The Cosmic Significance of Leading Worship

painting of people singing

painting by Rodrico Brown age 13, public domain.

If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you know I’m making a perhaps overly exhaustive argument for the importance of corporate singing.  I believe with all my heart that God intended human beings to sing and make music together, and I have been outlining all the reasons why I think so.
Today, I want to apply this concept to worship leaders.  My basic thrust is this:  Worship leader, it is your job to take the gift of making music, which God intends for all His people, and make it accessible for all His people.  Your role is of tremendous significance, and if you misunderstand it, you will fail in it.  Your goal should be not only for the congregation to sing, but also for them to be able to hear themselves and recognize that they are an integral part of the beautiful sound they are hearing.   Allow me a few words to unpack what I mean.

Alienation vs Communion: glimmers of hope in music making

For all its beauties, human life is marked by a lot of isolation and alienation.  Most marriages end in divorce.  Nations go to war.  Even in healthy relationships, people often do things that push them away from each other.   Though we were designed to live in harmonious unity with God and each other–and we long to taste that unity–we often experience the opposite: alienation.
Occasionally, however, we find brief tastes of the communion for which we long.  As a musician, this can happen when playing music with others.  Sometimes when an ensemble of musicians are playing or singing together, we begin to feel as if we are one organism.  We can communicate without talking, the music blends so astonishingly, the rhythm, voicing, harmony, are all so locked-in together that we experience an amazing, humbling delight at simply beholding the sound we are making.  For a few too-brief moments, the many become as one.  When the song is done, we all look at each other astonished by what we have just heard (typically followed by long silence, sighs or ecstatic laughter).  And what runs briefly through our heads is something like, “Wow, that sounded amazing!  And I got to be a part of it!”
This is the opposite of the feeling of alienation that is common to human life.  It is one little way that the people of God can push back the dark with light.  But God did not intend this experience to be only for the musically gifted.  It is the worship leader’s job to make it available to everyone in the church.

Hide it under a bushel? No!

If you are a worship leader, then as a musician you likely know the experience I am talking about.  But for many in your congregation, music is something that they typically watch from the outside looking in.  And, frankly, they do not have many opportunities to participate in music making.  If they’re not musically gifted, the harsh, exacting, critical world will be quick to tell them they should not sing or make music.  They may go to concerts and watch music being made;  they may listen to their ipods while commuting.  But this is not the same as making music and hearing yourself as part of a larger sound that is beautiful. That joyous experience is inaccessible to them, unless they go to a church with a culture of robust corporate singing, where they are invited into the making of music on a weekly basis.
If you are a church music leader, your job is to share the experience of music-making so that others can participate in it as well.  It’s okay to let others watch you play.    But it’s so much better if you can actually invite the listeners into the song, so that they are co-creators with you of the music you enjoy together.  This is harder than mere performance.  It takes hard work and careful attention to detail; it requires listening as much as making sound.  More than anything, it requires focusing your attention on serving the congregation, lifting up their voices over and above your own.
The result is worth the effort.  The result is that “musically average” Christians are able, each Sunday, to be co-creators with you of beautiful music.  They have a voice; they play a vital role in the creation of the music, and they get to experience firsthand the joy of corporate music making that the world reserves for the “musically gifted.”  But if you turn yourself up too loud or you pick songs that are keyed too high for average voices, then you take from them that opportunity.  They may still tell you they enjoyed listening to the music.  But they won’t know what they are missing.


4 Responses to “The Cosmic Significance of Leading Worship”

  1. I’m enjoying your blog and have added it as a link to mine. Thanks from a fellow church musician!

    • 2 churchmusicblog

      Thanks so much! I just checked out your blog and enjoy it, too. You have a great writing style. It’s great to hear from you. Only one note: the link is (not .org).

  2. 3 matthewcasteel

    What great insights. It really is important to remember why we are leading worship, what our job is when we are out front. This is definitely a blog that I will tuck away in my heart and pull out when I am up front. It provides a great “check list” to review before taking the lead.
    One of the important tasks as leaders is to allow the congregation to come to a place of real corporate worship. If they only watch and never join, we are missing the whole point. I guess it goes back to some cliche’ wisdom, “you know you’re a leader when people are following you.”
    Where am I leading the congregation God has entrusted to me?
    Thanks for the post
    – Matthew

  3. Right on, Wendell. I love singing with folks and it is alienating to be participating in corporate singing set in too high a key, and singing songs that are too artistic or wonkey for the melody to be picked up, easily.

    I’m pretty outspoken about the use of powerpoint versus overhead projectors when there’s no hymnal or handout and one reason for that is that when you are only being fed bits of a song at a time (rather than seeing the whole at once) you are wondering through the song with just a dim flashlight rather than the aid of the sun. I also love having the actual music in front of me rather than desperately trying to follow someone in an unfamiliar or familiar song.

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