Something has been stirring in my heart. There's an unsettling; a cry for more in our worship.
Over the last decade there have been many amazing songs written that have inspired the Church and drawn millions of people into a response of worship. The quality and choice of excellent worship songs has perhaps never been better. But are we missing something?
Reading Martin Smith's book "Delirious" I was struck by his comments:
"We've become too song focused, and in truth I believe that we need to be more worship focused. We've lost the ability to push aside the songs and replace them with 25 minutes of crying out, opening our hearts and heads with the raw worship of God who's within us. With Kevin (Prosch - a pioneer of spontaneity and prophetic worship in the 1990's) you never knew what was going to happen at any point in a worship session, but in church today, often 6 songs in 29 minutes, you make sure you get your 2 most popular ones in there so they get a decent boost up the CCLI charts."
I fear that for many of us in our corporate expression of worship we've allowed the song to become king! Are we more focused on getting the songs right and the arrangements sounding huge, than we are on preparing our hearts? Are we expectant in leading a time of worship because of a great new song that connects or because God is at work?
I'm desperate to see more freedom in our worship. To move beyond the songs. The songs in themselves have never been the final destination in our worship. Simply a vehicle to facilitate our worship. How amazing would it be to spend 30 minutes standing in silence in our times of worship simply because people are blown away by the majesty of God? Wouldn't it be exciting to see congregations take over the worship spending 20 minutes singing their own songs and words in response to God's mercy?
Worship is a spiritual activity. If we want to recapture more of God in our worship, more freedom and more of God's power, it will come through following the lead of the Holy Spirit. I've been thinking about how we can step out more in the spontaneous. Not for the sake of it, but simply because we're hungry for a more authentic, raw and profound encounter in worship. Here's some thoughts:
1. PRIVATE CRY: Someone once said, "worship leading is taking your private cry and making it public." How much are we spending time alone crying out to God? Singing our own songs? Offering up our messy and heartfelt cry? If we want to step out and lead in this - we've got to engage with it ourselves.
2. LEAD WITH THE END IN MIND: In the 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' Steven Covey writes about the importance in leadership to begin with the end in mind. When leading worship what are we trying to accomplish? Is it to teach great new songs? Is it to encourage people to 'feel great?' Surely it's about people being freed and released to meet and encounter Christ. To spend time in his presence. To respond with gratitude and thanksgiving. Ultimately it's about relationship - intimacy. Worship is about glorifying God and enjoying him forever.
I've observed in the way I lead worship that often I try and make each session of worship the most amazing time. Nothing wrong in that - but in doing so I came to realise that I wasn't taking risks. I was in danger of focusing so much on the present that I wasn't leading with the end in mind. I wasn't thinking about where I wanted to see the worshipping life of the church in 6 months. I was taking all the leadership and responsibility of leading of worship on myself rather than placing the responsibility on the congregation. As worship leaders we need to be training, encouraging and inspiring people in their worship. We need to release their song and cry of praise and adoration. We're not about performing, we're about encouraging participation. We don't want consumers, we want a people consumed with God! In releasing this, let's not be afraid of mess and a few mistakes. It's part of the journey. It's part of relationship.
3. RADICAL FRINGE: This isn't about a haircut - but it's great to find places to step out in spontaneous, free flowing worship. Whether it's a group of mates, a prayer meeting or creative worship night. We're currently trying to put a few dates in the diary where the agenda is simply to meet with God and to step out. There's no pressure of leading a congregation. It's relaxed and a safe place to experiment and grow in this stuff.
God is up to something. I believe there's a real need for worship leaders to seek more of God's Sprit and lead in our worship. Never at the expense of content and sound theology, but surely there is a place where we move beyond the songs and find ourselves overwhelmed and undone.
P.S. Do grab a copy of Martin Smith's new book - a great and fascinating read. "Delirious - My journey with the band, a growing family and an army of history makers."
AUTHOR PROFILE : Tim Hughes is a British worship leader and singer-songwriter. He is currently Director of Worship at Holy Trinity Brompton, an Anglican church in central London, and heads up Worship Central, an international worship training and resource centre.