St. Augustine’s thoughts on the visible and the invisible church often come to mind after I’ve led the worship music at a typical Sunday morning service. The visible church is the human organization that we see in front of us—the congregation at large, made up of believers and seekers and everyone in between. Augustine defined the invisible church as the people who truly and wholeheartedly believe in Jesus Christ. Because only God can see the state of a person’s heart and determine who believes in Him, this group—the true believers—is deemed the invisible church. And so it is with our worship music—only God can truly know what is going on in a believer’s heart as we are singing songs to and about Him.
Looking out into the congregation, I wonder who really knows Christ? Who is singing the songs, perhaps with passion and joy, but doesn’t know Him yet? In regards to both the visible and the invisible church, how many times have we wrongly assumed that our congregation knows what it means to worship God through music? We might find ourselves frustrated at our congregation’s lack of participation, but we also have an opportunity to share a glimpse of what it means to truly worship the risen Savior.
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We live in a world where music is a commodity to be bought, sold, and downloaded or discarded, musicians are heroes to be venerated, and attending a concert means being more watcher and less participant. With music’s place in our modern world, is it any wonder we do not know what to do with it at church? We as worship leaders are cautioned to “never preach a sermon” during the worship set, however, a poignant sentence or two can point the congregation in the right direction and help them gain a better understanding of what it means to worship God in song.
1. Praise God for who He is and what He has done
One example of this is to invite the congregation to worship God as a response to who He is and what He has done. If you are singing a song about God’s attributes, you could choose one or two attributes to highlight, saying,
“God is always faithful (or holy, or loving, etc). Let’s sing to Him in praise of His faithfulness.”
Other times, it helps to draw attention the theme of the song that you are singing. Many worship songs focus on themes such as God’s grace, the shed blood of Jesus Christ, or God’s love for us. I might say,
“The blood of Jesus was shed for us – for you and for me – and that is why we worship Him this morning. Please join me in singing praise to Christ for His sacrifice.”
This helps the congregation understand why we are singing a particular song and how to use it in praise of God.
2. Use Scripture
The Psalms are beautiful examples of worship in good times and in bad times. While our circumstances might be different than the psalmist’s were, the raw emotions that we feel today are still the same as what he experienced. Is there a Psalm that relates to the song you are singing? Reading it or a portion of it might help the congregation relate to God in the way the psalmist related to God during those good and bad times.
Isaiah and Revelation give us a glimpse of what worship will be like in heaven. How can we convey what that looks like to our congregation? What other Scripture passages will help focus the congregations’ hearts and minds on Christ so that they can worship Him? What passages move us to worship Him?
3. Say a prayer
It sounds so simple, but how often do we ask God to help us worship Him? What about a simple, genuine prayer before or even during a worship song? “Father, move our hearts in praise of You as we sing…”
4. Avoid cliches
It’s so easy to rely on ‘churchy words’ and Christian cliches when we lead worship, but we are so used to hearing them that their effect is watered down. Sometimes, we merely need to delete those ‘filler’ words that we rely on for a more effective invitation to sing. How many times in a worship set or prayer do you use the words “just” or a sentence such as “we just lift them up in prayer?” It’s not wrong to use it, but you might find it’s more effective to use something else in its place.
5. Use a personal experience
A brief, true story about how a particular worship song has affected you or someone you know might make a heart connection for someone in the congregation. Other times we might share the personal history behind the songs that we use. For example, It Is Well with My Soul was written after the lyricist, Horatio Spafford, experienced a personal tragedy when his four daughters drowned at sea.
6. Plan ahead
Yes,I can introduce a worship set without planning out what I’m going to say. But when I do that, I run the risk of leaning on my “old standby” phrases because I’m thinking about chord progressions, lyrics, conducting, and praising God. Planning out what I’m going to say means there is one less thing for me to think about in the moment.
7. Sometimes, say nothing at all
The best way to help others worship is simply to demonstrate worship. Let your emotions show—are you excited to be in the presence of God? Are you happy about singing to God with your church family? Are you broken over your sin? Let it show. And let your real worship show, too.
There are as many ways to help the congregation worship God as there are worship songs with which to praise Him. As worship leaders, we cannot ‘make’ or cause or even inspire people to worship God. We can provide the tools, create the atmosphere, and teach people words and notes to use, but only God can evoke genuine worship. Only He knows the difference between what looks like worship (the visible church) and what is real worship from a believer’s heart (the invisible church). As worshippers who lead, we can reflect a heart and a life of worship through our music, teach and demonstrate how to worship God through music, and share Scripture that shows just how worthy of worship our God is.
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