Growing a Worshipper: Part 1
Today's blog post is a response to an email I received a few weeks ago. I thought I should respond publically, since the topic of training worship leaders applies to so many churches. This reader asks a big question, and I won't be able to answer it in one post, but I can start. Enjoy:
Hi Nathan, my name is Rich Kopp and I'm a missionary with Open Bible Churches. I see that you'll be leading some of the seminars next month. I'm a firm believer that a great worship leader must first and foremost be a great worshipper. I've met a lot of talented musicians who were fantastic musically, but who didn't know how to lead people into worship. There seems to be a plethora of musically talented song leaders, but a dearth of real worship leaders. Song leaders speak to the ears, whereas worship leaders speak to the heart.
I guess I'm concerned we are raising up a generation of wonderful musicians who don't know how to lead people into worship because they've learned their craft but never learned to worship. Leading a band can be an ego trip, whereas leading worship is just the opposite - its a humbling, bowing before the Master in adoration. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this and how you train worship leaders to be worshippers.
Thank you for your email. I’ve mulled it over for some time. I sense that many people in church feel your sense of frustration- I know I have. I also know that if I don’t have peace or joy when writing about a topic, I haven’t found God’s heart yet. And writing without God’s heart for a matter like this wouldn’t help anyone. So I waited to write.
With that said, I do feel I have the authority to write about my own journey in worshipping the Lord.
I started playing guitar when I was 11. My Dad knew I liked to sing, and he knew that I needed an instrument to compliment that. He fished his beat up Silvertone from the 60’s out of a closet. I was hooked.
After a few years of lessons my teacher Tom showed me the basics of composition. He taught me how melodies and chords work together and had me write a song. That’s when music really opened up for me.
After playing in bands during high school, my Dad asked if I would start leading worship for a college prayer night he and my mom led. I led worship for that group all through college. After college that group transitioned to a house church, which we still attend.
During a typical worship night, we gather at my parents’ home. We eat first, enjoy one another’s company, and tell stories about our week. We clean up, Dad makes coffee, and we set up for worship. Sometimes Dad shares a passage of Scripture to begin, or talks about what he feels the Lord showed him that week. Sometimes we just worship.
After a while, my Dad will ask the group, “As we worshipped did the Lord show you anything?” Then someone may say, “When we were singing that last song I felt like the Lord said…” or “I had a picture of…” or “This week I was reading in…”
We have done this for over 15 years. Praising, fellowshipping, praying for one another, and asking God to show us what is on His heart week by week. Here are a few of the lessons I have learned:
It is not my job to make anyone feel anything. My job as a worship leader and musician is to make a space where God can meet with His people. This takes away the pressure of having to provide people with “an experience”. Sometimes we praise and worship and I can’t sense that anything special has happened. Sometimes God's presence is very strong and sometimes it is a sense of quiet peace. That’s up to God.
The load is easier when it rests on everyone. I don’t view people who worship without an instrument as spectators. They are participants. My Dad and I don’t plan what the theme of each Sunday is going to be. We find out in hindsight. Someone shares a Scripture, someone else shares a dream, or a thought they had during worship. We go around the circle and pray what we sense God is asking us to pray. On some Sundays, the thread connecting our prayers and conversations is so clear that I marvel how God brought all the pieces together. He plans services better than I ever could.
I do not want to create the illusion that every week is amazing. Sometimes we are tired. Sometimes we are distracted. Sometimes it feels like there is active opposition to worship. But we stay faithful. God has taught us to push through, change direction, or lean on each other when someone is feeling weak. I hope that we are flexible enough to shift our plans when needed. But there is safety in a community where we don't only look to the head pastor or the worship pastor to hear from God for everyone every week. We're not perfect, but we don't need to be.
Not every song fits every space. As I began to lead worship, I realized that some songs weren’t a good fit for an acoustic guitar in a living room. They were written for stadiums or for other church cultures. So I started to write my own songs. I learned to listen to the prayers of my own church, and write something to fit. Now if I look at my stack of songs and feel limited, I know I have to write one myself.
I should mention that some of my old songs are resting happily in a folder, untouched for years. But my community allowed me to grow, to try things, and to share a half-finished song if that’s all I had. I cannot express how grateful I am for that room and time to grow.
It costs you something. Doing church this way has a price. It can be awkward and transitions aren’t smooth. If I break a string or fall out of tune, I have to stop and there’s no music. We aren’t polished. But by now we’re okay with that.
I have also had to deal with my own feelings of legitimacy as a musician. I used to resent the constraints of living room worship. I doubted my ability. I thought about moving to a bigger church with national or international reach. Then I would be legitimate, I thought.
But as I have gotten older I have started to cherish it. I wouldn’t trade what I have learned for all the notoriety I envied years ago.
I don't claim that my community has church figured out for all time. But I am convinced that God led us into some good habits without our knowing it. I wouldn't be the worshipper I am without them.
I realize that I haven't directly answered your question Rich, so let me take one more stab at it:
If you want to train young worshippers, I cannot and would not perscribe any "right" way. Do this, don't do that, smile when you sing, raise your hand a certain way, etc. I never got any of that and I'm glad I didn't. Instead, I was given a safe place to explore. I messed up, I learned a lot. I followed my curiousity on my instrument, and the Lord used that curiousity to teach me about music and about Him. My parents protected that space and let me grow up without ever tying my worth to what I could do. I always knew they would shut the whole thing down if that was what I needed. Their top priority was that I knew God personally, not that I sang the songs.
There is so much more to say, but we will leave it there for today.
I promise to revisit this topic in the future.
If you have questions of comments, please email me at: