Leading Worship: A “Place” We’re Familiar With

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Hey, worship leaders!

I moved into Johnstown, PA, in 2014—almost seven years ago. Wild! I don’t know if you’ve ever made a major move in your life before, but it takes quite a bit of energy! I’ve moved from Daleville, Alabama, to Springfield, Missouri, to Seattle, Washington, and now to Johnstown, so I’ve gotten pretty good at moving. I’ve learned to live “light” and not cling to material possessions, and I’ve also learned to not be too terribly choosy about neighborhoods and locations. I mean, if the doors lock and I have a warm bed, I can get by.

Now, in all that moving, you’d think I’d be pretty good with directions.

I’m not.

I have a pretty good sense of direction when I am indoors, like in a grocery store or a concert hall, but generally when I am outdoors, I am geographically challenged. Sometimes I will surprise myself, but if I’m not painstakingly careful, I usually end up lost.

So when I first moved to Johnstown, I relied heavily on Google Maps to get me to and from Aldi’s, the mall, and local haunts. (Thank You, Jesus, for Google Maps.) Well, after a couple weeks, I decided to brave the great outdoors and venture to Walmart without following directions on my smartphone. Walmart was about 10 minutes from where I lived at the time, and a somewhat straight shot. Guess what happened? I ended up in a city called Ebensburg, which is nearly a half hour away and in the opposite direction!

Good gravy.

I’m thrilled to report now that I know how to make my way to Walmart, thankyouverymuch! And without the aid of my phone!

It finally came after making the trip over and over again. And now I have memorized where Walmart is, to the point that I can picture how to get there from anywhere in Johnstown. If someone asked me six years ago for help on how to get there, I would be utterly useless. I would have nothing substantial to offer. But now because I have made the trip successfully countless times, I can easily help navigate a first-timer there.

Leading worship is similar.

A major part of our responsibility as worship leaders is to guide people’s hearts and minds to Jesus. Of course this happens in a bevy of ways which may differ context to context, but remember, we have not been anointed by God to lead songs—we have been anointed to lead people.

Friends, we cannot lead people into the Presence of Jesus if we ourselves are unfamiliar with how to get there. We can’t take someone to a place we’ve never been. But when we have become very intimate with His Presence… when we visit Him regularly and often… when we know how to focus the affections of our hearts on Him… then we have something to offer in leading others in worship.

So, how do we as worship leaders get familiar with going to the Presence of Jesus? And now, when I say “going,” I don’t mean that His Presence is far away and we need to locate Him. The Holy Spirit is closer than our next breath—so gently wrapped around us like the warmth of a summer glow. What I mean by “going” is heightening our awareness of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, of our Father’s heart. Approaching His majesty in spirit and truth. Entering His throne room with clean hands and a pure heart. Yes, how do we get familiar with going to the Presence of Jesus?

Turn your affections toward Jesus authentically.

For some, authenticity means spontaneous and unprompted, but that’s actually an immature understanding of what it means to be genuine. Authenticity takes discipline and even practice perhaps. Be careful not to merely read the words of the Bible, or to simply monologue during your prayer time and call it good enough. No, friends. That’s not the relationship a husband would want with his bride, and that’s not the relationship Jesus enthusiastically desires with us—especially those of us tasked with shaping others’ worship experiences. The goal of all spiritual disciplines is connection with God, not necessarily the disciplines themselves. Allow quiet space and meaningful time for your spirit to connect with God’s Spirit, whether by prayer, journaling, fasting, studying, witnessing, music, community, or meditation.

I understand that there are seasons in life where turning our affections toward Jesus authentically is an immense challenge. There is a special grace for new moms, for example, who count a simple, uninterrupted shower a luxury! But as honestly as your heart knows how, find your way to Jesus.

Turn your affections toward Jesus regularly.

Sundays are not enough, worship leader. Worshiping Jesus only during your worship set on Sunday mornings doesn’t cut it. It takes a long time, I’ve observed, of training your spirit to run to Jesus so that it becomes your default. There’s an expression you’ve probably heard: if you want to get fit, you can’t work out just once a week. Six-pack abs on my spirit-man won’t show up if I’m only exercising a few hours each Sunday!

Health experts will tell you that your body functions best when you feed it roughly the same time each day and have a set bedtime. I wonder if we thrive, too, when we keep regular appointments with the Holy Spirit. Why not try setting a time each day when you can recalibrate yourself around His Presence? Whether early in the morning, at lunchtime, or before you hit the hay, make it your practice to meet with God.

Turn your affections toward Jesus often.

I think it was Bethel’s Steffany Gretzinger (although I may be misremembering) who said once that her mother would set alarms to go off on her phone throughout the day. And at each alarm, no matter what she was doing, would pause and take 30 seconds to “go” to Jesus. I have tried that, and let me tell you, it is a game changer. I scheduled alarms to go off every other hour, and I stopped whatever it was I was doing when the alarm would sound. I would spend just a quick moment turning my affections to Jesus, inviting Him into that slice of my life, whether it was sending emails or vocal warmups or driving to the grocery store—and the results were so, so sweet. The intimate friendship of Jesus overcame me nearly each time the alarm went off.

Whatever it looks like for you, let your heart run to Jesus often. Many, many times a day. As often as you think of it. Be immersed in His Presence.

And, worship leaders, as you worship Jesus authentically, regularly, and often, your ability to guide others into deeper worship will be sharpened and become more and more natural. I pray that our cities, schools, workplaces, governments, and world would be infiltrated with worshipers—true, faithful, passionate worshipers who seize every opportunity to savor the King’s personality and friendship. And what a glorious responsibility we have, worship leaders, to steward a part of that.

Blessings on you this New Year, in Jesus’ Name!