The Fragrance of Worship

A fellow worship leader shared a brief and pointed blog article on various expectations of praise team members and it caused me to consider our roles and responsibilities in corporate worship – always a fruitful exercise.

I’ve been a church musician since I was thirteen. Playing worship music and learning the guitar has paralleled my personal spiritual growth and I have a hard time conceptualizing my relationship with Jesus – specifically the things I’ve shared from my heart to Him – without music as the vehicle of our conversations.

But being a musician has it’s snares.

Worship music, I’ve always believed, plays on two of our worst demons; insecurity and vanity.

Vanity:  Well, that one is a bit obvious and I’m sure I’ll write future posts on the subject. In the meantime, praise team members everywhere, please stop wearing leather pants when leading worship.

Insecurity: As musicians, we’re constantly looking for affirmation. I shudder to think how much damage I might have done over the years when after leading people in worship, I walk off the stage and find that one person that I almost immediately badger with the question, “did I sound any good up there?” As if that was my chief concern while playing and singing! I often think of Job 9:20, where this righteous and afflicted man says, “Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.” I understand this text to be Job saying that even if he had absolutely every right to stand before God and cry foul, the moment he opened his mouth it would be in prideful arrogance toward a holy God and he would be proven perverse the moment he opened his lips. Like Job, my lips betrayed my heart. I wish to repent and apologize to every person that I cornered after playing a worship set to ask for my own selfish affirmation. It really was not my heart while leading worship.

Yet, it’s just too natural for musicians to look out at the crowd for affirmation. Are they smiling? Are they clapping? Is this painful for them to even listen to? Is anyone out there worshiping?!

As praise team members, we must remember that the expression – or lack of expression – on the outside doesn’t equate to what is going on in a person’s heart. Leading worship is not playing a gig. Worship leaders, teach your praise teams that we do not play music to an audience, but we play music FOR a congregation. Corporate worship is a journey together, and as God works in the life of a group of Believers, our worship gatherings do evolve and the way worshipers outwardly express themselves evolves. This journey involves intentional worship leading and Biblically pointed teaching.

At the last Encounter, I preached on the transformation in Mary, Lazarus’ sister, we read about in John 12. As passionately as I could, I made the case for the way in which her life was transformed by the knowledge of Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life. She was wrought with grief at the death of her brother and Jesus delivered her from the emotional pain. Death – truly – no longer had any sting for her. From this inner work of faith, Mary’s posture before Jesus evolves and she now sacrifices at the altar of her praise (how incredibly amazing that alter was the physical feet of Jesus) bringing the most costly of oils to anoint Jesus’ feet. And she did it in such a way that the entire house was filled with the fragrance of her worship. At this point, I charged the congregation to let that be the way in which we worship at Encounter, on Sunday mornings and every time we gather for corporate worship. Let your worship be a fragrance that fills the whole house!

This next Encounter is going to have an extended time of Communion and I’m going to challenge people not to take the elements until they are absolutely ready; even if that’s two or three songs deep.

Back to the music.

As a worship leader, I think we also have to be very intentional in the way we facilitate this atmosphere. We should be well rehearsed, sure, because we never want our playing to be a distraction if we can help it. But once out on stage, all that fades away and we need to be winsome and engaging, sometimes humorous but always authentic.  We also need to let that lead into a time of seriousness in worship where people know and feel the freedom to engage the Holy Spirit. For me, musically speaking, I’ve always interpreted that to mean I never let the music stop. I don’t rehearse official endings or beginnings to songs – other than the opening song. Rather, I try to teach the band to fade in and out and let the music flow and follow the guitar or the piano. I’ve always felt that the stopping of one song and starting of another can be jarring for a person who is, perhaps on that last chorus of that last song finally pouring out their soul in repentance. But that’s me, and my style.

Regardless, we need to be aware that music does beckon people into a place where they can personally encounter the Holy Spirit. Purposely so! So let’s be sensitive to the sacredness of that time and space. People are individually pouring out their hearts to Jesus, and corporately that means the Holy Spirit is present, because as Jesus told us, “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” (Matthew 18:20)