In college my work study job was to lead worship in chapel. They paid me to sing a few songs a few times a month during our mandatory chapel before the presenter presented. I took great pride in the job, though I don’t think everyone took great pride in coming to chapel. I usually wanted to tell the perfect story or merge two songs together seamlessly or sing a hymn in an attempt to get my professors to close their eyes in worship. Most of it never worked.
One week after chapel, Dr. Harris, my Old Testament professor told me he wanted me to stand for the entirety of his class. He said if he has to stand while I sing, I should have to stand while he teaches. It was in the middle of class when he told me this.
I stood up awkwardly. He told me to sit down, he was kidding.
Dr. Harris went on to say he was concerned about our modern use of the word “worship”. He paced the room and said, “You people think worship can be done in the car, in the shower, while you’re doing dishes, while you’re drinking coffee, on the golf course, walking the dog, etc.”
He then looked at me and said, “Be careful with the “Everything is worship mentality. Our friends in the Old Testament, they would be very confused by this language.”
His point was simple and profound: Worshipping a Holy God was always done as a Holy People. Worship was corporate, sacred, communal, something to prepare for, something that took preparation, something done together. Worship was a group project. And of course, worship was done in fear, in faith, and in expectancy.
I asked my professor what we should call driving in the car, washing dishes, drinking coffee worship, and he said, “Josh, that’s called life. That’s called individual fellowship with God. That’s called abiding in Christ.”
I know we could all jump into a “pre-Jesus” conversation at this point, but I think that would miss the heart of what Dr. Harris was saying. I think he was being excessive to prove a point. He was trying to say, let’s let worship be sacred. Don’t strip it of that. Be careful when you worship. Be fearful, hopeful, faithful, and be filled with expectancy. The priests’ risked their life to worship on the Day of Atonement. We risk little. Take note of that.
This week: Be careful in your preparation to worship. As a band or individual, slow down, center yourself, and ask God to help you lead people into his Holiness, into his Transcendence and Otherness. And realize, slowing down is no small feat. As you lead worship, take into account you never know how the people in the room are doing. You never know if they’ve been abiding all week or if this is their first spiritual engagement with God.
Some are suffering, some are joyful, some are barely making it.
Something I do at Resonate pretty often is: After I introduce myself (which is more important than you realize, because… hopefully, new people are coming to your services who don’t know Jesus or you, and it’s only socially appropriate to hear, “Welcome, we’re grateful you’re here this evening, my name is Josh and it’s a joy to serve as Worship Pastor here at Resonate….”) Some worship leaders never introduce themselves.
I invite everyone to stand up. I don’t say, “Let’s stand up.” (That’s a preference.. a courtesy of sorts)
Then, (as the first song is being played instrumentally in the background) I invite everyone in the room to take a moment and close their eyes and exhale or bow their heads or “disconnect from the world and the stress of life” and “turn their thoughts to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Not what I always say, but that’s an idea.)
As everyone is praying or centering themselves, the band is playing the first song in the background. (This probably takes 1 minute total.)
Then I say a quick, “God meet us here tonight, change us, use these songs to help us connect with you, and to worship you. Speak to us tonight…. etc.” prayer and we’re singing. I usually don’t say Amen in that prayer, I finish and take it away in song. This may seem formulated… it is. But, it’s not mechanical. I’m taking a moment to help our church go from the outer courts to the inner courts.
Leading them to the holy of holies is another blog post all together, but in general, we have to be careful starting each service with, “Stand Up! Let’s Worship! Put Those Hands Together!” And we’re off….. People may not be ready for that.
Think through that as you prepare for upcoming weeks. Be mindful of how you get people from outer to inner courts. And be aware that just as poor as “Stand Up! Let’s Worship! Put Those Hands Together!”, week in week out is, so is, “Good Evening, let’s begin tonight by confessing our secret sins before the holiness of God”, and singing Heart of Worship followed by Revelation Song.
There’s a fine line both ways.
Mix it up. Help your people connect. Think through the process. And remember, prepare yourself, don’t let worship become shallow and hollow and unimportant.
It’s as sacred and holy as He is.