Monday, November 11, 2013

Worship as an exercise in Trust

Often when I'm giving instruction to new worship leaders I talk about trust as a central aspect of worship leading. Trust is a key to creating an atmosphere where others can also worship.

The reason trust is so important is that worship is an incredibly intimate expression of our faith. When we are able to freely worship we are better able to encounter and be encountered by God. Not that God isn't always present, but there is something profound that can happen in a safe worship atmosphere. Not the least of which is a softening of our hearts towards all God has for us.

How do we foster an atmosphere of trust for our worshiping community? 

One aspect that is often overlooked is that of familiarity. A worship leader has an opportunity to craft something amazing from elements that resonate deeply in a community. In some of our settings an ancient future vibe is powerful, simply because it resonates deeply with those who have Catholic and Anglican roots. Those same elements can be alarming to those who have no such background. That doesn't mean a worship leader can't use those elements, but they need to surround new things with those things that are familiar. This gives the worshiper a point of entry into the experience. It lets them feel included and even valued.

One way we've made ancient elements accessible to those without a traditional background is to surround them in familiar music. In fact I encourage a worship leader to develop a list of solid standards and standbys. When God is leading us to linger in worship it is those standards that let the congregation continue with very little effort on the part of those leading. And those moments are often some of the best.

Another way of understanding trust is in the song choices themselves. Some of our worship leaders love new songs. And you might think, who doesn't. But the problem with too many new songs is that it leaves some feeling lost in the service. Worship in corporate settings is meant to include, welcome and invite our participation. Not put up barriers to that participation. So limiting the number of new songs, and ensuring that they get good rotation when the congregation is learning them makes sense.

The other aspect of worship songs and trust that I've felt more as I've matured in my theological understanding is what actually are the words we are singing. I am probably not alone in raising the odd eyebrow at some of the lyrics we sing. I've even taken to not singing songs I can't completely mean, or even adjusting them slightly so that they are more sound. A good worship leader should minimize this. I remember when I was a young worship leader in a Pentecostal church in Mississauga. A very popular song at that time went, "Jesus, we entrone you..." I introduced that to our group and many already knew it so it went well. But the pastor actually asked me to remove it from the rotation. At the time I was frustrated. But he explained the theological problem - we don't enthrone God, we acknowledge God as King. It's a funny thing, but what we sing is actually important. The words shape our beliefs, and they should reflect our beliefs accurately as well.

So I'm interested in what ways you have shaped worship leading in your contexts so that it is more accessible and richer for your communities. Please share some stories with us.

May your love and devotion for God ever grow, and your worship be sweet.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa


  1. A good word Frank! I try to incorporate a flow that leads to a personal response to God. Knowing that most times people are not ready to jump into the deep at the start. Sometimes I will use the familiar, but long forgotten, old hymns that have a lot of substance but presented in a slightly musical style. I think just how the leader is helps. Be relaxed, conversational and engage the people. I want to lead and get out of the way so the conversation with God can continue.

  2. Thanks Jeff. Finding the right entrance ways for your people is a great approach. I think recognizing that not everyone is ready to jump into the deep is a great reminder for young worship leaders who might get discouraged when things aren't seeming to flow. There have been many times when I've felt I was failing and someone will come up after to tell me how a certain song really touched them and drew them into worship.