I have had the privilege of leading worship as a volunteer and a church staff member for almost 12 years now. I love and am so grateful for these opportunities, but, like all things in life, we have days or seasons where we get stuck in the mundane and question if what we are doing is right and the best way to accomplish a goal.
I recently left a season of four months without leading worship with a guitar or keys in my hand. This season was good as it reminded me that my identity is not found in what I do or create (we need this reminder constantly). During this time I began to ask God to refocus my view and understanding of worship and how it plays into the life of the church.
Let me first say that worship is so much more and no less than songs on a Sunday. But for this blog post, we are working under the banner of a Sunday worship gathering.
During this season, God brought me to a couple of pivotal moments in my development and understanding of worship that I believe are of the utmost importance for us to comprehend before we ever step foot on a stage.
One Tuesday morning I was spending time praying and thinking through the set list, preparing the different elements for our upcoming Sunday worship gathering. That particular week had been really hard for me as I became painfully aware and confronted with the brokenness and hurt of the world. In my community alone people were fighting through depression, suicidal thoughts, broken marriages, cancer, and financial problems. I began to wonder if we are wasting our time on Sunday mornings. Do we really need another Sunday gathering, or would it be of greater value for us to go and tangibly be the church on Sunday mornings?
As I opened my Bible, God—in His perfect plan and timing—answered my questions.
You see, music and song have always played a significant role in the life of the church. Singing in response to God’s character and work is nothing new. All throughout Scripture we see people praising God through song. We also see God’s people singing songs to remind and point their hearts to what is true of God and, in turn, what is true of them as the people of God.
Pastor John Piper said, “Worship is the goal and fuel of missions: missions exist because worship doesn’t.” I remember reading this statement for the first time and processing what this means for us as the church. At the time, I was reading through Mark 14 and Matthew 26. I believe God taught me something so foundational to my faith while reading that day.
For the first time, I began to see the great significance and connection between worship and mission. Let me set the stage for you. We have Jesus with His disciples sharing their last moments together before He embarks on the hardest and most important mission the world will ever know—taking the sins of the world upon His shoulders on the cross. And what do they do? They worship.
He gathers with His community of disciples to spend time in prayer and thanksgiving, take communion, teach, and then sing a hymn together. If the Savior of the world saw it most appropriate to spend His last moments before His journey to the cross fueled by worship, how much more do we, as fallible, broken, and fickle humans, need corporate worship? Worship is so much more than singing and it is no less.
Worship music is portable and sung theology. As we gather corporately to worship through song, we declare the marvelous works and character of our great King. The songs that we sing are fuel and reminders for us as we seek to live in obedience and on mission to make disciples of all nations. Every time I lead worship through song in a corporate setting, not only do I have the privilege of pointing people to Jesus by reminding them of gospel truths, but also the opportunity to remind my forgetful heart of who God is and who I am in Christ.
Pastor John Piper, who has had a very significant impact on my life and ministry, once told a story that gives legs to the incredible and weighty purpose of worship music in the life of a believer.
I heard him speak at a missions conference where he told the story of the brother of two of the 21 Egyptian Christians beheaded in Libya in 2015 (conference video here). The brother thanked ISIS for leaving an audio recording of their final breaths in a video. My first thought was how morbid it sounded. Why would he ever want to hear that? But then I realized, up until their final breath, they were praying and singing in worship to God.
How powerful is that? These men were fueled by worship to declare the marvelous, saving power of our great King Jesus unto their final breath.
Worship leader, your role is of the utmost importance! You have the opportunity and privilege to put the truths of the gospel on the mouths of the people of God through song, Scripture, and prayer. Our prayer should be that these truths would penetrate our hearts and move us to give our lives daily to the mission of God to save the world by the power of the gospel.