Music in the New Testament Church

13. The worship leader

Entering his gates

(Ps. 100:4 NIV) Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

This little Psalm is a valuable guide to the Ecclesia as they come together as the body of Christ. To have gladness in our hearts and a realization that we are the sheep of His pasture is a very good start for a family gathering. For this reason an opening prayer is more appropriate than music. At the very least some song that expresses the idea that He is our Father and Lord.

Prayer is also more effective in giving thanks for all His goodness to us.

Notice that praise is to sing in honour of God, a thanksgiving, a sacrifice to the Lord and is directed towards our Eternal Father with Him only in mind.

A guide to the pattern of worship is found in the Disciples Prayer. The Ecclesia is the house of prayer and as such we look to the example given for guidance by Jesus. Just as the first three parts of this prayer are directed towards God so also is our singing to be first of all, praise in honour of our Father.

Leader of worship

Remember you are not just a song leader. You are a leader in worship. The musical mechanics of a smoothly functioning song service may be important however they are only a means to an end. As a leader in worship, you yourself must be in a true spirit of worship and exalting in the Lord with your whole heart. (This does not mean getting “lost in God” and shutting your eyes!)

a. Be sensitive to the Spirit.

Spiritual sensitivity develops, as we become more aware and responsive to the Holy Spirit working in our own life. It is progressive result of spiritual growth. The leader of worship should not only be sensitive to the level of worship but also responsive to the Holy Spirit moving in the service.

b. Encourage active worship.

Encourage the people to actively worship the Lord not only by example but also with words of guidance and encouragement at appropriate times. However, be careful not to talk and exhort too much between choruses. This will hinder or break a flow of worship but a gentle word here and there can help a great deal. The worship leader is usually not the one who is to bring the message, so take care not usurp this function by “preaching” during the singing.

c. Pace the flow of Worship.

Allow the Holy Spirit to move in the midst. On most occasions an instant depth of worship is not automatic but grows during the singing and praise. When leading generally begin with brighter songs. (“I will enter His courts with thanksgiving in my heart, I will enter His courts with praise”), and then change as the Spirit guides to allow people to concentrate their hearts in a more peaceful way before God. This can facilitate the ministry of the gifts of the Spirit such as Songs of encouragement or prophecy in song etc. A word of caution – be open to starting the worship service in any manner. Noisy/happy/exuberant is not always what the Spirit is after. Be careful of HABITS! Beginning in silence and quiet sound may well be the will of the Spirit for a service. Wait on your ministry in prayer for you are the one who is to decide these things.

d. Lead to an ending.

In any worship portion of a service there will come a time when the Holy Spirit wants to move on to other ministry. Be sensitive to know when this moment arrives (practice / experience leads to perfection and greater spiritual understanding.) This end moment often leads to an active time for prophesy or it may be that this is the time to move into the next stage of the service Be careful not to go on just because “you” are caught up. What is happening to the church?

e. Keep your eyes open (literally)

You are leading the worship and need to be very aware of the people and their response. This requires a very alert reply to all that is happening in the assembly. You cannot reply to what you do not see; both literally and spiritually.

f. Be organized.

Not only should worship leaders be prepared with a list , but also have a sketch of the probable order for the service. This order is kept flexible and allowed to respond to the guidance of the Spirit during the service. Be expectant but yet conscious of what to do next so that there is no confusion or lack in leadership. Indecision as to what should come next is not necessarily a sign of spiritual sensitivity.

g. Change the physical posture of the worshippers.

Worshippers consist of a wide variety of believers. This can be a factor of age, spiritual experience, and physical well being to mention a few. As leader you are to accommodate these differences. Older people may be much more able to enter into worship if there are opportunities to sit down. Change postures and have a period of rest from standing. New converts sometimes have to be encouraged to hold up their hands before the Lord, clap, wave, or move in ways that to them seem strange. As leader part of your function is to teach worship as well as lead it. You have a shepherd function which cares about the sheep growth and welfare.

h. Be alert to the musicians.

Be in control of the music. Factors such as volume, beat from percussion, tempo all are for you to guide. (In Scripture it was the singers who lead the children of Israel into victory not the musicians).

i. Leave space for ministry.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit often seeks to move during the worship in song. Part of the task of Worship Leaders is to keep alert in the Spirit for the movement of the prophetic in the midst. Wisdom suggests that the leader create moments of silence (i.e. silence music and self sometimes) throughout the worship in song to give those who feel the prophetic moving to deliver their message without the need to shout over constant musical background. When such is being spoken let there be silence. The Word is more important than background music. Music often drowns out the message to those who have less able ears and can make it difficult for the person giving the message to present it correctly. For example, a person who has a prophetic song may not be able to present the tune they are hearing from God if the musicians keep playing

Prayer and the worship leader

It is often appropriate to lead in prayer during the worship service. When doing this speak with clear diction and sufficient volume. Music is not needed as accompaniment and if used should be very muted. Your speech must be clearly heard by all.

Leading Scriptural choruses

a. Keep Lists of Scriptural Choruses

Scriptural choruses from which the leader in worship might choose a list for each Worship Service.

i. List them by Scriptural References.

Scriptural choruses kept according to Scriptural references can be useful when the sermon subject is known in advance.

ii. List them by Theme.

Such a list allows you to quickly select a series of choruses concurrent with the theme of the Spirit in a service.

iii. List them by Key Signature.

List scriptural choruses and group according to different key signatures. This need not, however, be an entirely different list but can be key signature groupings within the above lists. For example, Scriptural choruses on the theme of “joy” or “rejoicing” which are in the key of “F” should be grouped together.

Keep Scriptural choruses in key signature groupings as much as possible during the worship service. This helps lead the singing into successive choruses with a minimum of interruption. The singing can flow in worship and better build in spiritual momentum towards a climax of worship.

b. Selection of Scriptural Choruses for Worship

The leader needs to be flexible and able to flow with the theme that God is speaking through the spiritual gifts. This requires a thorough familiarity with the list of choruses known by the congregation. The leader cannot always anticipate what area of God’s truth might be emphasized in the service, so having a variable selection of choruses ready before the service is wise preparation.

i. Choose a Variety of Tempos.

The leader in worship seeks a balance by leading in both slow and fast music. The flow of what God is saying to the people may govern the tempo of the music used in singing. If God is saying to be “joyful” in His presence, then change a faster tempo to express a joyful sound. If God is speaking in solemn warnings, then slow and more worshipful music may suit the mood more appropriately.

ii. Seek Consistent Patterns of Tempo.

Seek to maintain a consistency in tempo. If the choice switches back and forth indiscriminately between fast and slow, the atmosphere of worship becomes confused. It is difficult for a spirit of worship to build in intensity and momentum when the tempo changes too rapidly.

iii. Consider Using a Scriptural Theme.

As you wait on the Lord before a service, the Lord may lay a special theme on your heart. Scriptural choruses chosen according to the theme could be chosen. The theme needs to be flexible to follow the Spirit as He may be speaking in the service. Listen carefully to the prophetic gifts.

Leading hymns in a service

1. Be sure that you are familiar with the hymn, especially the lyrics and time signature.
2. Know how to direct the time signature of selected hymns.
3. Determine in advance what stanzas of each hymn you will sing.
4. You are the leader, not the pianist or organist. Don’t wait for the pianist to begin the singing, you begin either by song or sign.
5. Get to know some of the stories behind the best-loved hymns and their composers.
6. A brief commentary on the theme of the hymn can often be helpful if not overdone.
7. Be an inspiration to others in your singing.
8. Spiritual preparation is essential. Pray and seek guidance about the hymn and the message it contains.