Keeping it practical: understanding how to lead in a worship setting

Our recent posts have discussed the relationship of the Church’s worship in the earthly realm and the ongoing intercession of Christ at the right hand of God where saints and angels give praise and thanks. We were reminded that through the power and working of the Holy Spirit we participate in that heavenly worship and are included in our Mediator Christ’s ongoing intercession and prayers—as well as in the Son’s ongoing praise and thanks to the Father.

Scrolling down the right hand of this page in the quote section you will find this quote:
"Christ receives all that we offer God, in thanksgiving, in worship, and in service, converts it in himself, and presents it as something prefect and wholly acceptable to his Father, who is our Father...The theology of incarnation reminds us that all humanity has been caught up in Christ's ascended and glorified humanity, so making it possible for us to participate by the Spirit in the Son's perfect communion with his Father" (Graham Buxton, Dancing in the Dark, The Privilege of Participating In the Ministry of Christ, pp. 117-118).
And that’s incredibly big! For those having answered a call to lead worship, the above perspective offers a sense of thankful joy, peace, and also liberation from endless striving for the unattainable perfect worship service. At the same time, whether we are new to the task, or have been doing it for many years, we see the importance of sharing in what Christ is doing, and we want to do everything we can to serve our congregations to the best of our abilities as we worship.

Here is a helpful summary of five practical steps for worship leaders, adapted from Worship Team Handbook, and an article by Matt Frazier from BuildingChurchLeaders and Christianity Today International.

1. Use your eyes and your body to lead
– Eye contact is a great way to connect and communicate with those you lead. Your eyes should say, “Isn’t it great to worship God together?” As for your body, try to relax, be comfortable and work toward losing any distracting physical habits (most people have some) that would draw attention to you rather than the worship.

2. Use your voice – It’s the best tool of all for leading worship. A voice that sounds pleasant and excited works best in a worship setting. If you need to call out a verse or chorus in giving directions during the song, use the same pleasant tone, so you don’t break the mood by switching to an ‘information’ voice that has a completely different tone.

3. Be aware of the people you’re leading – Don’t just focus on your own experience and thereby forget about the congregation. It is true that even if others don’t follow is in worshiping God, that shouldn’t keep is from worshiping. But we can’t be in our own world, ignoring all others around us.

4. Tune into your congregation’s current needs – If the congregation is not yet familiar with a song, you’ll need to lead more strongly until they become more comfortable with it. If it is unclear what verse comes next, help them with it. From beginning to end of every worship time, try to be aware of what the congregation is experiencing, so you are prepared to help at any given moment. What cultural, social, or holiday events are in play that might affect the day? What is useful to help people respond after one message may not be useful after other messages. In order to guide people to a new destination, you need to know something about their point of departure.

5. Plan in specific ways how you will lead each worship time – If for example, you want participants to reflect on a particular attribute of God, give them a Scripture, a story, or an illustration to get them thinking. Don’t just say, “Reflect for a moment on how holy God is.” Explain what holiness is about. Give an analogy or metaphor they can relate to. Read Scripture that illustrates God’s holiness in fresh ways (it doesn’t even have to use the word holy as long as that’s what it’s about). Plan to ask people to move physically—to stand, if you want them to respond in excitement, or to sit if you want them to experience God’s rest.

Finally the article reminds us of the important fact that the worship leader is not only a leader, but is also a worshiper.
To lead worship, we must worship—we can’t take others where we’re not going. It is crucial however, that we learn how to focus on God while also being aware of what the people we lead are experiencing. With that awareness, we can create situations that help others worship.