Down To The Next Level, Pt. 1

Hand reaching to the skyWorship Leaders, have you ever been asked this question? “How do we get our church to the next level in worship?” A google search reveals link after link of advice on how to take your career, business, life, golf game, finances, fitness, education…you name it, all to the next level. But what about worship, personal or corporate; are there different levels? What does that even mean anyway? Is this a cultural concept or a biblical concept? Does your church look to you each week to “elevate” the worship experience? Have you served a church that let you go because you couldn’t take them to the next level?

Church leadership is passionate about motivating the congregation. Countless hours are spent in prayer and sweat trying to inspire and energize people for ministry. It can be tempting to look at the music we worship with as a way to prod them into action. Have you heard statements like: We need to start every service with a high-energy, fast song. We need a break through. You’re not rocking enough. We need you to get us revved up on Sunday morning! If the music is rocking the house, the congregation responds – but is it God they’re responding to or just the music?

As you look out upon the congregation on Sunday morning, have you felt the weight of what I’m talking about? Is it really our responsibility as leaders of worship to “rev up” the congregation? Are we, as worship leaders, responsible for the congregation reaching a new level of worship? Or conversely, is it our fault if they don’t?

I’ve served several churches and been at ground-zero in some tense worship style battles. When I look back on it, I concede that my own biblical underpinning regarding what the Bible has to say about worship was lacking and prevented me from being a better leader in those discussions. I rarely sought God’s counsel through His Word. I was bringing my own feelings to the debate instead of sharing what scripture shows us. (The outcome of some of those battles might have been different.) Responding to God is at the heart of worship and music has been at the center of expressing that heart for thousands of years. All this has me interested in discovering what’s behind the desire to reach the “next level” of worship. My thoughts follow. Leave a reply and share in the discussion!

It’s impossible for the average or small church to reproduce the aural and visual experience of the modern-day Christian worship concert. That amazing, incredible worship concert on Saturday night places a pretty tall order on the worship team for Sunday morning. Are we trying to quench our thirst for intimacy with God by attempting to recreate the worship concert? At the National Worship Leader Conference in Leawood, Kansas last year, I heard clinician Stan Endicott say, “Why do we try to force a 105 decibel rock concert on our congregations at 9:00 on Sunday morning? In what other area in life does that kind of thing happen?!” Songwriter Paul Baloche calls Sunday morning the “Un-concert” for a reason.

Corporate worship is a journey that we travel together. But do we know where we’re going and how to get there? As a travel guide for this journey, how I can improve my leadership so that our congregation could feel unified in our Sunday morning destination? Russell Henderson makes the point in his post Worship Leader or Cheer Leader that many churches limit the length of their journey of worship to nothing more than a pep-rally for Jesus. They never make it to that place of intimacy with God that King David wrote about. Search me, O God, and know my heart…See if there is any offensive way in me. Psalm 139:23-24 Henderson points out that we have an obligation to allow times for the Holy Spirit to move and work in us individually and corporately. Like flossing, everyone agrees it’s a good thing to do but not everyone makes time for it.

Jesus tells the woman at the well (and us) that the Father is looking for true worshipers that will worship him in Spirit and Truth. John 4:23 Rus Henderson’s post, Worship Leader or Cheer Leader has an easy-to-understand insight about this passage. I was inspired to dig deeper so I went to the Blue Letter Bible to find out more about the original meaning of the Greek word for worship from this text. (BTW, here’s a great video on how to use the Blue Letter Bible online website.) The Greek transliteration for worship in this verse is proskyneō and means to kiss the hand in reverence, or to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence. Do you want to get to the next level in worship? Bow down. The Father is looking for worshipers willing to bow their lives before Him as a response to his immeasurable love. This is the ultimate destination to which He calls us. Trying to rev people up on our own is water that will only cause you to thirst again. Living Water that satisfies all thirst awaits those who choose a life bowed down before the Most High God.

For more on this topic, check out Glen Packiam’s post on

Please join the conversation below. Next, I plan to share some thoughts on the question of responsibility I raised above. Is it a music style issue or a lifestyle issue? Stay tuned…

6 thoughts on “Down To The Next Level, Pt. 1

  1. Great points to ponder. So if the music is “flat”..does my worship fall flat..what needs to happen in me to respond to the triune God so that I fall flat and worship Him?
    Some churches have brought in light shows and fog machines that provide even more entertainment while they sip on designer coffee and enjoy the Sunday morning worship jam. I’ll admit it, I’ve attended that kind of church and my flesh just loves it–one church even provided me with a chocolate chip cookie to go with my coffee while I sat in the “worship center”. The music was all pumped up-I didn’t fall flat in worship though. Hmmmm, but I really liked the coffee and cookies and I danced a bit.
    I remember the days when the music folks were in the back of the church/up in a loft so that only God was center stage, represented on the altar.

    We’ve come a long way from that kind of worship, haven’t we?! Does that mean we’ve reached a new level? Or, are we on a slippery slope?
    Worship music style and worship lifestyle are to different things that have maybe gotten blurred. Thanks for helping define what worship is and what it isn’t.

  2. Are they responding to God in worship, or responding to the music? That’s an interesting question to contemplate. I have been in many types of worship, including the chocolate chip cookie kind! It’s a good thing to have people get really pumped up, and it’s also good to bring them to their knees through tender, sweet songs that stir hearts and their love for the Lord. I remember one time a service ended and people were leaving the worship center. The worship team began to sing an old hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy. It was amazing and the Holy Spirit filled the center and the hearts of all that were present. People began coming back into the center, people gathered up in the front of the center, arms were raised, tears were shed………… was a beautiful moment. Yeah…………pumping it up is awesome and I love it. I also love the old and beautiful hyms that have endured the ages! I love the stories behind them and I love the way they touch my heart. I think this is another way to pump people up!! I’m so lucky that in my church we do some of both…..maybe we need to do more variety, more often!! Wow….a huge responsibility to be a worship leader!! We have a fantastic leader……and I would say that a worship leader who has Jesus alive and well in his heart, who can speak, share and pray as the Holy Spirit leads, is going to do a great job!!

  3. We enjoyed this post. It is good food for thought. Bryan and I have experienced some very wonderful intense worship during our hospital stay. It has nothing to do with the type or volume of music. It has everything to do with encountering the presence of God and humbling ourselves before Him. God is all Present and Jesus is in us and His Holy Spirit fills us so we can worship anywhere at any time.

    On Sunday mornings, do we appreciate well played music with well thought out words of praise and worship? Of course. Even more we appreciate the sincere, deep love of the Lord from our worship leader, the relationship he has with Jesus, his sensitivity to God’s Holy Spirit, and his willingness to humbly share his faith and talent with us. In our opinion, it is the privilege and the responsibility of each one of us to worship our Awesome God regardless of the style, volume, or dynamics of the music offered.

  4. This seems like the right sort of question to ask. It gave me lots to think about. One of the first things that came to mind was remembering our church staff when they came back from experiencing Restoration for Life. We could see and feel a change in them, and they were so eager to share the experience with the rest of us, like, “Come on in; the water’s fine!” So it is for Worship Leaders, for disciples of Christ. When we are filled with the Living Water, we want to share it. “Come on in! The Living Water’s fine!”

    Another idea that came to me in response to this question was a kind of metaphor. Suppose someone saw me playing around on the guitar, a little, which is all I can do. But a person might see that, and they might ask me, “Would you teach me?”

    I could respond, “Yes, I’ll teach you what I know,” and share my limited knowledge. My student could learn three chords, enough to play several songs, enjoy it, maybe even share the music with others, as I have done at camp and at school. But I can only take them so far.

    So, after that, one option is that I could study more, then share what I know, always trying to stay a little ahead of my student. Another option is that the student could make the decision to increase their study on their own, maybe listen, go on-line, find an accomplished teacher, play with others who have mastered the guitar, practice, practice, practice, etc. In this case, they would surpass me, and go on to perhaps touch and affect others with their music. It is a little like the parable with the seeds that fall on different soil, rocky or fertile. How commited are we to worship? Am I committed to “love the Lord my God, with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my mind?” Are the other people I worship with committed in that way? What are we expecting? God is ever-present, an eternal, infinite and unmeasurable Creator, who does not force our commitment, but gives us the choice to invite the Divine Presence into our lives. We can go ever deeper, ever further into communion. Whatever any of us can share about our awesome God can inspire others in our community of believers.

    Finally, I thought about an outstanding and charismatic camp counselor I know. I have gone on scouting hikes with him, exhausting and challenging trips up mountains doing reconnaissance for an upcoming hike. My friend would map out the trip, research the history, mark the route physically or mentally, scout out places to rest, camp,
    take shelter in emergency, etc. All of this would take place on his “day off”, because there is not time built into camp for this kind of preparation. But for my friend, these scouting trips are necessary; he loves it, and he is passionate about getting it right, sharing his love for the hike with the campers. On the day of the hike, reactions will vary. Some of the campers are seasoned hikers, in shape, well-outfitted, with attitudes of joy and gratitude at the unique experience they are having. Others are out of shape, huffing and puffing, perhaps catching momentary glimpses of beauty, but maybe more focused on their personal challenges of just keeping up with the group. Still others are ill-equipped, literally chafing and blistering and at the extreme limits of their endurance. It may be much later before they even realize what an opportunity this was, or that their endurance has a new outer limit that they were not aware of before. Others openly reject this mad idea, feel this is wasted time, or wish they were shopping.

    The point is, my friend has been “there”, and he is helping others to get “there”, if they wish to. Because of his passion, preparation, commitment, and leadership, there is a flow, a freedom, trust in his leadership, the opportunity to expand horizons. None of the hikers know that on the reconnaissance trip, he got lost twice, and we walked an extra two or three miles finding the correct route. They don’t know that he moved a tree limb out of the path so they would not have to crawl over it, as we did, or that he then used it to mark the left fork in the trail so that we would take the correct route when we went as a group. They do not know that he struck up a conversation with a local strawberry farmer, and that is why we’ll have fresh strawberries to eat on our trip together. They won’t know that we ran out of water on our trip, but that he found a spring where we could get water when we went on the group hike.

    And so we come back to Worship Leaders. With our ever-deepening relationship to God, we are guides to that knowing for our fellow worshippers, sometimes leading the way, sometimes following others who are also committed to love the Lord their God with their entire beings. As we live and worship in community, and as we trust in God and are obedient, new paths will open to us. Our Father is always with us.

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