Our friend Rachel Turner has been on a journey asking ‘What is true worship for everyone?’ and challenges us to go deeper with our worship:
More Than Great Karaoke
About seven years ago, I began to be very unsettled in worship. There was just something missing. I looked out over the congregation and saw whole families singing together – our entire church family bobbing along to a song of praise – and yet something didn’t feel… complete.
For a year, I’d been trying to create a time of worship for the congregation that everyone in the church family could access and engage with. I developed a base of music that all ages understood and loved, I worked between the kids groups and the adult worship team facilitating a mutual worship set, and I helped the worship leaders communicate and lead in a clearer way from the front. The result was that the congregation sang comfortably and happily together during the sung worship. What was missing though was … the actual worship.
Often the first step in establishing Worship for Everyone is getting the congregation engaged and willing to sing and enjoy the time together. It is an important stage. But that isn’t worship yet, it’s just fantastic group karaoke. What we are longing for as leaders, is for people of all ages to turn whole-heartedly to God and to express their hearts and adoration to Him, together, side-by-side.
So how do we transition from all-age karaoke to side-by-side heart-connection during worship? I’m still on a journey of learning, but here are a few questions that I have found helpful to ask myself!
1) “How would I lead this, if this was the only chance we all had to worship today?” How would I introduce the worship, or end it? What would my song choices be? What would I expect from my worship leaders and the children alongside me at the front? I found that when I began to answer these questions for myself, I stopped using a lot of my engagement shortcuts.
I stopped calling kids up to a special zone in the front while we sang, but put more effort into facilitating families to worshipping as part of the whole body right where they were.
I stopped inviting kids up on stage to do the actions for those songs. Instead, I added them to my worship team for the whole morning and trained them in how to be key worshippers.
I stopped doing the songs that everyone knew well, and started teaching them the songs that would engage their hearts best. Instead of doing upbeat songs that everyone knew, I took them on a worship journey, drawing them closer into encounter with God.
2) “Is a wide expression of worship being modelled?” Worship for Everyone isn’t just about age, it’s about every person being able to worship! I noticed that I often was giving very few options from the front in terms of how someone could engage with God. There was a) the band – little chance of doing that unless you are in it b) the lead singer and the harmony people – there ya go congregation, that’s you c) And on select songs – the actions.
Not everyone expresses their heart to God in musical worship in those three ways, but the message I was giving from the front was that those were the only acceptable ones. So I began to experiment with how I could add more freedom to the congregation.
Firstly, I added two or three key worshippers onstage who weren’t miked but just worshipped in their way. Some knelt; some raised their hands, some didn’t sing at all but just stood silently and prayed, some did actions or signs.
Secondly, I invited a few artists to bring in canvases on the side of church and paint during worship. Plus, a few people began to dance at the sides, back, or front if there was space. The more we widened the range, the more each member of the congregation felt able and affirmed to pursue God in worship instead of just trying to find Him in the only two acceptable ways we showed. The congregation began to engage with God in a way that connected with them best, not according to their age, but according to their natural heart’s expression to God.
3) “Am I choosing enough ‘connection’ songs?” I found that I tended to choose more songs about God, His attributes, and what I will do in response to it, than choosing actual songs that put my congregation in face-to-face connection with God. I’m not referring to slow songs, just songs (upbeat or not) that draw people to directly express themselves to God.
When I started choosing songs that spoke directly to God, instead of about him, we saw a shift in the worship level across all ages. People would be able to position their hearts and invite God to “Meet with Me”, and tell Him “I Love You Lord” instead of just singing about his size or accomplishments. Please don’t get me wrong, I think truth songs about God are an important part of our children’s repertoire, but I think that maybe there is a better place to sing them than in a worship set.
Shaping while Leading
4) “How can I better help everybody understand what happens during worship, spiritually?” I began to realise that my congregation understood the practicals of how we do our sung worship, but most didn’t understand the spiritual significance of it. They were just singing the words I put in front of them, and it was left to each one to figure out how to connect their singing to what was happening spiritually.
I began to drip in little teachings about the spiritual aspects or worship. I dropped in how we are transformed in his presence, how God dwells in the praises of His people, how truth brings freedom. The more I helped to shape what was actually happening in worship (our hearts cheering God and connecting to His heart as His presence fills the room and speaks and sets people free), the better and more eager all ages were to fully worship.
Well, those are my first four questions that helped me get started on my journey of Worship for Everyone. We are all on this journey together! Your answers to the questions may be different to mine, and that is absolutely right… your church context is different to mine and your journey may take a different path. But questions are always worth asking!