Here’s the next part of my proposed definition of a worship leader. An effective corporate worship leader is aided and led by the Holy Spirit.
Every leader of congregational worship will acknowledge that biblical worship is impossible apart from the activity of the Holy Spirit. This is at least part of what Jesus meant when he told the Samaritan woman in John 4 that the Father seeks worshipers who worship Him in spirit and truth. Paul also tells us in Philippians 3:3, “For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (See also Eph. 2:18, Eph. 5:18-21, and 1 Cor. 12:3, and 2 Cor. 3:18)
But what does it mean for a worship leader to be aided and led by the Holy Spirit? Charismatics and non-charismatics (or continuationists and cessationists) might disagree on the specifics. At the very least it means that we worship the Holy Spirit as God, the third Person of the Trinity. But it also means that as we gather to worship God, the Holy Spirit fulfills His normal roles of illuminating, helping, strengthening, comforting, leading, making us aware of God’s presence, and revealing Christ and Him crucified.
Practically, I think that means at least three things.
First we need to ask God to help us by His Spirit as we lead others to worship Him. It’s easy for me to trust that my experience, background, musical skill, preparation, or planning will enable people to worship God rightly. If I feel prepared, I’m confident; if I don’t feel prepared, I’m anxious. But no amount of preparation can replace humble dependence on God’s Spirit to do what only He can do – bring light to darkened hearts and minds. God reminds us in 2 Cor. 3:18:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
In other words, music doesn’t transform us; God’s Spirit working through His Word does. God is honored when we humbly ask His Spirit to work in our hearts as we meet to exalt Him. That’s not to say that God isn’t already present by His Spirit when we gather. We’re just asking Him to make us more deeply aware of both His presence and His activity in our lives.
Second, having asked the Holy Spirit to work in our midst, we need to expect His involvement. That involves listening for His direction, even if our plan is “air-tight.” Certainly, we should be listening for the Spirit as we plan for a meeting. I think this is an area we often overlook – prayer during planning. But does the Holy Spirit stop speaking to us when we meet? That’s not the impression we get from the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Despite their excessive esteem of the “spectacular” gifts of the Spirit, Paul never tells the Corinthians to stop expecting the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s presence in various ways during a meeting. Neither should we.
What might the Holy Spirit “say” to us? We might feel led to emphasize a certain line from a song or repeat a verse that draws attention to a relevant theme. The Spirit might bring to mind a particular need or a reason to celebrate. He might direct us to a Scripture we hadn’t previously thought of including. There doesn’t have to be anything mystical or “spooky” about the Holy Spirit leading us in times of corporate praise.
Finally, biblical worship means that we respond to what we sense the Spirit is saying or doing. If we have asked for God’s active presence, and are listening for the Spirit’s leading, it should be evident through our faith-filled obedience that He really is working in our midst. That means that we might spontaneously pray for those parents who have a rebellious older child. That’s exactly what we did in one of our meetings this past Sunday at Covenant Life. Whatever we believe about the availability of the gift of prophecy today, 1 Corinthians 14 implies that we should expect the Spirit to speak to us through spontaneous expressions of encouragement, admonition, and instruction when we gather. How that looks will depend on your theological position, the size of your church, the maturity of your people, and a number of other factors. But certainly, a leader who is committed to honoring God will seek to follow the Spirit’s leading in times of corporate worship.
Of course, the end of being led and aided by the Spirit is to bring honor to the Lamb who was slain. But before we go to that part of the definition, I’ll share some thoughts on using music and the Word. Tomorrow.
I am not a reformed charismatic (in other words, I’m a cessationist) and yet I can fully appreciate and affirm what you’ve shared. The form of our response to the Spirit is a separate matter from the fact that we need too respond when the Spirit leads. I imagine that if we feel led to something biblical, especially to passages of scripture, then responding is something we can do in confidence regardless of our theological position.
I’ve been reading your blog/website here for some time now and thought I’d comment to say how much help you have been to me & my local church and campus ministry. Your series here on the role of the lead worshipper is organizing into words so much of what I’ve only learned about lead worshipping through my past 10years of leading.
You could say I’m at the top of the food chain in my local ministry here in Toronto at my church & university fellowship; nobody has really mentored or taught me specific what/how to lead. Thank you for your insight.
Looking forward to your next post..SDG.
Toronto, ON, Canada
Bob, this series has been so very helpful to me thus far. Thank you. I will pass it on to the other members of the music teams in my church.
Also, I’d be really interested in your comments (and your readers’ comments) on something I have just blogged about at http://danhames.blogspot.com/2006/02/pelagius-invades-church-music.html.
Thank you for spurring us on.
Hello! I’m really enjoying the accessibility of your blog. This is a great article. Is there any other book/resource you would recommend that addresses specifically worship leaders in a biblical way like this? There’s a lot of great books out there about worship in the church, but are you aware of anything that extensively brings theology to bear on the practical outworkings of a worship leader’s responsibilities?
Enjoyed the comments, especially agree with the part about actually responding to whatever the Spirit might be ‘telling’ us or ‘wanting’ us to do.
So helpful Bob. I’ve appreciated the practice of one of the pastors at Covenant Life Church who prays “I’m listening, Lord” at the beginning of a meeting. Simple, but humble.
what about speaking in tongues as you lead worship?
Seems clear from 1 Cor. 14 that uninterpreted tongues in a public meeting causes confusion and isn’t appropriate. Although Paul spoke in tongues more than many of the Corinthians, he said “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
Since it would be impossible to know whether something I was going to say in tongues as I’m leading a meeting would be interpreted, it’s better to focus on saying things that people can understand.
Hi Bob…this is true….I do, however, allow tongues to work if it flows out of me. I don’t plan to speak in tongues during praise and worship but I certainly give way to the Holy Ghost when it wants to show up! :)
Mikki, thanks for commenting! Scripture doesn’t indicate that tongues are out of the control of the person speaking. That’s the mindset Paul was addressing in the Corinthians. They thought that if they had an impulse to speak in tongues they had to follow through on it. Paul says no, the Spirit might give gifts but they’re always for the purpose of edification. Therefore, if you feel moved to do something that won’t edify the church, don’t do it. He doesn’t contradict himself!
Bob Kauflin, you are such a blessing to this world. Am a worship leader at my church in Uganda and for long Long I’ve been looking for Literature to guide my worship team on Worship until when I landed on this important information, We’ve shared it as a worship team and many members have got great revelation as worshipers.
Thank you so much and May the Lord increase you in Knowledge and stature.
Florence, thanks for your encouraging words!
I came accross this site yesterday. Excellent one. We are all called to Worship. Worship starts or should start when we wake up and close our eyes to sleep. God will always do His part but we have to do ours. it starts with prayer. A Worship Team must also practice and give their best to God.
I have let Worship for many years. Larger and small churches. I was recently humbled when I started leading in a church of about 50 people. Realised how spoiled I was. I no longer had the nice carpet and comfortable pews. Have to set up the sound system. I realised Worshipping is not about numbers. Its Praising The Lord with all our hearts, soul; and mind to Him. All we can do is plant the seed and He will do the rest. We shouldnt argue about styles of music, but choose songs with solid theology that lift up His name. He is Worhty. Its all about Him, not about us.
David Maye Renaissance Church, Dorval
This is awesome