The Worship Leader's Role
I would like to believe that as a worship leader, my job is about more than just singing trendy Christian music on a Sunday morning and evening. There is more to what we do than just picking two fast and two slow songs and making sure the harmonies complement the music well.
I say this because being a musician in church is something that is very personal to me and I’ve often had to think about what my purpose and responsibility is in the church. I’ve therefore decided to spend some time talking about a few things that I think as worship leaders, we need to be focused on getting right every single time we are leading people in song.
One of our biggest responsibilities, I believe, is to display the Lord Jesus through the leading of the Holy Spirit and point people towards Him; much like a preacher does with his sermon: he may use slideshows, videos or just speak plainly from the heart but at the end of the day, he encourages you to follow The Way. The only difference between us and them, is that we use music as the method of communication both with the congregation and with God.
We need to remember that music is a means to an end. It is a tool that can very easily be used for manipulation. The choice of instrument, sound effect and chord progression can rouse various kinds of emotions in people.
Let me give an example: For those of you who have watched the movie Interstellar, there is a scene where the space explorers land on a new planet and Matt Damon’s character is introduced. As he shows the planet he’s discovered to the newly arrived explorers, watching this, I began to dislike the man. Trying not to make noise in the movie theatre, I whispered into Samuel’s ear “I don’t trust this guy”. “Me too.” He whispered back almost immediately.
Without too much of a spoiler, we found out that he was indeed the type of guy not be trusted.
Months later, I watched the movie again at home and I realized how much of an impact the music has at that specific scene. Even though the characters were doing what seemed normal under the circumstances, the violins playing in the higher register create tension for the listener. Furthermore, the unresolved melodic sequence leaves the viewer with an uneasy or nervous-like feeling. It’s almost like the music asks a question with increasing urgency, but the melody and harmonic progression don’t allow for it to be answered. As the viewer you find yourself sitting at the edge of your seat, knowing that something bad is going to happen, only because the music is telling you so. You can go on to iTunes and listen to the music here composed by the ridiculously talented Hans Zimmer.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t have sound effects, pads or strings when we’re leading music in church. I love pads (or as a good friend of mine like to call them – mist 😊) and I use them often. What I am trying to say is that as leaders we need to be careful not to manipulate the congregation with subtle musical elements like minor chords and gentle guitar picking.
There is a time and a place for everything. If you know the Holy Spirit is leading you to do it, then do it with all your might. But like I mentioned earlier, our job is not too far removed from that of a preacher, and Paul writes in the book of 1 Corinthians 2, from verse 1 to 5, that sometimes speaking plainly is better than trying to persuade people with eloquent words (or in our case eloquent music). Granted, there are mature folks in church who may not be swayed by our advanced playing or sound effects, but there are young people in the church who can easily be lead to thinking: “when I feel, then God is present.
I think our job is about helping people focus.
If there were no pads or strings or ‘intimate’ acoustic moments in our Sunday music song list, would we still be able help people focus on the Jesus whom the Bible says, “had no form of majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” (Isa 53:2) Sometimes Jesus looks unspectacular. He doesn’t always come on a white horse with eyes like fire. Sometimes He comes known as a carpenter’s son riding on a donkey with no apparent beauty, but even in those cases His Glory is revealed. How He wants to reveal Himself tomorrow may be different from how he wanted to reveal Himself yesterday. This is why it’s so important for us to discern not only what He saying to us today, but how He is saying it.
I think we have one of the hardest jobs in the Church ministry, because our job is to use music to make people understand that it’s not about the music.
We cannot make people worship. We can influence them. We can encourage them in song. We can tell them there is Someone who loves and is jealous for them, but the job of convicting and revealing the lordship of Jesus, belongs to the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 12:3)
Ask God for wisdom on how to lead your team and your congregation. Maybe there will be a season of constant ‘mist’, or maybe there will be a season of stripping down for the sake of re-aligning yourself and your church.
Regardless of what we have or don’t have, we need to point people to Jesus because He, not us, is the One who connects people to the Father.