Creative Elements to Worship - Part 1

Part 1 of 3 by Steve MIller

It's so easy to get in a rut with our worship! The longer we stay in the rut, the more our people can simply go through the motions of the service without thinking...without truly worshiping. This article presents scores of specific ideas to help you in worship planning. It can also help you weed out elements that distract from worship.

Our Creative God

We have to look no further than nature to see that we serve an infinitely creative God. Had He chosen to create a black and white world, what human would have suggested, "What this world needs is a little color!" We'd have never conceived the possibility of color. The incredible variety of form and color among plants and animals shows that our God delights in creative diversity.

Concerning worship through song, we again find our creative God presenting us with a huge palette from which to choose our colors. In the context of worship, Scriptures present us with

* A variety of instruments (harps, stringed instruments, horns, trumpets, cymbals, harps, lyres, timbrels and tambourines - Rev. 5:8, Hab. 3:19, I Chron. 15:28,29, Ex. 15:20)
* A variety of body language (e.g., leaping, clapping, dancing, lifting hands, standing, bowing down, kneeling - I Chron. 15:29, 23:30 Ps. 47:1, 28:2, 95:6, 134:2, Ex. 15:20)
* A variety of directions (directed to the nations, to one another, to all the earth, to God - Ps. 117, 100, 138, Eph. 5:19, I Sam. 16:23)
* A variety of content (teaching, praying, praise, thanksgiving, relating a testimony, exhortation - Ps. 1, 8, 18, 134, 136, 138).

Could it be that we misrepresent our creative God when we restrict our worship to a few overused forms?

Purpose Driven Music: How to Choose Forms and Techniques

From the Biblical data, I conclude that God has left open to us a huge variety of possible techniques to use in our worship services. How do we choose among the abundance of possibilities? If Bubba and his less than talented brothers volunteer to lead the metro youth group in a rousing Polka song, would my denial smack of creative censure?

I suggest that we first seek God as to which function He wants the music to perform in each part of a service. For example, here are some functions of music I find in the Bible:

* To teach (Col. 3:16, Ps. 27)
* To admonish (Col. 3:16, Ps. 131)
* To praise God (Ps. 43:4)
* To confess sin to God (Ps. 51)
* To petition God (Psalm 3)
* To relate a personal testimony (Ps. 116)

If our purpose in one service segment is to teach a biblical truth, I must ask the question, "Would Bubba's Polka band effectively communicate this truth to the group?" If not, I must seek a song that's filled with the right content and clothed in an effective style to achieve my God-given purpose. Schedule Bubba for the annual talent show instead.

Our goal is not to "wow" our audience, to show off, to make people think we're professional or cool. Our goal is to fulfill the purposes God has given us, whether they be teaching Scriptural truth or drawing people to worship God. Clarifying your purpose for a song is your first step toward choosing the best song and the most effective styles or techniques with which to present it.

Getting the Most Out of These Ideas

You can't digest all of these ideas in one fell swoop. I suggest first reading through all of the ideas and putting a check mark beside the ideas that you'd like to implement. Second, go back to your checked items and circle two or three that you'd like to try now. Third, keep track of new ideas as you get them, adding them to the list below. Fourth, keep coming back to this list each month to spark your creativity. Our lazy tendency is to keep falling back into our comfortable ruts.

Allow For Cultural Differences

Techniques are perceived differently from culture to culture. While revealing your emotion may be perfectly appropriate in Italy, that same display of emotion would likely be interpreted as character weakness among the Fulani in Burkina Faso. The same flute that may lead an American congregation to worship causes confusion in a tribe that associates the flute with possession rituals. Slow music may generate reflection in one group, boredom to another. The very styles and techniques that make your spirit soar may bore your youth to tears. Thus, many of the ideas below are culturally bound, working in one cultural context but failing in another.

So who are the final authorities for deciding if a technique works for you? Your worshippers. As the apostle Paul did, become all things to all men (I Corinthians 9). Don't expect them to adapt to your personal tastes. (Link to article on idea-driven, also on purpose-driven music) Never, never assume that the techniques that bring you personally to worship will also work with those you lead. Always humbly ask for input. Ask one on one, in anonymous surveys, in a focus group, among your band members and singers. Find out what's working and what's not. Especially ask those who come for the first time. They are yet unstained by our peculiar insider traditions. Then, of course, you have to take seriously what they say. As Proverbs instructs us:

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel. (Proverbs 12:15)

Make the List Your Own

Finally, add your own ideas to this list. I got my ideas from my own worship leading experiences, other's leading experiences, and observing others lead. Wildly successful novelist Stephen King says that he learns as much or more about writing from reading poorly written novels as reading the good ones. The mistakes are so glaring! So learn from effective worship leaders and learn from the ineffective.

Again from Proverbs, it's only those who "diligently seek" wisdom who will find her (8:17). But those diligent seekers will find wisdom to be "better than jewels; and all desirable things can not compare with her." (8:11) Observe, read, get candid input from others and seek God in prayer. As long as one person has yet to be awakened to authentic worship, we must be restless seekers of excellence in leading worship.

So without further adieu, here's the list of techniques and taboos.

Be Authentic

1. Be real. Don't imagine that you can lead meaningful worship on youth night if you don't lead a lifestyle of worship the other six nights. One youth minister couldn't understand why his youth weren't getting into the worship. The leaders seemed to be doing a great job. Then he found that one singer on the worship team was living loosely and the teens knew it. Her lifestyle short-circuited the power of God. Youth can spot hypocrisy a mile away.

2. Be yourself. There are obvious limits to being yourself, since we're to become all things to all people to reach them. We may have to make uncomfortable changes, such as playing styles that aren't our favorites, in order to help our people worship. On the other hand, you don't have to be as funny as Mark Lowry, as intense as Keith Green, or as energetic as Al Densen. Discover how God has wired you and use that for His glory.

3. Don't manipulate. I'll never forget attending a revival service in a small church with my wife. We went in cognito, dressed very casually although we were staff at another church. During the invitation I leaned over to whisper something to my wife. The speaker apparently assumed I was suggesting that my wife go to the altar with me. Immediately he says, "There's a couple here for the first night..." (that would be us) "...God's working on your hearts and you need to come to the altar and make a decision tonight." As he looked in our direction I felt the chill of manipulation. This generation absolutely detests techniques that reek of insincerity or emotional manipulation. Don't do it.

4. Strive to be lead worshipers rather than mere leaders of worship. Learn your songs so well that you can forget about the audience, forget about yourselves and actively engage in worship yourself. When people sense that you're worshiping rather than performing, they'll follow your lead. Showiness hinders worship.

5. Make your outward expressions consistent with the posture of your heart. I want to come across sincere, like I'm worshiping rather than performing. During reflective songs I want to project a meditative spirit. During celebrative songs I want to come across excited. Yet, sometimes leaders have the right inward attitude, but their facial expressions and body language say something else to the audience. We must trust others to tell us how we're coming across and be humble enough to change.

Example: I took two youth to visit another ministry. Although the worship band performed with excellence, my students told me that the lead singer didn't seem excited about the message he was singing. Why? Because he stayed stationary throughout the worship leading. To these youth, a singer that believes in his song should express it with some movement. Is that true with your group? Maybe, maybe not.

In America, speaking with a hand in my pocket projects casualness. For many adults in Slovakia, the same gesture signals deviousness. Here's a question for your focus group to look for the next time you lead worship: "When we lead worship, do we look like we're worshiping? Why or why not?"

I'm distracted by worship leaders who have a strained look on their faces when they either sing a high note or play a fast riff on a guitar. It's fine in a performance setting, but just seems artificial to me in a worship setting. Since I know that Eddie Van Halen can smile while playing a smoking riff and Britney Spears can sing high notes while dancing and faking a smooch, I must assume that the straining worship leader must either suffer from constipation or desperately need a macho image. Either way, it doesn't enhance my worship experience. But maybe it's just me....

6. Implement a process to find and eliminate distracting body language. I always had my wife looking for my annoying mannerisms. Once she told me that I often went up from my heals to my toes. I had no idea. I'm sure that many youth opted to count the number of times I did this rather than listen to my message. Some gestures may be fine in themselves, but overdone they give the youth counters an avenue to express their gift. Ask a group of students and adults to look for bothersome mannerisms and report them to you. Then work on eliminating them.

7. Implement an authority structure and accountability. Tim and Annette Gulick report that in South America, many worship leaders are seen as spiritual superstars and view themselves as being in total authority. Thus, in one conference, the band refused to honor the time limit given by the organizers, publicly announcing that the Spirit was leading them to continue in spite of the organizers' objections (implying the organizers were not let of the Spirit). To avoid these problems, first study what the Bible says about authority structure and qualifications for church leadership (e.g., I Timothy 3, Titus 1). A plurality of qualified elders provides oversight and accountability. Even in a worship setting, one person's appeal to "the Spirit's leading me to..." shouldn't make the final decision. Others are led of God as well, and should be called upon to judge whether or not this person is right (I Corinthians 14:29-33).

8. Spiritually nurture the praise team. Pride can ruin the best of us when we step onto a stage before a crowd. Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen lamented that his singers suffered from L.S.D. - Lead Singer Disease. Sadly, it's often no different in the church. Paul David Cull (Brazil) says that Brazilian worship "usually focuses around personalities, often exalting the performers." He mentioned to a boy that he hoped one day to release a worship CD from their group. The boy responded, "Great! Each of us will do one song and we'll all have our photos on the cover!" To fight against this, he's teaching kids how to become true worshipers. His main qualification for leaders is that they must be true worshipers.

Tatiana Ostanina (Siberia) started her youth worship team with very raw talent. One guitarist knew about 4 chords. (He now plays bass regularly for the church) She began by building a strong spiritual foundation, praying at every practice, discussing spiritual values, building unity, developing their hearts rather than concentrating on professionalism. This separated the serious ones from the shallow ones. Her patience in building the spiritual foundation paid off. Band members have the maturity to participate in decision-making. Their seven instrumentalists and five to six singers lead youth worship, lead the entire church in worship once a month, and play at evangelistic events.

If we fail to invest spiritually in our teams, developing true worshipers, they will become obnoxious brats feeding their inflated egos. In the end, authentic worship is hindered for everyone.

Prepare Your Setting

9. Experiment with shades of light. If you've ever been to an outdoor music festival, you'll notice a dramatic change in atmosphere once the sun sets. The earlier bands may have been excellent, but the direct sunlight seriously works against them. Notice the lighting in your next meeting. Try dimming the house lights to keep kids from being so aware of their own presence. A well-lit stage and darkened room keeps the focus forward and makes the overheads or Power Point stand out. Use complete darkness for video clips.

10. Try creative lighting effects. Candles can occasionally make an awesome setting for serious worship. Occasionally try multiple candles scattered among the worshipers. Try a few candles up front regularly. Do a "catacombs" effect, seeking to identify with the early, persecuted church. Ask kids what they think.

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