The following post is adapted from an email I sent to our worship community at Heartland:
I gave a Sunday morning message a few weeks talking about how our individual stories and callings are part of a larger whole: the story of what God has done and is doing to bring redemption and renewal to the world. Our worship leading needs to take this into account, and one of the best words I can think of to describe the kind of reality I’m talking about is journey. We as a congregation are on a journey together. And our community’s journey is part of the larger story of what God is doing.
We shouldn’t be content to simply have good meetings. We should be cultivating a sense of pilgrimage in our worship leading. Worship should remind us of whose story we’re a part of, and should direct our attention to those kingdom-of-God realities that we so easily forget as our culture feeds us mind-numbing, soul-crushing consumerism on a daily basis. Worship is like a bell, like a loud alarm in the early morning, waking us up from our sleepiness. Worship is pulling back the curtains, letting the brilliant light of morning shock us awake, until we slowly open our eyes and look in wonder at the world the sun is illuminating before us.
Ours is a journey of ruin, rescue, and final redemption, and our worship sets ought to remind us of that story. Sunday morning is, in many ways, a microcosm of the story we’re living in. Often it is good to start with a “call to worship” or perhaps more appropriately a “reminder of worship” – a bell that reminds us of the journey we are on, the story we live in. Then we proceed deeper into an awareness of God’s presence with us, expecting to encounter him in new and fresh ways. Often towards the middle of the worship set there is a song or a theme that functions as a “dwelling place”, where we can ruminate and contemplate God’s character and ways in a deeper way. And I tend to think a worship set isn’t entirely complete without a “sending” song, a mission song, that reminds us that as those who have been brought from darkness to light, we are to let our light shine before others, so they too may join us on the journey, receiving the offer of a completely new kind of life: the kind of life God has within himself, the kind of life that Jesus exemplified and made possible in his death and resurrection, the kind of life the Holy Spirit empowers and enables us to live.
Leading worship is about a lot more than trying to have a “good meeting.” It’s about facilitating a corporate journey into the heart of God, and that takes place over many years together. It helps to take a wide, long view when planning worship: Where have we been? Where are we going? What is this story we find ourselves living in? What themes do we need to be reminded of? Tell us the story – what has God done? What is God doing? How will God wrap everything up? There’s power in the big story, and we need to hear it over and over, and if our services can be microcosms of God’s great story, we’ll find living faithfully in the story to be an easier task.