I like to imagine that cheerleading originated out of a chaotic mess of disorderly and conflictive cheering; causing someone to stand up and say, “Stop the madness! Let’s have a leader so we can all be on the same page with our yelling.” From its humble beginnings to today, “cheerleading” has curiously become so filled with pom-poms, short skirts, flips, and human towers that “leading” left the room a while ago. Cheering has mostly become, “I cheer and then you cheer for how well I cheer.” While this is a weird way to start an article on worship leading – the parallels are all too similar. In our training sessions, I usually go so far as to have someone get up in front with the instructions to ‘lead a cheer.’ They may do a toe touch and even include some spirit fingers, but never has anyone successfully led people to cheer – only after they were done did people cheer. I ask the hard question – did you lead people to cheer? They quickly realize that they have not. With no further instruction, I ask them to try again and without fail they make the adjustment. “Give me a J!” and the whole room thunders back “J.” Cheerleading has just occurred.
This failure to achieve the desired result isn’t because of bad intentions (cheerleaders really want people to cheer), it’s not a lack of effort (they are very enthusiastic and expend a lot of energy), and it’s also not due to a lack of practice (cheerleaders practice a lot). People don’t cheer simply because the cheerleaders are doing the cheering and not leading it. Now replace the word ‘cheer’ with ‘worship.’ Ouch! But no worries, just like all of our volunteers, a few simple adjustments yield drastically different results. Here are few things to do and to stop doing.
#1 Define success
Worship not music
The unintentional goal for most worship leaders is to make the music sound good (or just like the CD). The belief is that if it sounds amazing then worship is sure to occur. This is the core of why so many worship leaders struggle – they are trying to be good at music when they need to be good at leading. While there is no problem with great sounding music, it is a tool, not the goal.
Leading not doing
The goal is for you to get other people to do the action – not to do it yourself. You may be worshiping will all your heart but that is not worship leading – it’s worshiping. While you can, and at times should, lead by example your focus should be on how others are doing. Success is when others are worshiping.
#2 Understand WorshipIt’s very difficult to lead something you don’t understand … today you’ll be leading a training session on how to disarm a bomb with thermal hydrostatic nuclear physics. The reality is that if worship is the goal then we need to know what it is; otherwise how will we know if we’ve achieved it? How is worship different than praise, psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? Where is worship first mentioned in the Bible? Throughout the Bible why doesn’t worship involve music very often? If you
don’t know what worship is then it will be difficult to lead it.
#3 Get Results
Getting people to cheer at sporting events is very easy when it appears to be working and when good things happen. A big play happens and people are all about it. Similarly, nothing will help your leading more than if good things are happening on a spiritual level. The catch is that good things don’t happen unless you participate. Like working out, you don’t lose weight until after you are done, not before. Since we have established that most people prefer to not sing in public (article 1 of this series) it is of the utmost importance that when they do sing they see the biblically promised results of their worship, praise, hymn, or spiritual song. It is your job to know what those are (refer to step 2) and choose music to help your people achieve it.
#4 Lead people to participate not observe
It is very difficult to lead people that are not there. Most church services start with only a few people in the sanctuary. The others then trickle in with handshakes, conversations, and powdered sugar on their tie. Now if you’ve ever led a trip the first question you ask when you get on the bus is, “do we have everyone?” The answer to this on most Sundays is, ‘not even close’. If you try and worship before people are ever with you then you have already stopped being the leader.
You, or someone, must gather the people. While it may have been effective in the past, I believe that music by itself is no longer a useful tool for gathering people in our ‘life should have a constant soundtrack’ culture. People will just ignore you and carry on loud conversations.
You can help yourself from being ignored by not training people to ignore you. The practice of ‘playing out a service’ does just this. Just think about it. People are instructed to ignore you as you are doing the exact same thing you were doing when they were supposed to be paying attention. Plus it’s annoying to try and fellowship while loud music is going on. When the service is over stop playing and put a CD on at a low volume.
Well, I’m out of time for today…tune in next week for the dramatic conclusion.
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