Reflection #2 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number two in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, they vary in significance, and I welcome discussion re: any of them.

Reflection #2: I appreciate worship leaders who “connect the dots” for me.

If I have one prevailing takeaway impression from almost two years’ worth of visiting churches where current and former Judson University Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts students serve in worship ministry, it’s this: Oh, my goodness; they have so much more to offer!  They are really good at what they do.  Pastors, worship committees, congregations: please encourage them to spread their wings and fly.

CWPA Demoss Stacked FC Logo PRINTI am, of course, biased.  My JU colleagues and I worked long and hard 20 years ago coming up with a worship arts curriculum that wasn’t just a music-performance degree with one or two worship-related courses sprinkled on top.  We offer unique courses like Speaking the Faith (a communication-arts approach to the non-musical skills required of worship leaders) and Worship and the Arts (a theology of all the arts, not just music, that combines theory and practice), and we make our students pursuing a Praise and Worship Music minor take a class called The History of Rock and Roll: The Medium and Its Message, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has attended a church utilizing contemporary worship music.

Hence, our students (and Judson is not alone here, of course) leave after four years truly equipped to lead worship, not just perform worship music.  Why, then, do so many churches seem perfectly content with song leaders instead of worship leaders?

RoryDr. Rory Noland wrote a beautiful article on this subject in Worship Leader magazine recently.  I encourage you to read the whole article here (“How to Teach without Being ‘Teachy'”; page 8)–as it fleshes out my suggestions, below–but let the introduction whet your appetite:

A few years ago, I was with my son and his family at Disney World and we took our granddaughters on one of the safari rides.  At one point, our tour guide stopped the train and pointed out a rhinoceros off in the distance. . . . One might assume the tour guide’s efforts were unnecessary.  After all, how could anyone miss a rhinoceros standing in front of them?  However, this formidable creature . . . was a rare and shy breed, whose color blended in perfectly with the surrounding rocks.  If no one had shined a spotlight on what was already there, we tourists would have completely missed this amazing animal.

Noland goes on to say, “Worship leaders are like tour guides.”  Exactly.  Most of us would demand a refund if we took a tour with a guide who never spoke, and yet many Christians every weekend sit under worship leaders who rarely open their mouths other than to sing.  Yes, occasionally the songs speak for themselves, but more often than not a brief, thoughtful comment can enrich the corporate experience for everyone.  Extending Noland’s safari-guide metaphor, here are some suggestions to help song leaders become worship leaders.

untitledPoint out interesting sights along the way that might not be obvious to all of us.  The time when we could assume a basic biblical literacy in our congregations is long gone.  Even concepts that seem painfully apparent to you might benefit from attention.  For example, if you’re singing “This Is Amazing Grace,” consider taking a moment to give a basic definition of grace, reading a brief excerpt from either of Philip Yancey’s books on the subject, or quoting (and briefly explaining) 2 Cor. 12:7b-10.  As a worship tour guide, don’t assume the congregation will necessarily know what to look for–or even how to recognize it when they see it.

Explain why you are choosing this particular experience for us.  As a worshiper endeavoring to love the Lord my God with all my mind, I benefit from knowing why you chose to put this particular song–of the countless available songs–on my lips.  What line in the song is particularly significant, theologically speaking?  Which phrase stands out as being especially beautiful in its imagery of God?  And, especially, how does the song you’ve decided to have us sing inform the song we just sang? or the song we are about to sing? or elements of the pastor’s sermon? or anything?  As you guide your worship safari, go the next step to let the congregation know why what you point out is significant, a process I like to call “connecting the dots” in worship.

Speak with authority as one who is trained for the job.  The vast majority of worship leaders have had at least some basic training in worship, and some worship leaders, of course, have prepared in college and graduate school.  Even if the extent of your training is a weekend conference, that’s more training than most members of your congregation have.  So be bold.  The best safaris are led by confident tour guides who believe they have something to offer.

Shepherds of our Lord’s Church: I encourage you to unleash your worship leaders to be all that God has called them to be.  Worship leaders, study to show yourself approved (2 Tim. 2:15) and then go out and lead worship, not just singing.  The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Worship teams and diversity.

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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