” (depending on your tradition). Okay now, wait. Yes, these are all biblical instructions. But between us and God, who has the more important things to say? And, quite possibly, who needs to learn to listen? Both in corporate settings and in private ones? Ummm …
If our aim is to provide for true conversation with God in our worship service, can it somehow be done? Absolutely. It’s easy. What it takes, mostly, is the courage to deal with the sometimes programmatically uncontrollable. We as worship planners and leaders must provide room—and time—for the people to hear from God as well as speak to him. Here are some possibilities:
Use a solo verse within a song, as my worship pastor did this morning, giving direction to the people to take advantage of the opportunity to commune with God. Some of your co-worship leaders are gifted soloists. Here’s a great chance to let them exercise that gifting, in the strength of the Spirit, for the benefit of the Body. It’s also a good idea to follow the pastor’s sermon with a themed solo, again sung reflectively—I have heard the song “I Surrender All” used in this context to wonderful effect.
Use an extended instrumental break—a guitar solo, or a keyboard solo, or whatever. You can get creative about where to put them—during an intro, as a verse, as a bridge, between two final choruses, as an addendum at the end. My advice is to let the instrumentalists know that they should pray as they play, that they are ministering God’s blessing to people, and not just play every lick they know. I know from personal experience playing saxophone that the prayerful spirit of the player makes a huge difference in what is played, and what is used by God.
Have a time of reflective silence (the most threatening—and therefore most potentially effective—of all). Help your worship leaders as well as your congregation get comfortable with being still before God. Not all gaps need to be filled—at least, not by us.
- Choir-driven Silence
Follow a time of congregational worship with a meditative choir anthem, and sing it worshipfully, vertically. Help your choir become used to seeing its role as that of a worship leader (leading hearts to God) rather than that of a performer (leading hearts to the performance).
- On the Go
Advanced: You as a worship leader listen for the as-it-happens voice of God, and pass that responsibility on to your people as you worship him together.
The natural progression of worshiping in spirit and truth (John 4) certainly includes a time of listening and responding. In our worship, let’s reach for a true encounter with the living God—one that glorifies him, and changes our reality!
Dave Williamson is a worship pastor, producer, arranger, and author of God’s Singers.