This was the question I remember my Dad and I asking when we met to debrief our most recent worship service (my Dad was the pastor. How could we know if I, serving as the worship leader, had successfully done my job? This was my job, after all, and I wanted to do my job right and to do my job well. My Dad wanted a worship leader who lead worship “right” and lead worship “well”.
These questions were posed early in my high school years. It would not be until my later years of college that I believed there was an answer to this question. How I wish someone had been there to tell my Dad and I how we could know if I had fulfilled my task as a worship leader!
Participation. Do you want to know if you have led worship? If people are participating in the worship that you are leading, you are doing your job. Let us break this down:
The role of the worship leader is to lead the congregation in a right response to God, who He is and for His works (not to lead the congregation into the presence of God! He is the one who calls us to gather and therefore we enter His presence). Since you are leading, the congregation is following you. How do you know you are a leader? People follow you. And in this case, you know you are leading (doing your job), if people are participating (following) you.
Usually the quick retort to this comment consists of two parts: I do not have to sing to worship, and Jesus said there would be an hour “when the truth worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23, ESV).
The Psalms are saturated with lyrics to sing the praises of God. The people of Israel sang when God acted. Moses sang frequently (Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 30, 31, 32), David sang his victories and laments (1 Samuel 18, 2 Samuel 1, 3, 22). Even the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Habakkuk sang. Singing is rooted in the experience of God’s people.
This includes people of the New Covenant. Paul encourages the church in Ephesians and the church in Colossians to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). Even at the consummation of time, we see that singing will continue to be a part of the world (Revelation 5, 14, 15).
In Spirit and Truth
As for John 4, the historical setting of Jesus’ day will reveal the inaccuracy of that interpretation. First, the cults that surrounded the people of Israel believed gods ruled different parts of life (eating, reproduction, work, etc.) and the land they lived in (rivers, trees, oceans, land, etc.). All through the Old Testament, the God of Israel revealed He was not confined to a space. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), God is always with us and therefore we can worship Him anywhere.
Secondly, this train of thought resembles dualism, the separation of body and spirit. The early church deemed dualism heretical. Our worship should consist of spirit, words, and actions, including the act of singing. This is holistic redemption!
Plan to Participate
So next time you are preparing for Sunday morning and the next time you stand in front of your congregation, strive for participation. I realize that just because the congregants are singing does not mean they are worshiping, but that is not something you can control. Although we worship as a gathered community, individuals still must decide to participate with everyone in the presence of Christ.
How do you know if you led worship? Your congregants participated with you.
Jason Palmer is the Editor of TalkingWorship.com. Jason has a Bachelor of Science in Ministry with a Worship Arts Major and Music Minor. He has lead worship for evangelical churches for 7 years and desires to see worship leaders become confident in their calling.