This past weekend, I had the privilege, along with 9 others from our worship ministry, to attend the Leadworship Workshop in Minneapolis, led by Paul Baloche and his band, along with Jared Anderson. It was a wonderful time of refreshment, training, refocusing and encouragement for our whole team! I plan to post a few different entries here with thoughts from the conference, but what probably had the biggest impact on me was the session on worship leading with Paul Baloche.
One of the main lessons that came through in this session was that we can’t lead others into something that we’re not practicing ourselves. This simple thought has so many implications. Our ministry to others really begins with our ministry to the Lord. Paul started by bringing 1 Chronicles 25:6-7 to our attention, which describes those who were leading the singing in the house of the Lord as being “trained and skilled in music for the Lord”. He encouraged us to truly work at being trained and skilled on our instrument, challenging us to set aside 20 minutes a day to practice our primary instrument, with a metronome. Also, he challenged us to learn and memorize the top 20 songs of your church, so they are at your disposal. That way, if you’re in the middle of leading a set and the thought comes to you that you would like to do a song, you’re not stuck if the music is back in your office!
In addition to the practical musical training, we also need to work at developing our ministry “for the Lord”. Paul described our role as a worship leader as focusing on three areas – the priestly, prophetic and pastoral. In 1 Chronicles 16:4, those who were charged with leading the music were given a job description – to “extol, thank and praise the Lord” in His presence before the ark of the Lord. Our role begins as priestly, offering praises to the Lord. As important as this is, it’s probably our most neglected. But, if we don’t minister to the Lord in private, it will feel fake when we try to do it in public.
To build up our comfort level, and familiarity with ministering to the Lord, Paul recommended spending a focused time with the Lord on a regular basis. Worship works best when Sunday morning is just doing publicly what we’ve been doing privately on our own. I’ve heard this before, but I guess it just hit home when I could see Paul’s heartfelt desire for each of us there to really put this into practice. He was so passionate in his desire for us to understand how important it is to take the time to do this. He described how he goes into the sanctuary alone, when no one else is around armed with a list of familiar songs in similar keys and the Psalms. He just starts to sing out songs to Him in prayer, praying the lyrics of the songs, and singing through the Psalms, just making up melodies as he goes. It’s a time to forget about yourself, your ego, and just be yourself, singing and speaking your prayers to Him. As we do that, little melodies will come, we’ll be getting the Word of God in our heads, and get comfortable playing, singing and speaking at the same time. Sometimes, he said, we’ll sense His presence as we do this, and sometime it may feel mechanical. That doesn’t matter, though; just the act of showing up speaks to Him. Then, as we continue to do this from week to week, pretty soon on a Sunday morning, things start popping out of our mouth, and we wonder – where did that come from!? Phrases we say in our private worship, phrases from the Psalms, the cries of our heart, will flow freely from our hearts and out of our mouths. If we put these things into our hearts, the Holy Spirit can pull it out. He challenged each of us to make an appointment with the Lord, and to start doing this on a regular basis.
Along with our priestly role of ministering to the Lord, we also have a pastoral role of ministering to those around us. God wants us to be people who love His people first, then use music as a tool to accomplish that. We’re there as pastors with instruments in our hands. Everything we do should go through this pastoral filter – “Will this help other people worship?” Our goal is to help them worship, not show off our own skills. Do you have a love for the people in your church? Not just those in the worship ministry, but the ones you look out at on a Sunday morning from the stage? As we spend time with the Lord, we need to pray for God to give us a heart for those who we serve, to break our hearts for what breaks His. In our private times with Him, as we pray and sing to the Lord, we’re also praying for God to break our hearts for the people we are leading in worship. Picture the people who sit on the right in the 3rd row, the teenager in back with his arms crossed, the couple going through marriage problems. Then, as we do this week to week, God will honor that, and over time it will look the same on the outside, but everything is different. We see people differently; we see them as people who need the Lord, not just the people who complain about the music being too loud, or the songs we choose.
This was a challenging reminder to make sure we are spending the time needed for the Lord to build up in us the tools we need to be effective in what He’s called us to do. “We need to bake the cake before we add the frosting.” In other words, the songs are the frosting. Our ministry can’t be all about the frosting. For one thing, it tastes good at first, but then if that’s all you eat, it gets kind of sickening! We bake the cake when we spend time with the Lord. That’s when we get grounded and filled up with what really matters. Once that is solid, then we’re ready to add all the good, tasty frosting (chocolate, please!) as we learn new songs, practice, prepare and lead from week to week.