One Sunday I remember standing in front of our church family singing a song full of faith and joy, and as my eyes scanned the room I locked onto the face of a woman who just that week had lost her son and his wife in tragic circumstances. Here I was singing God’s praises and encouraging people to celebrate and remind each other of our victory in Christ and here was this grieving mother, having taken all her emotional and physical effort just to be in Church, standing in the front row with tears streaming down her face. For a second I felt like the most insensitive person on the planet. But here’s the thing: she was worshiping God. Probably more desperately than anyone else in the room that day…
I finally understood in that moment that worship leading is pastoring. For every soul represented in the room, there is a story. A story of victory or struggle, grief or joy, pain or healing. Someone in the room is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Another person might feel like they’re on top of a mountain basking in the intimate presence of God. Someone in the room has been walking with Jesus all their Spirit-filled life, another is spiritually dry and another is spiritually dead – probably dragged along to church by their Grandmother because its ‘the only thing she wants for her birthday this year.’
It’s in that intersection of lives, which we call a ‘church service’ that each of these individual stories collide with the ultimate story. God’s story. We as Worship Leaders have the responsibility of shepherding each of those stories in Spirit and in Truth – even if we can’t comprehend what those stories may be.
Declare Truth regardless of circumstance.
It seems like an impossible task. Well it did to me at least. But there is a way. I will often tell our Worship Leaders that we need to be choosing songs in the context of corporate worship that allow people to declare God’s truth regardless of what their story might be.
Ask yourself: “is this true for someone on a mountaintop as well as for someone in the valley?”
Now, there is one topic that fits this criteria perfectly – Jesus! Songs that focus on the unchanging nature and character of God are always true. Songs that tell the story of who Christ is and who we are in Him are always true. Songs that acknowledge the sinner’s brokenness before a Holy God and a believer’s righteousness found in and through Jesus are always true.
On the other hand, songs which suggest things like “I can’t get enough of you Lord,” “There’s nothing I want more,” or “You make me feel so awesome,” may be alienating for a bunch of people in the corporate context. The songs may no be bad, they just may not be true for everyone – in which case we’ve disqualified a large portion of our congregation from doing the one thing we’re asking them to do – worship God!
Songs that focus on the character and nature of God however can redirect both the sun-soaked and tear-drenched gazes of our congregations and recalibrate our attention and affections toward Him… ‘and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his Glory and Grace.’
Going back to that Sunday morning, we happened to be singing these words:
“Oh Your grace so free
Washes over me
You have made us new
Now life begins with you…
We’re free! Free!
Forever we’re free!
Come join the song of all the redeemed!”
Less than a month earlier we’d witnessed a couple get baptised just weeks after making a decision to follow Jesus. It was only a matter of days after that they went to be with their Saviour. Their Mum, even in her deepest sorrow was able to hang on to the words of that song and praise God for the hope those words were declaring.
It’s a privilege and honour, yet profound responsibility to lead the Church in the Worship of God.
Let me encourage you to consider carefully the words you ask your congregation to sing. You just don’t know the stories that might be represented in the room.