I consider myself open-minded about worship. My tastes in music are eclectic, so I love everything from Hillsong choruses and black gospel anthems to classic hymns and Spanish worship artists Marco Barrientos and Jesús Romero. My playlist even includes Native American, Nigerian and Iranian worship.
I love any music that stirs my soul and points me to heaven, so worshipping the Lord with other believers is one of my favorite pastimes. But there are a few things I’d like to say to worship leaders. Please don’t take these comments as criticism but as encouragement from a brother who has “seen it all” when it comes to the Sunday morning drill.
“In poor countries where people struggle from hand to mouth each week, praise is so energetic that the congregation quickly moves into the aisles to dance. Yet here in the United States our worship is often stiff and way too sophisticated.”
1. Give us something to shout about! In most countries I visit, worship is an exhilarating workout. In poor countries where people struggle from hand to mouth each week, praise is so energetic that the congregation quickly moves into the aisles to dance. Yet here in the United States our worship is often stiff and way too sophisticated. What we lack in genuine zeal we substitute with technology, orchestration and hype. It’s a pitiful tradeoff.
Worship leaders must stoke the fires of spiritual passion. Don’t let the people’s hearts remain cold or stale. Exhort them to go higher. Say like the psalmist, “Praise the Lord! …Let the sons of Zion rejoice in their king. Let them praise His name with dancing. …Let the godly ones exult in glory. …Let the high praises of God be in their mouth” (Ps. 149:1-3,5,6) NASB.
2. Please give us content. Most of us packed away our hymnals 30 years ago and discovered the liberty of free-style choruses. Yet I get tired of singing the same phrase over and over—especially if that phrase has questionable theology. And we are cheating people if half of a song consists of lines like “Ooh, Ooh, Ooh!” or “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”
There’s a reason “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” is a classic. Its words inspire deep worship in a way that simpler songs can’t. The best solution is to mix up the playlist with both new and old songs—as well as old songs with new arrangements. If we only sing today’s trendy Top 40 we will forget where we came from.
Some worship leaders shift into extended periods of spontaneous worship. That’s great until you look around and realize that the congregation is sitting down while the worship leader has his eyes closed—oblivious to the fact that most people got lost 10 minutes ago. That’s not corporate worship. That’s a stage show.
4. Don’t run a song into the ground. Maybe this is just a pet peeve of mine: When a worship leader announces, “Let’s sing it one more time!” and then proceeds to sing a chorus again and again and again and again (and again and again), this is a form of lying. This happens especially with certain choruses that are like broken records—they never resolve.
If a song is so repetitive that it’s annoying, or if you can’t figure out when to stop it, just retire it. No one will ask why you don’t sing it anymore.
5. Please don’t burst my eardrums. I have a high tolerance for noise and I love rhythm. But I have been in churches where the music was so loud that my head rattled for the rest of the day. God can open deaf ears, but I don’t think we should manufacture the deafness. Have mercy on us. God doesn’t want us to drown out the sound of the people’s voices with bass guitars and subwoofers.
6. Show us the lyrics. Memo to the technical crew: We don’t have hymnals, and we don’t know the words by heart. Please don’t wait until we have sung the second verse of the song to put those words on the screen. (It would also be a good idea to have someone proofread the song lyrics. I was in a church where we were supposed to sing “Praise Him for His mighty acts,” but the Power Point slide said, “Praise Him for His mighty axe.”)
7. Honor the Word. There is nothing ruder than a worship leader who walks off the stage after the last chorus and then disappears to a side room to eat donuts. When the praise team vanishes from the church and never comes back, it sends a message to the congregation that these people don’t need to listen to the sermon. Not! Worship does not end with the last song; the last song sets the stage for the next act of worship.
I’m not a worship leader, and you wouldn’t want to hear me on a keyboard. But I believe we would honor God if we applied these principles to our praise.