“Your first song is always a throw-away.”
Those words have always bugged me, even though I’ve often seen it to be true. If you know any worship leaders, ask them, sometime, about their struggle to bring people together to worship.
I’m currently reading Marty Boller’s Wisdom of Wimber (full review at a later date), and it was an interesting reminder that — in oldskewl Vineyardian terms — the first song of a worship set was viewed as the “call to worship”. A musical invitation to connect with the Father, Son & Holy Spirit with intentionality.
“And if we’d ever stop long enough to think about it, coming into the presence of God is a holy thing.” (page 55)
Sadly, I’ve lost track of the number of times when it felt more like trying to herd cats than inviting people to worship God. The “throw-away” song was simply our best attempt to pry people away from their conversations & coffee, and lure them into remembering that they were actually there for something — or Someone — else. (Note: there appears to be no denominational differences when it comes to first-song dynamics.)
Viewing the “call to worship” as little more than a musical throwaway should bother us. However, this immediately raises some significant cautions & considerations for worship leaders:
- You can’t “make” people worship, anymore than you can “make” them love Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29-31). So, don’t verbally assault them in your zeal. Public shaming is a poor substitute for leadership.
- Don’t crank up the volume in an attempt to drown out those who are talking loudly; find other ways to engage them. (Usually, they just talk even louder to compensate, and if/when they finally join in worship, the rest of the congregation is experiencing hearing loss, which does not make for a very worshipful atmosphere.)
- It’s just a wee bit difficult to lead people into the presence of God in song if you’re feeling ignored and resenting it.
1. How’s your overflow?
Or, in other words: is the weekly gathering the only time people are experiencing worship?
When the church gathers, how different would it be if their worship was an overflow from what they have been experiencing with God during the rest of the week? (Or have we created a meeting-dependent pack of lemmings?)
2. How’s your infrastructure?
By that, I mean: are people connecting with each other in meaningful fellowship during the week, sharing life together in small groups?
If people aren’t deepening their relationships during the week, is it any surprise they are so eager to “catch up” on Sundays around the coffee?
Small groups must be far deeper than little social clubs to meet this need. Socializing is why God gave us beaches and BBQ’s. Small groups are there to allow people to share life together, to use their spiritual gifts, and to both give & receive prayer.
3. How’s your expectations?
In plain inglés: is this just another meeting? Or is God actually present?
“More is caught than taught,” they say. As leaders (including but not limited to worship leaders), what are we modelling in our worship posture? Are we checking our phones? Going over sermon notes? In some other way, communicating non-verbally that we’re not really engaged in worship, either?
Don’t “fake it” to look spiritual, of course. Perish the thought. But if we’ve lost our “first love” (Revelation 2:4-5), let’s be quick to repent.
4. How’s your desperation?
If God doesn’t show up, will anyone notice the difference?
When you gather for leadership meetings (staff, elders, small groups, worship team, or whatever), what part does worshipping God and ministering to each other play?
As others have noted: “You can’t lead where you’re not walking.”
Getting past the “throw-away worship” mindset is a little more nuanced than simply finding more creative ways to grab people’s attention at the beginning of the weekly gathering.
But I suspect we’ll find ourselves with more disciples, and less consumers-of-religious-goods-and-services, if we make the effort.
A lot can be done to address this by making changes to the typical evangelical order of the service that we usually use in Vineyard churches.
Option 1: Instead of using the first song as the call to worship, have the pastor of the church stand up and explicitly call the congregation to worship by issuing a welcome and leading them in prayer for the Spirit to come. Adding an opening Scripture reading between the welcome and the prayer will make it even better.
Option 2: Instead of starting with worship followed by the sermon and then ending with prayer ministry, start with the sermon, then worship and prayer ministry afterwards. Since in the Vineyard our musical worship is a space in which we encounter the Spirit and often see him engage with us, it makes more sense to put worship and prayer ministry next to each other so that they can flow seamlessly together.
Option 2 is a more radical change than option 1, but I recommend it as the best solution, since it solves both this problem and more. But option 1 is also viable; I’ve seen it used successfully in multiple Vineyard churches.