Salvation belongs to our God
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
‘Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.’
I make no apology for starting at the end! John’s vision here in Revelation shows us a glimpse of our end goal. This vision of eternal worship has been described in so many ways: I like the Westminster Catechism’s version: ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ I also love Phil Wickham’s beautiful description in his song ‘Cielo’ of a worship experience that is literally beyond all that we are currently able to imagine.
A key part of our eternal purpose is to be caught up in the endless joy of pure worship. And if we know Christ and have decided to follow Him, then we can begin to enjoy the privilege of worship right here and now! It follows that to lead worship is a high calling, involving inspiration and dedication as we seek to bring others into the very presence of God.
This book can, of course, only be a starting point, a brief introduction to the main aspects of the craft. ‘Worship Leading 101’ might have been a better title, with the correct implication that this is the first of many courses we could take, just the beginning of a road that we will grow and develop on all through our lives. It is a road that we will continue on for all eternity, worshipping our wonderful God and Saviour with the multitude from every tribe and nation.
The purpose of the book
There are at least three different ways that I hope readers may want to use this book:
1. Training new worship leaders
This book is specifically written for, and intended to be used by, a more experienced worship leader as a training guide to work through with someone who is wanting to learn the heart, craft and skills of leading worship in church. Older teenagers in particular will come through and begin to lead worship, perhaps first in the youth group, then in the main service. Brilliant! But often their training is just watching others lead, maybe combined with a couple of informal chats with the main worship leader.
Worship leading is a practical skill and certainly needs on-the-job training. But I hope a book like this will prove invaluable in ensuring a new generation of worship leaders start to think through and work through a range of issues, ideally discussing each chapter with someone more experienced, and being fired up with inspiration from some of the great worship leaders.
Matt Redman is a great example. Redman was first encouraged by youth pastor Mike Pilavachi, founder of Soul Survivor, at the age of thirteen. Slide guitar maestro Bryn Howarth taught him guitar, and Sue Rinaldi gave him singing lessons. Pilavachi admits to using a degree of manipulation to persuade Matt Redman to start leading worship, but reckons he will be forgiven, bearing in mind how well things turned out! And leaders at events such as New Wine Youth and Soul Survivor gave Redman early opportunities to lead larger meetings. We can follow this model: where we see embryonic gifting, we need to encourage, train, empower and release our young people.
2. Leadership worship review
An important further use of the content would be by the church leadership – ideally the church leaders and the worship leaders together – to work through and review how the church worship times are planned and organised, and the kinds of content that are preferred.
Too often the ‘worship time’ is left to the worship leader on the day, with mixed results that don’t always reflect the depth and breadth of worship that we would like to bring. But I believe if ministers and worship leaders pray, discuss and agree together on the vision, priorities and ideals for worship in church meetings, then those leading worship will be empowered and released to express their gifts more fully. And the church will be built up and blessed in this key ministry.
3. Inspiration for all
Finally, I hope this book will be helpful to any worship leader, young or old, as a reminder and perhaps at times as a challenge; the characters covered in this book all offer different insights to inspire us to bring our most excellent service of worship to the King! Moses, David, Wesley, Kendrick and the others have, by the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit, breathed life into the worship of the Church in the twenty-first century. We can learn much from those who have gone before, as we seek to ‘worship in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24, NLT) our wonderful Saviour and our awesome Father God.
The ten main chapters of the book would be ideal as a ten-week course, and they share certain features. The baseline is unashamedly and thoroughly biblical, looking for foundational principles and contemporary guidance from the unchanging wisdom of the Word of God. So, for example, when we read in 1 Chronicles 13:8 that they celebrated ‘with harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals and trumpets’, we understand that it’s good to worship with a variety of musical instruments, but we don’t embark on a fruitless search for a lyre player!
I have also looked for key characters, both scriptural and more modern, to encourage and teach us. And all through the book I have tried to pull together as much inspirational material, in the form of quotations, lists, ministry resources, song suggestions and more, that will be invaluable to any worship leader, either to study or to dip into.
Finally, each chapter ends with a challenge to action, and questions to help think through what has been presented.
Worship – a living sacrifice
Paul makes this very clear statement at the beginning of Romans 12:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself, dying on the cross to take away the sin of the world, opening the door for us to forgiveness, freedom and eternal life, meant the end of the Old Testament system of animal sacrifices. They were no longer relevant or necessary. But it wasn’t the end of sacrifice: as Christians we are disciples of Jesus, and to follow Him is to follow the One who laid aside the joys of heaven, then left the comforts of home, family and job, and finally gave up His life. His was a life of self-sacrifice, and His call to us is to follow Him unconditionally, to understand that He is the ‘pearl of great price’ (Matthew 13:46, NKJV), and it’s worth giving up everything to follow Him.
Our ‘true and proper worship’ is to lay down our lives for Him as living sacrifices. Loving the unlovely, sharing what we have with generosity, allowing the Word of God to renew our minds, to transform our thinking, our attitudes and our actions. Then we will increasingly see His will being done in and through us. And our worship will be genuine, a spiritual and truthful overflow of the reality of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
Of course, we may feel that we are beginners in the Christian life, and a long way from developing the kind of dedication Paul describes in Romans 12. I still feel the same after forty years as a Christian. We certainly don’t need to be some kind of spiritual superstar to be a worship leader; in fact, I would say all that is needed is a heart to worship and a love for Jesus. If you have that, and the humility to want to learn more about this wonderful ministry, then I believe you are more than ready to get something out of this book, which I pray will help you go further and deeper, both in your own personal worship and in leading others.
Worship – our heart’s delight
I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let’s go to the house of the Lord.’
(Psalm 122:1, NASB)
I became a Christian while at school in York in 1981. My good friend Barney Skrentny (now minister at City Gates Church in London) somehow persuaded me to go along to St Michael le Belfrey, the lively Anglican church in the shadow of the Minster. I don’t know why I first went, but one of the main reasons I kept going was the joyful worship I found there. My previous experience growing up in many different churches had been uninspiring at best, downright boring at worst. People would sing the hymns, but nobody really seemed to be enjoying themselves.
But at St Michael’s there was joy in the worship, great enthusiasm in the praise times. The old hymns were still sung, but alongside them were upbeat children’s classics like ‘If I Were a Butterfly’. And Graham Kendrick was ministering there, so increasingly the worship times included more recent choruses and songs. But what I loved wasn’t just a great modern song mix: the impact on me came from the heart of worship, the desire and urgency to praise and celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ. No sense of duty; everyone wanted to be there, enjoyed being there. Like the psalmist in Psalm 122, we were ‘glad … [to go] to the house of the Lord’; we took delight in worshipping and praising Him.
I will come back to this theme again as we go through the book, but I hope it is clear that we can’t expect to lead others in worship if we are not ourselves dedicated worshippers of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you aspire to be a worship leader, ask yourself first if you are a worshipper. Do you have a burning desire to spend time in personal praise and worship? Do you love nothing better than a great time of worship with God’s people, basking in the presence of the Holy Spirit, appreciating the love of the Father and joining in the endless, worldwide praise of our wonderful Saviour?
You don’t have to be a musician, though if you do have instrumental skills then it’s a great privilege to use these to help others worship. You don’t have to be able to sing note perfect; however, it’s fair to say most worship leaders do use their voice a lot. If singing is a challenge, then a few lessons may make a massive difference. The simplest advice I ever received may also help: listen to yourself when you sing! Limited musical ability can be developed, reading of notes on the stave is definitely not essential. Even with no musical ability at all, many churches have a role of ‘meeting leader’ or presider, where God may use you in leading meetings together with the worship leader.
But on the other hand, you can be the most skilful musician in the world, and it won’t make you a worship leader. ’People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). God is seeking genuine worshippers, those who worship ‘in the Spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23). This book looks at training and developing the skills and craft of worship leading, but just learning skills and techniques, musical and otherwise, will not be enough, unless we are willing to give our very selves, heart and soul, in worship.
Singing – and more
Most materials for worship leading are focused on the music and the songs. This is great, and the songs we sing are of course crucial to our worship times together. This is true not only when we are able to meet in person but equally when we are restricted, as so many of us have been, to meeting virtually over YouTube or Zoom. But there is much more to worship than the songs, however important they are.
We are to come together with hearts full of worship, ready to bring and share some of what God has put on our hearts with the congregation. Songs and hymns, yes, but also Bible verses, prophecies, pictures and dreams, tongues and interpretations, words of knowledge, dance and drama, testimonies of answered prayer: all these and much more should be woven into our worship times. Some of this can be planned beforehand; some will arise spontaneously as the Holy Spirit leads us.
Too often the worship time consists of the worship band playing a series of three to six songs. I absolutely love sung worship, and we know from Revelation 5:13 that we will be singing God’s praises for all eternity. But here and now our worship times should be a rich tapestry of prepared and spontaneous, creatively new and awesomely old, song and Scripture and prophecy and testimony, and accessible to all present with thought given to different ages, cultures and languages.
Are we setting the bar too high? I don’t think we can. We have an awesome God, Creator, Saviour, Friend and Lord, and the worship we bring Him should be the very best that we can. A sacrifice of beautiful praise, the first fruits of our time and our money and all our other resources: our goal should be faithfulness, skill, creativity and generosity, excellence without perfectionism!
Caught not taught
Influential worship leader Jeremy Riddle, who has been associated with both the Vineyard Movement and Bethel Church in Redding, California, puts this beautifully:
I started coming to this church [Anaheim Vineyard] when I was thirteen years old. John Wimber used to say ‘more is caught than taught’ and this is where I first began to ‘catch’ it … the heart of worship, the heartbeat of heaven, the power of praise, the mark of intimacy, the thirst for more .. [sic] I fell in love with Jesus here.
It might seem odd to say this, in a book that aims to teach principles of worship leading, but worship – and worship leading – must be more than book learning! This book can be an enormous help, but we also need to get into situations where we personally experience Holy Spirit-led worship that brings us into the very presence of God. This may be a regular occurrence in your own local church, or it may be that you have to travel a distance to visit another church. Or it might be a conference or camp such as New Wine or Spring Harvest. It can even be over Zoom or YouTube, though it’s not as easy for most people. There is no substitute for that personal experience.
For Jeremy Riddle, Matt Redman and many other well-known worship leaders, this experience of true worship began in their childhood and youth, as they went with their families to incredible churches. But not everyone has this privilege; some have become Christians as young adults, or in later life. While we love and appreciate young worship leaders, it’s never too late if God has given you a heart for worship and you believe you may have this wonderful gift.
Whatever our background, if we want to lead others in worship, or believe God is giving us this gift to bless the Church, we should be seeking out other worshippers. Not only in the festival-type experience with thousands, but also at a local church level, and in small groups. Get with others who have a heart to worship, learn from them, share with them, be mentored by them, worship together with other like-minded and like-spirited believers, in different contexts and in different seasons. And constantly seek, like the woman with the jar of perfume in Matthew 26:7, to bring the very best of what we have and what we are, to Jesus in worship.
Even before the days of pandemic and lockdowns, YouTube was a great resource. I have used it to find many amazing praise songs and beautiful worship recordings over the years. During lockdowns, virtual church has been for many of us the only way to worship and fellowship. And I realise that for many people in countries where the Church is persecuted or harassed, access to a range of churches, conferences and other worship events, is pretty well impossible even at the best of times. So we thank God for YouTube and use it prayerfully, asking God to make it totally real to us in our hearts. But then, when possible, we need to be, as David was, delighted to get together with God’s people, joyful and glad to be in ‘the house of the Lord’ (Psalm 122:1, NASB).
Go away and spend an hour in worship, on your own before God. Two hours would be even better. Turn your phone off! Make it as open or as structured as you like. Use a little music or a lot. Study the Bible, read the Bible. Walk up and down, dance with all your might, or lie prostrate before the Lord. Open your heart to Him and ask Him to speak to you. You may find it helpful to start a worship diary, noting what you do and what the Lord is saying to you.
God isn’t seeking fans of worship. He isn’t seeking lovers of worship songs, worship leaders, worship brands, movements, stages or platforms. God is seeking WORSHIPPERS. True ones. Ones who worship Him in Spirit and in truth.