This article was originally published in Worship Leader, March/April 08.
Lately, I’ve come to the opinion that we are working too hard. As worship leaders, it’s easy to feel the weight of expectations from the pastor, staff, congregation, other musicians, and ourselves. We want to be our best (nobody wants to be pro-sloth), and we want to provide music that will lift up the church and glorify God. Still, it seems that we’ve lost sight of a few things along the way. One is the presence of God. We know that when two or more believers are gathered in His name, He is present in the midst of us, regardless of any of our efforts. If we are a little out of tune, it doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit won’t join us; He’s already there. Are we acknowledging and enjoying the mysterious presence of God in our midst? Worship is far more than a human work, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. As Hughes Oliphant Old so eloquently stated, “When we worship, having our minds enlightened by the Spirit, our lives cleansed by the Spirit, our wills moved by the Spirit, and our hearts warmed by the Spirit, then our worship is transformed from being merely a human work into being a divine work.” God is present, His Spirit moves in our midst, and we can respond with thanksgiving and without pressure.
Like a Faucet
It is wonderful to know that God builds up His church, and He is able and faithful to accomplish His purposes without our help. What a relief this brings. As for us, our best performances are still inadequate to do the work of the Spirit, yet it is tempting to think that we can “turn on the switch” and cause the “moment of ministry” to happen at the prescribed time. We put way too much pressure on ourselves and everyone involved when we look at worship this way. What if the tempo seems a little slow? What if someone misses their entrance? “Oh no! Spirit, come back!” I wonder how much misplaced shame has been placed on musicians in the service of “worship.” All from trying to do God’s work.
Yet, as I write this, I’m remembering a recent gathering of families in our neighborhood to sing Christmas carols. The joyous singing of these beautiful carols was glorious with just piano, and no sound system. Our spirits soared as we sang “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.” The singing seemed effortless and felt lifted out of time to contemplate the wondrous truth that God would leave the heights of heaven and become man. Which leads me to this proposition.
More and Less
Make seeking after a sense of transcendence and simplicity your priority this year. By transcendence, I mean to focus less on ourselves, and more on the wonder of God being beyond anything we know, and the worship of Him that occurs in the heavenly realms. We don’t need to sing songs about ourselves, we can sing about God’s great love, and sing about our future with our Savior in heaven. We see an example of beautiful simplicity in the heavenly worship by the Seraphim as they repeat the words “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord almighty, the whole earth is full of His glory.” The words are profound, not complicated or clever. There are also not a lot of words to learn, yet they speak volumes of wisdom to our lives, individually and corporately.
When I write of simplicity in musical terms, my first thought is to forget trying to sound like a recording. Generally speaking, you can have much more detail in a recording than you can in a live situation. With too many elements in church, the words can get muddled, and the impact of the song is lessened. The fewer elements we have in our instrumentation, the more powerful each one can be. Ultimately, we do best when we point away from ourselves and to the One who knows no limits.
Granted, every church is different, and every church has their unique gifts and musical expressions. However, I think most of us could stand to simplify what we do. For example, why not sing one song a capella? What about more call-and-response singing, where we sing and the congregation sings back to us? Our role as worship leaders is to contemplate the holiness of God, not warm up the crowd for the speaker. If anything, we should sing the peace, joy, gratitude and healing in Christ that is forever, and prepare the Church for eternity. Let our musical communication not strive, but may it flow in simple beauty, like the grace that God has poured over us.
John Andrew Schreiner is a producer (Fernando Ortega, The Odes Project) and songwriter, and worship leader. Visit John Schreiner at jasminesound.com.