Worship as Team Discipleship

Graham Gladstone

I’ve recently read a number of great resources dealing with worship practice (which in itself is great because we often hear/think a lot about ‘Sunday morning ministry’ but not as much ‘worship practice ministry’).  While I really appreciated these resources, I was surprised and a little disappointed when I realized what was never discussed – discipleship at worship practice.

Is the goal of worship practice to make good music?  Or is it – ultimately – to make better disciples?

I expect that for some, for time purposes, worship practice focuses on music and small groups are for discipleship.  I can appreciate that argument.  Is it true though that all musicians go out to small groups?  And doesn’t it make sense that since worship practice already gathers people together, they might be intentional about building each other up in the faith?  There’s even a team-building/service goal built into it: you’ll lead the congregation together in worship! 

I admit that this is fairly new to me; I haven’t played on many worship teams that intentionally prioritized growing as believers at practice, so I’m improvising a bit.  And I have to admit that many spontaneous moments for growth have happened at worship practices when more believers have imparted to me some nugget of wisdom that fueled my growth for days after. 

On the whole though, I suspect that we can do more to help our team members to grow in faith.  Here are three suggestions (that may sound utterly obvious to some and which may be utterly ground breaking to others). 

1. Bible study.
I assume that worship leaders plan their services with at least a passing knowledge of what the preaching pastor will speak on on a given Sunday.  I also assume that the pastor will be basing the message on a portion of Scripture.  Do worship team members at your church see the connection between the songs and that Scripture?  Do they even know what that Scripture passage is? 

It’s so simple, but I think that we would be helping our team members to grow if we began worship practice by reading Sunday’s Scripture together.  “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV).  Open up the Bible and let God speak!  Let God set the tone for the practice with His Word.

You might take time to reflect on the passage with your team, invite comments and questions.  I am always surprised by how ‘letting God speak’ prompts others to respond.  And they can take the conversation in wildly more helpful and personal directions than you ever could have planned.

I admit that this has been difficult for me.  I have often struggled with the ‘do a devotional’ model – what’s effective?  What’s helpful?  What’s meaningful?  (What’s not boring?).  Allowing God to speak though, freeing Him to do the piercing and discerning, is valuable, even if it takes time.

2. Prayer.
Does your worship team pray for one another?  Do you know what’s happening in each other’s lives?  Are you praying about those issues?  You’re a team – what’s more, you are a subset of the family of God.  All the calls to support one another and bear each other’s burdens that the larger Church hears: those apply to you.  And you have a mission – to humbly serve the people who come before God every Sunday, even as you yourselves worship God.  Pray for one another.

3. Lyric study.
Do your instrumentalists know what your congregation will be singing?  I can recall players saying ‘I’ve played this song a million times and never knew what it said.’  In fact, I was part of a team once where the orchestral players didn’t even have the words; only the music that they would play.  I understand the practical purpose of this method, but even if they don’t sing the words, it benefits people to have access to them.  ‘so-la-so-mi-do-la-so’ won’t sustain when your foundations give; ‘Rock of ages, cleft for me’ is a much stronger truth to build on.  Every once in a while, take time to study the words of a song that is important to your church.  Help your team to see and understand Scriptural allusions.  Give thanks for the way that this particular set of words has helped your people to grow in their adoration of God.

As you’re practicing too, take time to reflect together on those songs.  Pause and think about the words you’ve just sung.  These spontaneous discussions between the music will help your people to think not just about the awesome parts they’re playing, but about the awesome truths about God that the songs express.

I realize that for some churches, these suggestions will already be happening.  Maybe there are ways to advance even beyond these methods, and I’d be glad to hear them in the comments.  For some churches though, I suspect this will be brand new.  If that’s your church, I encourage you – don’t just make good music, make good disciples.  Be intentional about helping your people to grow in faith.  Something is better than nothing.

Graham Gladstone is a worship leader and consultant currently serving Lincoln Road Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario.  An M.Div. graduate, he is passionate about corporate worship shaped by careful biblical reflection and heartfelt Spirit-led prayer. Connect with Graham at jbdomusic.com or @gwgladstone.

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