Below is a blog post from Willow Creek worship pastor Aaron Niequist. He hits on some good points and left me with some items to ponder. I encourage you to check it out.
I had the thrill of getting to join up with the Mars Hill community last weekend and lead worship. So many of my favorite spiritual and musical memories happened in that old Shed, and it’s always moving to go back. This last visit also prompted some reflection: Much of what I believe about worship leading was formed during my years at Mars Hill. What are some of big things I learned? A few thoughts…
First, being at Mars Hill taught me that content is more important than form. Substance always proceeds style. Yes, I know that it’s not either/or and in many ways “the medium is the message”, but at Mars Hill I learned that it matters what question you start with. And of all the questions to begin with (How should the service look?, What style should our music be?, How do we want people to feel?) Mars taught me to begin with “What do we have to say?“ What is the story burning inside us that we have to tell? What is the insight about God that is so meaningful we have to share it? It all begins with having something to say.
Second, people come to church to participate, not just observe. The Mars Hill community didn’t show up to hear the worship team…they showed up to BE the worship team! The thought of watching a church concert was completely foreign to them and it helped me see our worship team’s role as accompaniment to the lead vocals (a.k.a. the community)! Even the room (set up in the round with the band facing inward) communicated clearly that we were all in this together, facing the same direction, co-creating the worship experience.
Said another way, I learned that a worship leader’s job is to help harness the energy of the community, not create it. There is a school of thought that sees a rocking worship band as the spark-plug to fire up the community and get the worship going. But in my experience, beginning with a huge wall of sound often pushes people back onto their heals and into observation mode. But if we can begin with a shared, human experience that reminds the community it’s about their voices, the band can fill in around them and accompany well.
Third, Mars Hill taught me that choosing the words to place on our community’s lips is a huge responsibility and honor. And we must take this seriously! The theology of our songs really matters. The poetry of our songs really matters. It’s not enough to have a great hook or driving groove. What we ask people to sing to God is a big deal that should be approached with great reverence and wisdom.