Recently, Fair Oaks Church’s Worship Leader Joel Slater posted an article on the FairOaksArts blog called “Where’d the Worship Leader Go?” that had me smiling as I read it.
In the post, Joel describes his experience of leading the Sunday worship and taking a moment to pull back from the microphone so that he can hear the voices of the congregation lifting up the Lord in song. Joel characterized this moment as one of his “greatest joys” in worship because it means he’s done his job in bringing everyone else to an authentic place of worship, not just listening to a musical performance of worship songs by the worship leader.
This touched me in a couple of ways … as a member of the congregation, this is one of my favorite experiences too (not that I don’t appreciate Joel’s vocal leadership) but there’s just something raw and true about all those voices joined together to praise God. That’s probably why I’ve always enjoyed choirs – especially a good gospel choir – whether joined in unison or singing 6-part harmonies, the abandon of the one for the unification of many to sing praises to our God as one is a picture of Christ’s church as it should be.
Years ago, at what may have been my very first Contemporary Christian concert, Bart Millard, lead singer for MercyMe, ended his concert by leading the audience in the classic hymn, Amazing Grace. By the second line of the first verse the band had backed out and by the end of the first verse, Bart had faded out. The audience, unaware that the band was in fact exiting the stage while eyes were closed, hands lifted high, continued to sing all 4 traditional verses and with at least four parts of harmony wafting up the stadium seating of this congregation of thousands, oblivious to the band’s departure. Now that’s worship! No one was leading us what to sing next or for how long or in what key or how many parts, we just did it out of the true expression of our love for Christ and somehow it just came together... one of my all time favorite moments of worship.
In my personal space of worship, my most cherished moments are the ones where I’m moved to silence. Music is very personal to me – it tells a story – even if it’s not my story, it somebody in that room’s story and I feel that with every word and note. It’s not uncommon for me to be in the middle of singing and find the words of a given song have convicted me or consoled me with such depth that the lump in my throat leaves me silent and breathless.
That was actually something I prayed long about and weighed carefully when Joel asked me if I’d be interested in helping to lead worship on Wednesdays at Fair Oaks. Can I make an emotional separation from the music so that I’m effective in leading others? Do I want to make the separation? Do I have to make a separation? Can I maintain my authenticity and spiritual connection in worship and not inadvertently bring everyone else’s experience to a screeching halt? In that shift, I have a duty of care to their worship experience over my own and I can intellectually accept and embrace that, the question was (and occasionally still is) am I ready for that.
I’ve always been a believer that God does not call the equipped but rather equips the called, so perhaps in my weakness God makes me strong enough to get through 3 songs each Wednesday without choking up or breaking down so that He can use me to lead someone else through his or her raw emotional connection with Him experienced through the music.
Bravely (or perhaps just stupidly) the second time I lead worship for Wednesday services I picked a song that always chokes me up. In the bridge of “Here I am to Worship” is the line “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross” (I can’t even type it with out tearing up) and it always brings me right back to the spring that I was saved. I experience that moment as if it were new each time I sing that line.
I surely can’t be alone here … is there a song or a line or a passage of scripture that no matter how many times you sing it or read it, it moves you with the surprise of emotions it did the first time?