What you see is all there is

No matter what you do or how you do it, the worship you lead will shape people.

…Whether you are intentional or haphazard

…Whether your purpose is clearly articulated or fuzzy

…Whether your content is rich and substantive or shallow and meaningless

You will reap what you sow, producing that fruit in the people you lead.


Would you rather be intentional, clear and substantive or haphazard, fuzzy and trite? If you are going to shape people anyway, why not aspire to do it in such a way as to make a positive difference in the lives of the worshipers you lead. In order to be intentional, clear and substantive, however, you must first have a clear definition of worship in your mind. Without a clear definition of worship you can’t have a clear direction where you are going nor a clear way to measure if you get there. If you are not clear within yourself, there’s no way you can make it clear for your followers.

If you do not have a clear definition of worship, you are not alone.

Many worship leaders really haven’t given it much thought. Oh, they can regularly produce worship according to a prescribed format built on what they have learned and experienced which consists of what they like, perceive others to like, or what is deemed appropriate in their tribe. They watch and imitate what others are doing, acting on the assumption that if they select the right song, or preach the right sermon, people will like it and will hopefully be blessed, inspired, and connected with God. Thinking in terms of the music they like or a style of worship they find appropriate, musicians build worship on an emotional connection or on the songs themselves. All the while, though, they don’t have a clear picture of what the result of worship should look like.

Because of the busyness involved in just preparing and leading each week, many worship leaders don’t feel they have the time to think about the purposes and results of worship. As soon as one week’s services are complete, the process starts over in preparing for the next week. On top of this are the demands of other ministry tasks as well as the activities of life itself.

In our culture today, little value is given to the importance of margins for space to ponder and think. Social media can also distract us and absorb any marginal time.

It is no wonder that the easiest path for the worship leader is to lead worship that follows a comfortable pattern. But the easiest path is not always our best nor the best way to grow God’s people.

Practicing relationship with God through worship is the lifeblood for Christians and its leadership is a calling we should take seriously.


Gathered worship has a natural rhythm. This rhythm should draw people to encounter God together. At the same time, gathered worship should also teach a rhythm that builds personal worship. Ongoing personal worship feeds gathered worship and gathered worship feeds personal worship. Neither is sufficient by itself. Together, they should nurture Christian growth that produces people who are more Christ-like, obviously exhibiting the fruit of the spirit in their lives.

None of this is about the style of music or of preaching. Rather, it is about purposefully building worship to nurture transformation and Christ-like living: worship in which worshipers praise, honor and adore God, tune their hearts to God’s heart and listen, remember and are reminded what God has done, and obediently respond to God’s calling.

What you see is all there is. Clarify your thinking! Begin to see more!


Fear and Pride or Joy and Freedom.

Have you ever known anyone to seek out a counselor because of a problem with pride? Me neither.  Fear, maybe, but pride, never. Yet fear and pride are closely related.  They are common conditions often feeding each other in a vicious circle, and are the root of most sin. We all have our fears, but are generally too proud to acknowledge most of them. We can easily spot pride in others, but rarely see it in ourselves, and even then would probably afraid to admit it.

The reason people lie, cheat, and steal is fear and pride.

They fear that they can’t get ahead, that they don’t measure up or fit in. They fear being poor, or hungry, or left out. Being too proud to be seen as poor, hungry, left out, or in any way in need, they feel that they must put up an image of superiority, competence or sophistication. To keep up the image they cut corners as they lie, cheat, and steal.

The reason people don’t lie, cheat, and steal is also fear and pride.

The fear that they will be caught, look bad, or embarrass themselves keeps them from cutting corners. They have pride that “their kind of people” don’t do those kind of things. They also take pride in being a good person, or at least keeping up that impression so that they do not let down their family or tribe. Fear and pride work together to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Religious people are not exempt. Many attend worship or pray because of fear and pride. They fear that God will punish them if they don’t. They fear that they won’t measure up or fit in. They take pride in how righteous they are, even to the extent that they are morally superior because they attend a church, synagogue or mosque.

Muslims believe that they will go to paradise based on the good works that they do. The only problem is that they won’t know if they’ve done enough until after they’ve already died. So they live in fear that they haven’t done enough.

Many professing Christians are much the same way. They believe that they are good people and hope they will go to heaven. This transactional approach reasons that if you pray enough, are sincere enough, love God enough, (or you fill in the blank enough) He will reward you with His grace and love.

You don’t have to live that way. The truth is that salvation and the abundant life are not the result of what we do but on what Christ has done for us on the cross. Therefore, worship should not be a grueling duty but a joyful expression as we come into the presence of a Holy God. Remember and be reminded! Don’t forget the joy of Easter worship and continue to reflect that joy each time you lead in worship.

Implementing Purposeful Worship

Leading purposeful worship is hard. It requires intent and probably means some changes in the way you think and act.

Think about it for a moment

If worship is an encounter with God, then it should make a difference in our lives.

When we encounter God in worship:

It should show in our actions, thoughts, and attitudes.

When we encounter God in worship:

We should expect transformation, in us and in our fellow worshipers.

All of this should challenge how we plan and carry out worship.


Worship should move us from just accumulating Information to actually transforming lives.

More than just learning a bunch of facts and insights about God or saying nice things about Him, purposeful worship expects the transformation of lives, not just through inspiring stories in others, but in ourselves.


Worship should move us from merely a religious ritual to a life-giving relationship.

Patterns, habits, and practices give structure and rhythm to our lives, but practicing artificial rituals should never become an end in itself. Purposeful worship moves us from just going through prescribed checklists of activities and expected rituals to enjoying a living, breathing relationship with the Living God.


Purposeful, worship should move us from creating an entertaining and emotionally moving experience to building worship that is life-changing and life-giving.

This all requires us to ask new questions.

Instead of: Will the people like it?

Ask: How will it grow them?


Instead of: What great new songs will we sing?

Ask: What enduring truths will we nurture?


Instead of: What will they think of me?

Ask: How will they move toward God?

And- What can I do to facilitate that?


Instead of: How will I measure up?

Ask: How can I serve?

Worship can make a difference. Worship should make a difference. You can shape worship that builds worshipers who live in fellowship with God as obedient Christ-followers powered by the Holy Spirit. As a worship leader, that is your calling.

Defining Worship (2) Building a framework for worship.

In the previous post, we looked at how our views of worship often depend more on our personal experience than on some objective standard. Rather than complaining about worship that is lacking in some way, or being frustrated by your lack of understanding about what is supposed to look like, think about building worship that makes a difference

Worship is an active, purposeful, relational encounter with God.  In worship, we practice relationship with God.

Worship is active, not passive. We are actively involved with God and Him with us.

Worship is purposeful. Worship is not haphazard. God draws us into worship and we should respond expectantly.

Worship is relational, not just a ritual performed for an aloof diety. It is a 2 way relationship.

Worship is with God.  God invented and initiated worship. God is the object of worship, but it is through His power that we are able to worship.


God created you in His own image. He desires to have fellowship with you. He has far more invested in you than you can begin to comprehend and He wants to have a relationship with you. Worship is built on that relationship with God, and is the activity in which you practice that relationship. The relationship is not among equals. The God of the universe is far greater than you and has done far more for you than you can begin to comprehend. Yet, He invites us to be in relationship with Him. So you see that worship is not just something that you do for God, but also something you do along with God.

Even as God calls us into worship, He, in fact, does all of the heavy lifting.

He reveals Himself through scripture, preaching, and music- (sometimes in spite of our best efforts.) He loves, gives grace, brings hope, and offers forgiveness and redemption. He empowers by giving us the gifts, talents and abilities that enable us to relate with Him. He does what we can’t do and brings what we can’t bring.

Since worship is where we practice relationship with God, it is helpful if we can develop some basic structures and standards that will give us direction as to how we go about approaching God in worship.  Here are four tenets for worship that I think will help to direct our focus, both for gathered worship and for personal worship. In worship, we:

Praise, honor and adore God

Tune our hearts to God’s heart and listen

Learn, be reminded of, and gratefully remember what God has done,

Respond actively and obediently to God.


Praise, honor and adore God  

When we truly love God, we can’t help but to praise Him. The act of praising, honoring, and adoring God helps us maintain proper perspective of the magnificence of who God is in comparison to our unworthiness. It sets the tone for worship and calibrates within us a proper attitude and perspective. God is God and we are not. When we praise, honor, and adore God, we are treating Him with utmost respect. In order to adequately do this we must bring our best to worship- using our emotions, intellect, and will, as well as being well prepared and well rested in order to show our best efforts and talents.


Tune your heart to God’s heart and listen

Listen to God and hear His word for you.

Let Him capture your attention.

Focus on God and align your purposes with His purposes.

Worship is dialogue, so it includes both speaking and listening.

Recognize the majesty of who God is and the breadth of His creation. He created it all and yet He is interested in you.

Worship God with fear and trembling- in awe of His greatness, majesty, power, and love.

Adjust your heart to His heart, listen and obey.

Connect with God’s Heart- He’s reaching out to you.


Learn, be reminded of, and gratefully remember what God has done

We need to be reminded that God is the all-powerful creator of the universe, the Giver of life, and our loving Father.

We need to be reminded that we are made in His image. This instructs us as to how we are to view ourselves as well as how to relate to others, and to His creation.

We need to be reminded of our sin, and that we are sinners, but also reminded of God’s grace and the power of His forgiveness and salvation.

We need to be reminded of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as He took the punishment for our guilt, was victorious over death, and the eternal life that His sacrifice promises.

We need to be reminded of what He is doing, that He is working in our world and in our lives, and of His good gifts and blessings to us.

We need to be reminded of His teachings and of our responsibilities to be faithful to those teachings.

In gathered worship, preaching, teaching, prayer, singing, listening, Bible reading, study, testimonies, meditation, confession, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are all useful tools through which we learn and are reminded of what God has done.


Respond actively and obediently to God

Authentic worship is not measured by feelings but by actions. The resulting response to the activity of worship is obedience. Respond actively and obediently to God by letting worship overflow into your everyday living- your thoughts, lifestyle, and worldview. Respond obediently by heeding God’s calling on your life. Live by praising, respecting, and admiring God, allowing Him to direct your behavior. Listen to and obey His prompting by following His precepts, and gratefully submitting to His influence. This obedience should lead to evangelism, discipleship, ministry and service, and to your expressing the fruit of the spirit in your daily life. If your obedience is not evident to others, and your life is not being changed, then no matter how much you are enjoying the experience, you are not really worshiping.

Try using these tenets as a checklist as you prepare and evaluate the worship that you plan and lead.

Defining Worship (1)

Worship. You talk a lot about it. You extol its virtues and preach its value, and it puts you on a spiritual high ground when you talk about its importance. Although you know it when you see it, and can tell when you feel it and experience it, it can be nebulous and mystical when you try to define it. For some, worshiping is simply closing your eyes, lifting your hands, and being really, really, really, earnest. For others, it is maintaining a standard of quality and order in following a liturgy. For still others, it is singing some songs, hearing some preaching and seeing a response to an altar call.

The fact that we can’t clearly define it doesn’t stop us from worshiping. That’s a good thing. God made us to worship Him. Innately recognizing the importance of worship, we naturally try our best to lead it in the right way. Many of us plan worship by attempting to reenact meaningful worship experiences that we’ve had in the past. You try to duplicate the same forms, orders, and techniques that you perceived were present in those experiences, as you try to duplicate your personal mountaintops of worship in the lives of others. Of course, this is very subjective.

I once worked with a pastor who grew up in a small rural church with an informal style of gospel music. During college he attended a large, formal downtown church. Because it was what he knew and liked, his ideal expectation for music in worship was informal gospel with a smattering of high church elements. By the time he became a pastor, he naturally assumed that his idea of worship was the way it was supposed to be.

All people can have their ideas about proper worship, but those ideas can be quite different as they come from different experiences.  Unfortunately, people are prone to assume that their way is the right way.

The clearest instruction comes from Jesus as He tells us that we are to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. However, nowhere in the Bible is there any kind of directive as to style or proper practice.  So we end up relying on our own unique mishmash of experiences, memories, and influences to form how we see worship. Often, we know what we like and we like what we know.  This may come from our church experiences, camps, conferences, conventions, mission trips, individual worship and thought leaders who have impacted our lives, and churches and movements that we’ve come to admire from afar.

Think about your mishmash. Your background, experiences, memories and associated feelings, tradition or your reactions against tradition all influenced and shaped you. How have they formed your approach to leading worship? Do you unconsciously assume that others actually share these same memories and the good feelings associated with them? They don’t. Your good feelings and memories are important, and should not be discounted. You will never completely disassociate from them, nor should you. However, the worship you lead should not be based solely on your good feelings but also on what will bring the greatest benefit to the lives of those who you are leading.

Worship is not about your preferences, but about encountering the Living God. So the worship you lead should be designed to help people to encounter Him and not fulfill your preferences. The self-awareness of knowing yourself, and acknowledging your biases can help you to be more sensitive to the needs of others, and as a result be a better leader of them.

Principles of Public Prayer

It was in college when I got my first music leader job in a church. On one of the first Sunday nights in that church, I was leading the hymn before the offering. When the hymn was over, I looked at one of the ushers who had come forward to receive the offering and said, “Brother Jimmy, will you lead us in prayer?”

He looked straight at me, shook his head from side to side and said, “No.”

Red faced, I stumbled through a prayer myself. I learned then and there to never call on someone without clearing it privately with them in advance. However, that still didn’t necessarily change my approach to public prayer. While I tried to be appropriate in the prayers I led, I rarely thought about what that meant, or about teaching others how to pray publically.

Most of us at least give lip service to the importance of prayer in communicating with God both personally and in gathered worship, but we can minimize public prayer by treating it in a perfunctory way, giving it little thought when we lead it, or advance notice or guidance to others when we call on them to pray.

Make no mistake prayer is important. It is heartfelt communication with God and is an integral part of the relational encounter with God that is worship. You can and should affirm the priority of prayer as you plan and lead worship.

Prayer involves Adoration (praise), Confession (actually think about and confess our sin), Thanksgiving (expressing thoughtful gratitude), and Supplication (bringing God our petitions and requests. There is no reason to neglect any of these elements as a regular part of public worship.

Be intentional as you teach through your words and example about public prayer in worship. Though public prayers and personal prayers are not the same thing, public prayers provide a model for private prayer, whether for good or ill. People will imitate what they hear in public prayers in their private prayers, and when they pray in public. What kind of model will you give?

It was customary for the 1985 Chicago Bears football team to have a chapel service each

Sunday morning before games.

One week, Coach Mike Ditka called on William “Refrigerator” Perry to lead in the Lord’s


Quarterback Jim McMann leaned over to the Chaplain who was seated next to him and

whispered, “Watch this. This is going to be rich! Fridge doesn’t know the Lord’s Prayer.”

The chaplain whispered, “Oh, I bet he does.”

McMann countered, “I bet you 50 bucks that he doesn’t”.

The chaplain agreed to take the bet.

Perry began, “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

McMann disgustedly reached in his pocket and gave the chaplain $50, and muttered, “I

never would have thought he would have known that!”


Be careful what you teach about prayer through your content or lack of it. People hear, learn from, and imitate your words, and attitude whether good or bad.


Public prayers should speak for all of the people. They are not simply personal prayers that use the word “we”.  Prayed on behalf of all of the people, public prayers should express the concerns of all of the individuals present. Some people may be feeling close to God but others don’t even want to be there.  Some just had a fight with spouse or children on the way to church or may have a severely fractured relationship. Some are excited and jubilant and others are depressed and fearful. Some are deeply concerned and stressed out. Some need comfort, some need wisdom some encouragement, some, hope. All people need to be reminded of God’s love, grace, and care, and of the reality of His presence.

You see, everybody is not in the same place emotionally or spiritually, and the voiced prayers need to be appropriate expressions for all. You can’t just speak for yourself when praying publically.

Public prayers are lines of communication between people and God.  They include our expressions to God and God’s words to us. Public Prayer is not the place just to communicate with one another. In fact, it devalues prayer to use it as simply a communication organ to speak to the congregation. Therefore, public prayer is not the place to preach, re-preach or rebut a sermon, make announcements, espouse a political viewpoint, make a personal attack, or tattle on another.

Prayer should be a part of your personal worship, your preparation for public worship as well as a part of enriching public worship itself. How are you doing with all this?

Leading worship that makes a difference

Worship is more than just an event to entertain, inspire or bless. Worship is the relational encounter with God in which we

Praise, honor and adore God,

Tune our hearts to His heart and listen,

Learn, be reminded of, and gratefully remember what He has done,


Respond actively and obediently to Him.


Worship should result in worshipers who live in fellowship with God as obedient Christ-followers powered by the Holy Spirit- lives that undeniably reflect the fruit of the spirit. Worship should make a difference!

You should expect worship to make a difference in the lives and behavior of worshipers- and you tend to get what you expect.

“Aim for heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in, aim for earth and you’ll get neither.”  C. S. Lewis

Can you imagine worshipers expecting to encounter the God of the universe in worship, and expecting Him to change their lives and behavior to where they obediently exhibit the fruit of the spirit?   Can you see yourself planning worship with that expectation in mind?

Unfortunately, many worshipers are content to simply enjoy church, punch their ticket, and be entertained or inspired. Too many worship leaders plan worship with that expectation in mind. Aim for heaven! Step up and lead! Build worship that makes a difference!

Of course, that requires a change in focus from expecting an inspirational event to expecting a transformation in both perspective and behavior. This can be quite a shift! Any time you attempt to shift a paradigm, you run into barriers.

In his book, The Advantage, Pat Lincioni suggests 3 biases which keep leaders from embracing simplest solutions to promote organizational health. These same 3 biases can also hinder worship leaders.


Adrenaline bias

People today like excitement, and many look for an adrenaline rush, even in worship.  You fear that if you don’t generate energy in the way people are accustomed they won’t like it, so you keep things as they are.


Sophistication bias

Results oriented worship may sound difficult, demanding, and more old school than 21st century sensibilities can take.  Some may think it hyper-spiritual or even fanatical.  Some take pride in being contemporary worshipers, thinking they’ve grown beyond old fashioned ways, while others think that anything that is not liturgical is beneath their dignity. Not wanting people to think that you are not up-to-date with the latest trends in influential churches, you hesitate to lead out and take a stand.


Quantifiable bias

We are accustomed to measuring worship by the numbers: attendance, offerings, and baptisms.  Exhibiting the fruit of the spirit should be the result of life-changing worship, but that is more difficult to quantify numerically. So you shrink away, settling for the status quo.

These biases are made worse when result-oriented worship is merely considered to be a matter of style. Of course, it is not. In fact, to  build worship that makes a difference doesn’t  necessarily mean a change of style in either your music or your preaching.  It does mean a change in the purpose behind how you use those things.

No matter what style fits the culture of your church, worship is a relational encounter with God which should result in changed lives and behaviors.  You get what you expect. If the expectation for people is to merely return next week and bring an offering, you’ve set the bar too low.


Expect to encounter God in worship,

Expect to encounter Him in all of your life,

And when you encounter Him expect Him to change you,

When you encounter Him expect He’ll rearrange you,

When you encounter Him expect God to change your life!



Self-leadership is the one kind of leadership that applies to everyone. It really is the most important kind of leadership. You can’t effectively lead other people where you yourself are not going, and that begins within. Self-leadership requires both character and discipline.

You must first adhere to the standards you profess. Do what you teach, even when no one is watching. When you hold up a biblical standard, it is not just for you to preach, but also for you to live. Effective self-leadership calls for you to be brutally honest with yourself. Own your struggles. Don’t ever allow yourself to rationalize that any standards for others don’t apply to you.

Exercise the discipline to take action. Leading yourself cannot be passively sitting and thinking about what you should do. Proactively move forward by taking action steps.

So pay attention to what you put in your mind. What you consume is what you become mentally, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.  What movies or TV shows do you watch? Where do you click online? What do you read? Who do you hang out with and listen to? Everything that you encounter, even random occurrences influence you.  Pay particularly attention to those influences that you can control and establish rituals that systematically feed your mind with things of value.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.  Proverbs 4:23 NIV

Also, pay attention to the questions you ask. Your questions reveal your values. No matter what you profess in public, you reveal your true priorities by the questions that you ask yourself in your self-talk. You may outwardly profess a desire to lead life-changing, purposeful worship that feeds people with depth and substance. However, do you inwardly evaluate songs and sermon materials based on simply on how people will like it? Do your inmost questions about worship deal with how it transforms lives, and the resulting behavior, or how well you impress them? Pay attention, and learn from your questions.

Finally, cultivate a godly mind. Discipline and lead yourself to action based on the good, profitable thoughts in your mind.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things. Philippians 4:8 NIV

Guard what you think about and dwell on. Monitor your self-talk and master your thoughts. Formulate good and profitable ideas.

The consistency between your inner thoughts and the persona that you present on the outside constitute your authenticity. The honest evaluation of your questions will give you self-awareness to form a roadmap to help you to greater consistency, a key component of effective self-leadership.

Prayerfully work on building internal strength and discipline so that you can effectively lead yourself to live out your values. Then you can effectively lead others.

Are You Clear?

Donald Miller in his Building a StoryBrand has the following tag line:


If you confuse you’ll lose

Noise is the enemy

Creating a clear message is the best way to grow your business


This is instructive for worship leaders.

If you confuse, you’ll lose

Be clear in the way you communicate. Clear communication means being clear as a sender and being clear to the receiver. As a sender, you must be clear in your mind what your message is and send it in such a way that you are thinking how the receiver will view it. Be very clear. Diligently avoid clichés. Explain anything that might be confusing.


Noise is the enemy

Minimize distractions- If you are not careful you can have sensory overload by adding too many cool things to your service. Obscure stories, catchy videos, overdone special effects can all be distractions, particularly when they don’t directly relate to, strengthen, and undergird your message.


Creating a clear message is the best way to grow your business. While the church is not a business, this business principle will help you relate to and reach people. Let all that you do be a part of a  clear, consistent message that ties back into your purpose.

From your website to the way you relate to people personally, to your publicity pieces, to the experience that  people have when they walk in to your building, to the  way that you structure and teach in worship- Plan everything that you do be clear and consistent in representing and communicating your purpose.


So don’t confuse, eliminate noise, and present a clear and consistent message. Your followers will be better off for it!

Connecting with people

William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli were brilliant politicians and bitter rivals who both served as Prime Minister in England back in the 1800’s.

A young lady was taken to dinner one evening by Gladstone and the following evening by Disraeli.  Asked what impressions these two celebrated men had made upon her, she replied, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone I thought he was the cleverest man in England.  But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.

There is a lesson here for worship leaders. Your primary task is not to impress people with your talent, musicianship, stage presence, or charisma. Focus on others and how you can shape, encourage, and build them up spiritually as you lead them to encounter God in worship.

Of course, your natural tendency when you get in front of a group of people is to want to make a good impression, so you are thinking about how you look and how people perceive you. Instead, concentrate on meeting the needs of the real people behind the faces that you see in worship, reminding yourself that they are people that God loves and for whom Christ died.

This will help you to be more relaxed and confident. Show warmth and respect. Establish common ground. Highlight your common interests and concerns. Once people feel they have a relationship with you, it is much easier for them to listen to and hear what you are saying.

Try to spend some time before the service greeting and talking with people. When you have built personal relationships, when they know you, and you know them, then it will transfer when you are on the stage or platform. These are people to whom you minister, and not just people that you sing for or preach to. When they know you, and know that you know them, they will watch you more closely and be more attentive to what you do and what you say, and as a result are more likely to actively participate. Over time, relationships grow and deepen as you get to know them better and do life with them.

Churches are made up of different people with different ages and at different stages in life, each with their different interests and concerns. People are at different places spiritually. Some are new believers, some nominal believers, and some seekers. Some are more spiritually mature than you are. Some are far from God. You can learn something from each one of them, and that knowledge can inform your ministry. Rather than just singing your best songs and preaching your favorite topics, give attention to what people need to hear from God. As you focus on the needs of others, it will help you to grow as well.