The following is an excerpt from the book, “Don’t Fret: The Worship Leader’s Pocketbook.” This book can be purchased by clicking here:
Our role in leading worship is to invite and encourage all attendees to join in. But there seems to be a group of worshippers who struggle to participate, and to me that group seems to have grown a lot lately. We need to try and help those people find their song.
Too Much Emphasis on Presentation
I’ve been to many churches of a number of different denominations, especially over the last three years since I was forced to retire with ill-health, and often I have come away disappointed by the worship. Sometimes the services suffered from poorly chosen and organised music (not flowing or directional), but a considerable part of it was about presentation. Too many churches are playing great songs that should produce worship and yet are somehow not inspiring their people to participate or to connect with God.
And it’s not because the musicians were poor as musicians. From my observation it was about presentation, and usually for one or more of a number of reasons:
- The worship team were not a team—they looked and sounded disinterested; or
- The music team were more concerned about their own sound than engaging with the congregation and drawing them in; or
- There was little encouragement from the worship leader for the people to participate; or
- The worship team were too loud.
The Worship Team Was Too Loud
OK, before you complain about that last one, let me explain. I’m not just saying that to protect my ageing ears: there is an important point here about worship. If you are in the midst of a congregation and the music is so loud that you cannot hear yourself sing, then whether you sing or not makes no difference. And when many ordinary, “non-musical” worshippers realise this they give up the struggle and just stop. And as I looked around many, many congregations, that’s exactly what I saw—people just standing there, or chatting, or even texting on their mobile phones. They were totally disengaged from the worship, because they felt they couldn’t make any difference by joining in.
The Point of Gathering for Worship is for Us All to do it Together
If you think back to our original definitions of worship, then this constitutes a failure. The point of gathering for worship is for us all to do it together. If the people who are there to lead the congregation into the presence of God take over by volume or self-interest and make the people’s contribution irrelevant, then they have defeated their own purpose. All the good work of preparing themed and flowing worship will come to nothing if it is not presented in a way that allows the people to connect with it and participate in it.
No Music Lead at All in Some Services
Traditional services have their issues too. There are frequently services where there is no musical lead at all and the congregation is left floundering with an unfamiliar hymn supported by an organist who doesn’t emphasise the melody. The people stand bewildered, mouthing the words from the page but with no idea of how to produce worship out of their misery. This, too, is a failure in terms of what was intended when the worship was planned.
Lift the Quality of Service Leadership
So I’m writing the sections on presenting music and leading worship in a desire to lift the quality of service leadership. The band, the leaders of worship, need to both model worship and encourage worship. I hope that as we work through the practical side of presenting worship you will discover the tools you need to help people engage with worship and unite with you in honouring God. That’s the point of all that is to follow.
“…Presenting music and leading worship in a desire to lift the quality of service leadership.”
Those of you from traditional churches will quickly recognise that I am writing mostly about more contemporary worship, but don’t despair. The primary role of the church choir, anthems notwithstanding, is to lead the people in their worship of God, and much of what follows will assist choirs to do that. And if you have no choir, think about the possibilities of a worship leader who can help the congregation into its music by providing a vocal lead and suitable encouragement.
Do Whatever You Do to the Best of Your Ability
The first thing to emphasise is to do whatever you do to the absolute best of your ability. If you are a gifted musician it’s sometimes easy to just “wing it” and not put in much effort toward practice or performance. You may get away with that approach musically, but you will never feel truly satisfied that you have used your God-given gifts properly if you do that. You will have let yourself—and Jesus—down.
And if you are like me—an amateur musician trying to keep up with people who really know what they’re doing—then put in the effort and make it as good as you possibly can. Learn all you can from the gifted people and apply it.
Part of doing your best is to present yourself well. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you should spend big money on clothes, hairdo and makeup. This is about presenting yourself well— sensibly and within your means. Guys, this means not just washing, but maybe even ironing your shirt!
Some churches establish a dress code for those at the front and I think that is helpful. But whether there is a code or not, remember that you are before God and his people leading worship of the Almighty One. It is not some gig somewhere, it is worship, and our desire is to honour God. So honour him by taking some care about your appearance.
Presenting yourself well includes facial expressions. A few weeks ago in a local church I experienced a first—I saw a bass player smile! People, if you are up front leading a congregation in a joyous expression of faith, then it should show! I’m not suggesting you grin like a Cheshire Cat. But let your own pleasure in worship show on your face and in your movement.
The other key point is to pray. Commit everything you do personally to prayer, and pray with the team you are working with. Pray for every aspect of your input, for the congregation and for the preacher, and invite the Holy Spirit to come, fill the place and amplify the worship.
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Don Purdey had a life-long passion for music and worship. A self-taught guitarist, he won awards as a child performer and later on the ABC TV talent show, Quest. An after-hours career as a singer became the training ground and springboard for his passion for worship leading, and he led bands in many churches over three decades. He also wrote many worship songs, including one chosen for a national youth conference. Before entering the ministry he worked as secretary of Australia’s counter-terrorism coordination committee in Canberra. Following God’s call into ordained ministry, he moved to Adelaide in 1994 with his wife and young family to study a Bachelor of Ministry. His ministry was marked by encouraging others and sharing his faith in God through his leadership, preaching, and worship leading. He also wrote a series of articles, published in a national church magazine, ACC Catalyst. In retirement Don turned his writing skills in a new direction, earning a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing. While he also had a fictional work published, Don’t Fret: The Worship Leader’s Pocketbook resulted from material he formulated during his ministry over many years. Don retired early due to Motor Neurone Disease, which caused progressive loss of his speech and singing voice. Yet, a new and powerful phase of his ministry emerged as people now listened more carefully. It was not only because they had to (as Don was losing his speech) but because they appreciated his faith-giving insights, humour and wisdom borne from trusting God through hardship. In the latter months Don communicated through a speech program (on his iPad) or by writing, and he continued to live courageously, adapting to reduced physical abilities and drawing even closer to God. In July 2014 Don went to be with the Lord, he died suddenly whilst picking a rose. He had been making the finishing touches to Don’t Fret on that day. Don is survived by his wife Annette, 5 adult children, their spouses and at last count 19 grandchildren!