Should We Worship or Lead Worship?

by Darcy L. Watkins

“When we lead worship, do we LEAD or do we WORSHIP and encourage others to follow? I know that is a simple question, but it cuts to the heart of our motivation, methods, and the results of our efforts.  Do we ever get so caught up in the mechanics that we ourselves fail to make a connection with God? Just a thought.”

The above is a question someone asked on a worship email discussion list. It is actually a discussion topic which recurs every now and again. Below are some of my thoughts regarding this.

There are times when I lead, that I don’t enjoy the same emotional outlet that I experience at other times and that I see others doing. Sometimes I have felt dry or fettered, only to find out later from others that it was one of the most anointed times of worship.

I imagine that this ties in with faithfulness to our calling and being obedient to the Lord’s work regardless of our feelings. I have heard some teachers refer to this as a “sacrifice of praise”. I guess it is a twist of “I walk by faith and not by sight” … nor by feelings.

I would have to say that as I lead worship, I don’t just simply go up and worship the Lord in my own way, (I do that on my own). I would have to say that I make a conscience effort to connect with the people and to get us into some form of readiness to be able to worship corporately. I don’t want to devalue in the slightest, the importance of leading by example, but I think that part of the purpose and calling of being a worship leader (and a servant to God’s people) is to make the necessary effort to bring us all into His presence, (even if it means draining your own emotional outlet on occasion).

This means understanding the culture, the times and the people whom we serve. This also means preparation both in terms of being spiritually prepared and in terms of any planning and practice needed ahead of time.

I have worked many years in the software and telecommunications industry. Much recent developments in terms of how software is developed focuses on how to improve the effectiveness of having people work together in teams. We use different methods when working with musicians, singers, dancers and drama participants, but special effort is still needed to ensure that our time of worship is a chorus and not a discordant hodge podge of activity and noise.

I would be lying if I claimed that everything works out harmoniously every time, but I believe that the effort is both justified and consistent with my understanding of scripture and theology where it describes the role of ministers to serve and equip the believers.

We have to understand that there is a “performance” element to leading worship publicly. You have to treat this like a media form or a tool and not get hung up on it. Otherwise you run the risk of being tempted to think of yourself in an unbalanced manner whether it be to up-play yourself in some form of stardom mentality, or to down-play yourself and your effectiveness in connecting with the people out of fear of becoming trapped in the former.

Even though I would desire to experience entering into His presence in terms of an emotional outlet as I lead worship, I would have to conclude that leading worship in a church service context is, for the most part, an intentional activity, not just a by-product of the worship leader worshipping the Lord in front of everybody.