I have been leading worship for as long as I’ve been doing ministry. Initially “leading worship” meant leading a band that was leading a congregation in singing their praise and prayers to God.
Eventually, as I was drawn into the liturgical tradition, it expanded to leading worship in more ways than just in song. Being the celebrant at a service of Word and Sacrament is to be the “worship leader” for that service.
The temptation to over-explain
One of the primary temptations for worship leaders (especially young worship leaders) is to over-explain the liturgy. It’s easy to spend too much time talking about the liturgy instead of simply praying the liturgy. This quote from Thomas Merton is applicable for worship leaders:
Instead of engaging in meaningful action, we bombard one another with statements and declarations, with interpretations of what has happened, is happening, or is about to happen. We keep telling each other the time, as though time itself would cease to exist if we stop talking about it. Well, maybe it would!…Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 108
Of course, we do need some understanding of what we’re doing in order to pray and worship meaningfully, so there is a tension here. Mumbling “automatically” through the liturgy isn’t what we are going for.
Inviting, not explaining
So we must learn to invite people into participating actively in the liturgy, in unobtrusive and winsome ways. But this is different from explaining the liturgy or theorizing about the liturgy.
Because understanding something is different from participating in it. And inviting people to a party is different from explaining how the party is going to work. Telling the time is different from being present in the moment. Talking about your work is different from doing your work.
The task of the worship leader is to lead the congregation is “doing the work” together, using an economy of “extra” words to do so. Most worship leaders need to decrease their trust in their ability to explain the liturgy and increase their trust in the liturgy itself to do most of the work.
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