Centuries ago, furious war broke out between “ancients” and “moderns.” Moderns argued that development of firearms, the printing press, and the nautical compass meant they knew far more, were more innovative, more linked to “reality” and had discovered more new ideas and places than their predecessors the ancients. Therefore, they—and their perspective—were incontestably superior. Similarly over the years, in the realm of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, worship wars emerged. Traditionalists proclaimed “faithful” from the lectern, turning a deaf ear to the spiritual song emerging in churches, while modernists created websites shouting “relevant” in capital letters, divorcing themselves from the Church’s rich past.
But we’ve moved towards a post-we’re-not-sure-what age, and many churches now seek fresh sacred space, reintegrating liturgical truths in creative ways and introducing new songs that reflect what God is doing presently and at the same time drawing on eternal truth—suggesting we don’t need to sacrifice faithfulness for relevance, or tradition for inclusiveness.
Now, churches are widely and gloriously different. Many definitions of worship exist, but ultimately the end goal of all worship is that we attribute glory and honor to God. This also means dethroning the self, which always wants to get in the way.
The role of a worship leader is to stretch congregations beyond the comfortable, and UP, and OUT. If you’ve ever hurt a muscle, you will know it can be painful to move after long inactivity. It is only with regular use that movement comes with ease. Here are 10 ways to stretch up and out in worship:
1. Cultivate love for God’s presence.
For me, preparations to worship-lead are sitting quietly with my Bible and becoming aware of God’s presence in the Word and world—before any rehearsal time.
2. Keep the right audience in mind.
There are many ways to measure worship, but our ultimate audience is the King of Kings.
3. Work towards unity within church leadership.
Often, worship leaders avoid asking what the pastor wants because it curbs creative control. But lack of communication creates division. A clear brief and already dented block of marble didn’t restrict Michelangelo’s David sculpture. Creativity actually flourishes with set guidelines, which forces innovative solutions.
4. Teach your church to worship, not just sing.
God’s creation plan was birthed before time. As worship leaders, our job is to bring attention to God’s character and attributes and lead an appropriate response. This is not dependent on style or volume of music. God warns music alone is not worship (Am 5).
5. You don’t have to be perfect.
Many churches strive towards perfect worship. When I think about a perfectly set table, I see folded napkins and shiny candlesticks, but empty seats. God’s table is intended to be full, not perfect (Mt 22).
6. Get to know your community.
Don’t just look at demographics; have conversations with people who live in the area around your church. How old are they? What language do they speak at home? What music do they like? Find out their hopes, dreams, and heartbreaks.
7. Find out how new people experience your church.
If you don’t know what it’s like to visit your church for the first time, maybe commission a church neighbor to tell you. Do they feel welcomed? Can they understand the service?
8. Church isn’t the building.
Some of the best worship services are those held in prisons, nursing homes, parks, and cafes. If the Church is the people, we can loosen up a little about staying indoors and unseen.
9. Practice love after the service.
Most restaurants say their most difficult customers are Sunday lunchtimers. Encourage people to practice love immediately after being sent from the service.
10. Be open to change.
Change is inevitable. The seasons show us how God can bring the best out of change.
Tanya Riches is an Australian worship leader, PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary, and songwriter of tunes such as “Jesus What a Beautiful Name,” published by Hillsong Church.
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Tanya Riches is Masters Coordinator of Transformational Development at Eastern College, Melbourne. She is one of the leading researchers into the megachurch Hillsong. Additionally, in her PhD she traced the links between liturgy/worship and development outreach in Australia’s urban Aboriginal-led Pentecostal Churches.