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“With all these worship leaders in the room, there shouldn’t be a problem getting y’all to worship.”

How often have we heard this in a workshop or conference setting that was mostly for worship leaders and music ministry members? Actually, in full disclosure, I’ve used it in a simple choir rehearsal or two when I felt there was a lack of connection by the very people who are supposed to be called to invoke the presence of God. It seems to be a very simple concept: If your calling is to lift worship to God, then when it’s time to worship, it should come easy. And CERTAINLY if there is a room full of people who are called to worship such as at a rehearsal, conference, or concert, then the manifested presence of God (and the ease of worship) should be overflowing. Right?

In retrospect, I say “Nah.”  Again, this is no indictment on anyone because I too have ascribed and even used this theory to my advantage. However, upon further inspection, I see a few factors that may interfere with this theory’s plausibility.

The first and probably most far reaching factor is, as Levites, we are always the pushers of the praise. When you are….no, when we are….no let me just speak for me. When I go to a service that I am not an intricate part of, it becomes easier for me to be my more reserved self if I indeed feel more reserved that day. I’m usually the one whose job it is to push the praise and worship in the house in some shape or form, so when I get a chance to not be that person, I actually take advantage of it. It’s not a lack of worship, it’s not a lack of praise, it’s not a lack of feeling, interest, or participation. It’s simply that I don’t have to push this so I am more able to worship at my own personal comfort level. If that means jumping up and down or dancing then so be it. However, if that means a lifted hand while meditating and just enjoying the feeling of God’s presence from my seat, then that’s what I am more inclined to do. Leading worship is a hard job, especially when you do it week after week, Sunday after Sunday. Sometimes the leader wants to be lead into worship, or even allowed to worship in their own way, at their own comfort level, in a worship atmosphere that has already been set for them. So when that chance is presented, we take it.

The second one is a little more controversial. In these types of settings, because most of us are anointed to lead worship, we recognize (or should recognize) the anointing quickly. This means that we also recognize gimmicks and antics quickly. Why? Because at some point in our tenure, we’ve invoked them or at least been tempted to do so. So while we have no problem with your antics, we won’t automatically respond to them. We know the “buzz words” to say that should get the right response because we’ve used them. Minister Shawn Bigby, gospel artist and worship leader, said in a recent service that I attended: “Antics are cool if they come from your heart. But if it doesn’t come from your heart, keep your antics.”I would say that this is the cry of most people who are spiritual and truly recognize the anointing, and even more-so for those of us who serve wholeheartedly in the ministry of worship.

The flip side to this would be that as worship leaders, we understand what it is to stand in a microphone pulling on people to worship and not getting the response we had hoped for. So there is a certain amount of “support” that is expected in those moments from a room full of worship leaders due to the common experience. The elephant question in the room becomes, why do we need a certain response from the congregation? Moment of transparency: I had begun to see this type of thing in my own worship leading, and I was challenged (and am still being challenged) by the Holy Spirit as to why I do or say certain things when leading worship….or even why I feel the need to do or say those things. He challenged (and is challenging) me to be more authentic, more present in the actual moment, and not lean to ready-made statements or actions that have been learned or observed over the years. It’s a lesson that many of us can learn as worship leaders. God anoints our authenticity. And maybe, just maybe, the person in the congregation doesn’t have the strength to “pull on the presence of God” like we would desire them to, but we have the power in those moments to bring the presence of God to that person and to their situation. Just like this could be the case with a typical congregant, it can also be the case when worship leaders are in one room together. We often have needs and burdens, physical ailments or diseases that we lay aside in order to get others into the presence of God. While there is a refreshing that occurs for us as the leader, when we get the opportunity to not be the leader and to soak in the presence and tend to our own wounds, our response may not always be the most exuberant looking, but it doesn’t mean that we are any less blessed by what our fellow worship leaders are presenting. This could be another lesson for all of us: every lack of visible enthusiasm is not an actual lack of interest.

Lastly, as minstrels and Levites, we are some of the most talented people on earth. We are often more critical of others who are ministering in front of us. This is often not intentional. In fact, we can be critical without even recognizing it at times, even with ourselves. Because of this, it can be a lot for our minds to wade through in order to get to the meat of the worship experience that is being offered to us. The internal critique of the stage does not have to be negative in order to hinder our intense worship in these moments. The vocalist may be amazing and we may be admiring their vocal ability, comparing it with our own, or simply marveling at its beauty. This too can cause a lag in response to worship. As sensory beings, we automatically respond to what we hear and see first because in order to feel we must be in closer proximity. Our critiquing mind can make it a little harder to draw our spirits in close enough to actually worship as opposed to observing. We are worshippers at heart, but we are humans even at our best.

All of these are not meant to be exhaustive, nor are they meant to point the finger at anyone. These are simply observations from my time as a worship leader on stage versus my time as a worship leader sitting in the congregation.

Worship leaders: have you ever experienced this disconnect, either from the stage while ministering before other worship leaders or as a worship leader sitting in the congregation? What are your thoughts? Are there other factors to be taken into consideration?