This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is joshua-watts.jpg

Hey, friends! It’s been a minute or two since I wrote specifically about leading worship, and I’ve been itching to roll up my sleeves again and share what’s been churning in my spirit.

In 1 Samuel 16, we find a familiar, albeit strange, episode. God’s Spirit and acceptance had departed from King Saul, and a demon took up residence instead. While it’s not recorded what exactly was happening, King Saul was apparently thrust into troubling, demonic fits on multiple occasions.

One of his advisors suggested, “Why don’t we find someone who can play the harp? When the evil spirit begins to torment you again, O King, we can have him play, and you may feel better” (see verse 16). Then someone piped up, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him” (verse 18). So young David was summoned. And “whenever the evil spirit came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (verse 23, emphasis mine).

Ask any musician anywhere, whether a musician for the church or stadiums or pubs or open mic nights, and he will tell you that music has a profound influence on a person’s emotions. I mean, just start playing the heartrending piano lead-in to “Someone Like You” by Adele, and most of the earth is fighting back tears before the vocals even begin. But here, nestled in this ancient story, we see that young David had a special anointing to do more than tug on a listener’s heart strings.

David was anointed to shift the spiritual atmosphere.

He was anointed to bring songs of worship that would quite literally chase away demonic spirits.

Now, certainly the king’s court had access to the most talented musicians available, but it wasn’t skill, talent, or musical competency that would adjust the spiritual climate of the room. They rightly identified that they needed someone whom the Lord was uniquely with.

And the same is true for us worship leaders today, thousands of years later. I long to be the sort of worship leader, and to train up the sort of worship leaders, who are simply anointed to shift the spiritual atmosphere! To drive out darkness! To usher in the mighty Presence of the Holy Spirit! To make plenty of “space” for God to demonstrate His glory! To make worshipers of Jesus! One of the deep longings of my heart, part of the vision I have for the worship ministry at our church, is that I want God’s hand to be on us in a unique way to shift the spiritual climate of the room.

I’ll bet you want the same thing.

So how do we arrive there? How do we lead worship in such a way that we shift the atmosphere? Well, I believe there’s a few realizations we must come to, and a few applications we must make.

You have been ‘summoned’ by the King.

Perhaps “summoned” feels like too dramatic a word. Maybe you are the only one in your church who can strum a guitar, so you were thrust into the position of worship leader. Well, it actually doesn’t matter to me how you arrived in your role; the Word of God teaches us that God strategically positions people into places of authority (Romans 13:1). You have been divinely set up—summoned indeed! You have been called! There’s a certain confidence that comes with knowing God believes in you enough to trust you with such an incredible opportunity. And I think this goes for the entire worship ministry, not just the leader.

Leading worship is ultimately spiritual.

Remember that David was not summoned because he was the hottest harpist in all the land. He was summoned to operate toward a spiritual goal—merely using his harp as a vehicle of sorts—specifically to drive out the demon plaguing Saul. Similarly, worship leader, our purpose is not mere entertainment value, nor is it to make some Christian pop band out of our church volunteers. It may be tempting to flatten what we do down to mere music-making: nailing the harmonies, throwing in a well-timed key change, stringing together songs that are thematically similar… but to focus only on music itself is to miss the point, and unfortunately, to fail the grand call of God. We have been summoned for a spiritual cause: to connect people to the heart of Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. Keep perspective!

Seek God’s anointing.

I define “anointed” as this: appointed for special use, uniquely blessed by God to accomplish an assignment. Throughout Scripture we find that mental strength, supernatural ability, prophetic insight, and divine protection followed those who were anointed. For this piece it feels appropriate to use David as our example again here: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed [David] in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David” (1 Samuel 16:13, emphasis mine). Oh, friends! With our hearts on bended knee, let us cry out for God’s anointing! His fresh anointing! Jesus! For the sake of Your own glory, let Your anointing drip down over our heads like oil, continually!

Put on your spiritual authority.

Has this ever happened to you? You were praying for a specific breakthrough for someone yet nothing seemed to be happening… when all of a sudden, a “veteran of the faith” came alongside and began to pray, and—boom!—breakthrough. That person has what I like to call spiritual authority. He knows how to keep in step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25), how to access the supernatural realm, and how to take command over foul spirits. Spiritual authority is what separates the men from the boys, if you will. Now, you may not feel that you have any authority in the supernatural at all. But just start where you are. Spiritual authority begins and ends with being a deeply rooted disciple of Jesus. There are no shortcuts. Be filled again and again with the Spirit, and don’t shy away from situations where faith for miracles is your only option. Let us not be mousey, timid second-guessers. Let us be spiritual giants, in Jesus’ name! Just imagine a worship team that is filled with spiritual authority proclaiming the light and hope of the Gospel every week—talk about a shift in the spiritual atmosphere!

Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.

It may be tempting to walk into a room where discouragement and apathy rule, and shrink back in intimidation. Hear me, as worship leaders we can’t afford to merely mirror the room we are leading. If we do, then we’re not actually the ones leading, right? Instead, as we partner with the Holy Spirit, let’s take the platform with a heart full of laughter, an imagination full of expectancy, and a spirit full of courage! It’s a beautiful thing to be able to call people up to a new “temperature!” And this may be the most practical of all my points thus far. Joy is purely contagious! Hope is contagious, too! Determine in your core to lead with enthusiasm and faith, and—mark my words—people will gladly catch up to you! Oh, yes! You’ll be shifting the atmosphere in no time.

Amen! So be it, worship leaders! Let me leave you with Psalm 35:18 by—yes—David, as a sort of poetic reminder, which soars, “I will praise You wherever I go. And when everyone gathers for worship, I will lift up Your praise with a shout!”