There’s an age-old question among worship leaders that goes like this: can you actually experience worship while you are leading a congregation in worship? I’ve answered this in various ways since becoming the music director at my church five years ago. Initially my response was, absolutely not! I have to pay attention to too many things, i.e. are the words on the screen the same as what I’m singing, am I going too fast or too slow for the team, did I just make a mistake right now? I wonder if anyone noticed? Is the team doing all right? Is the congregation yawning or are they participating?
After a few years, however, I got more comfortable leading. I found I wasn’t making as many mistakes, and I had better sense of how the congregation and the team were doing. When I asked myself the worship question then, I wondered, why not? So what if I’m singing with a mic and playing an instrument, how different is that from what everyone else is doing?
Lately though, I’ve been thinking wistfully of the past when I regularly attended a Sunday night worship service at a church where I had no obligations whatsoever. Since nobody there knew me, I sat in a little, self-contained bubble. During worship, I found my own corner of their vast, darkened sanctuary, out of everyone’s else’s way. And I loved it! God and me, alone, having our own private conversation – I was adoring him and he was loving on me, touching the deep recesses of my heart that only he knows about. If I couldn’t get to that church or one where I could be equally anonymous, I would descend to my darkened, empty basement and make up my own worship tunes to commune with God.
My wistful feelings made me realize something: worship leaders that don’t make space in their lives to worship in addition to leading worship are missing out on what they were made for. How was it that we decided to become worship leaders in the first place? Was it musical expertise, leadership gifts, or was it just because we needed work? We could just as easily have decided to perform in a nightclub or on a cruise ship. But we chose worship because we believe in it. We believe it’s a life-changing experience to connect with God through music. I’ve come to the conclusion that unless I cultivate a personal lifestyle of worship, no matter how well it goes on Sunday morning or Wednesday night, I’m ministering out of a deficit rather than out of a heart that is getting its needs met in God.