A couple months ago a freshman asked me how long I've been leading worship. I told him I started when I was 15, then did the math, and said, "I guess it's been 18 years now." He said, "That's as long as I've been alive."
Dang. 18 years. And I still can't get our team to start the audio with the video.
I still have so much to learn. We all do.
When it comes to planning/praying/preparing to lead and execute a distractionless worship experience, everyone has blindspots and comfort zones.
Some preachers couldn't care less, they just want to "preach the Word of God" and everything else bears little importance... it's just "the fluff before the meat of the service" as I heard one guy say. As if hearing a monologue (sometimes a boring one) is the only way God speaks to His people.
Some worship leaders care so much, and just want to create an experience, a journey through time and space where everyone leaves in awe of God and their creativity. As if everyone wants to sing 8 songs per Sunday being directed on what to do and say between each tune. (Please-God-don't sing 8 songs in your church this Sunday.)
Wherever you land on the continuum, we could all be mindful of these two basic pitfalls I've experienced over the years.
NO SPIRITUAL ENGAGEMENT AT ALL
All hype, all cheerleading, all me. Stand with me, clap with me, sing with me, cheer with me.
To our shame, there were times last year when we started a service with a musical intro, then the worship leader saying, “GO COUGS!” and the crowd would respond, “GO COUGS!" Then we would start singing a worship song. (Now we’ve exchanged it with “GO SEAHAWKS!")
We wouldn’t pray, read a verse, project a verse on the screen, or invite anyone to take a moment to prepare their heart, we would just tell the church to respond to our initiation of worship.
THE DANGER: Performance becomes standard of worship experience. You blame yourself for "bad" worship weeks and take credit for "good" worship weeks.
NO SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT AT ALL
We act like everyone in the church is an insider. Like they grew up here. Like they’ve had dinner with you and know your family. Like they know the rules. When to stand, when to sit, when to laugh, when to talk back. Often we don’t even introduce ourselves and say, “Good Morning, my name is …." It's hard to be mindful of the social element of worship.
THE DANGER: Outsiders feel unsafe, vulnerable, constantly playing catch up to this religious event they don't understand.
THIS WEEKEND: SPIRITUALLY ENGAGE AND SOCIALLY EXPLAIN.
People who don’t know Jesus will be in your service and they don’t know your name or that song or how communion or the offering works. They think singing is weird and are just checking this God thing out. Give them grace, give them an explanation, acknowledge them, and protect them from the enemy's lie of “You don’t belong here, you’ll never belong here.”
This is often why we love/never forget when worship leaders mess up, break a string, forget a lyric or whatever. Sure there's a cringe, but it feels human, and if they socially acknowledge what happens everybody wins. God is not offended by our mess ups.
Please don’t go soft on the Gospel for the sake of new people. They are attending church to get a fair shake at Jesus. Give them Jesus. It’s what they came for. Show them authentically how to worship Christ in response to God’s Word by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Be as spiritual and as social as humanly possible this weekend. And in that balance I hope we find ourselves following God's Spirit into God's presence in response to God's Word all the while leading God's people. (And by faith, people who are soon to be God's people.)