May 19, 2017
This is mainly directed toward helping pastors and ministry leaders that find themselves in the scenario that their church is without a worship leader or a team of musicians to lead the congregation (though I would argue that the lead pastor is himself the de facto worship leader, so perhaps I’ll say “chief musician” instead).
How do you conduct effective corporate gatherings of worship when you don’t have a chief musician?
How do you incorporate times of singing without it coming off as cheesy, contrived, or low quality?
Chad Jarnagin, David Santistevan, Rory Noland, Sam Hargreaves, Paul Baloche, and Gareth Goossen have all shared great ideas over the years to help us creatively express worship as a gathered church along these lines, and I’ve compiled (read: blatantly copied) some of their favorites here.
Here are 20 options for you to consider:
1. Engage With Scripture
Effective worship leaders lead them to the truth. The Word is where worship is inspired.
Leading the gathered believers by not only pointing them to Scripture but helping them connect with it is never to be undervalued.
“Though you may be struggling with this fear, remember the truth of Psalm 27: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Imagine leading this moment. Depressed eyes begin to lift. Trembling voices begin to shout “Amen”. And it’s not because we’re hyping up the room into a frenzy. We’re gently delivering a promise from God that speaks to their situation. No need to preach a sermon here.
2. Empathize With Emotions
Before a room will worship with you, they need to trust you, especially if you’re not usually the one leading them in what we commonly call our corporate time of worship. You wouldn’t get into a car driven by a complete stranger, right? (Uber and Lyft members need not respond!) Attempt to connect with people on an emotional level.
Pray and ask God what this particular congregation needs. After sensing His leading, connect with people on that topic. For example, if God wants to help people overcome their fear, guide them with an encouragement formed from your own vulnerability:
“I know many here today may be struggling with fear – fear over the economy, fear about your son or daughter’s salvation, fear that you might fail, or fear about something you’re afraid to admit. I feel this fear every day.” In acknowledging these needs aloud, you relate with where your church is at and you build trust to move forward in other means of expressing worship.
3. Express Physically
This is where the power is. Worship is a choice; it’s a decision. After you empathize with their emotions and engage them with scripture, lead them to an action step. What do you want them to do? A physical response is part of how the Lord describes how He likes to be worshipped. It is often both vocal and physical in nature.
Rather than lament the loss of time to be led through a few songs, shepherd your flock to encounter the truth of God through how He tells us to seek Him. One example is to challenge people for the next 30 seconds to lift their voice and cry out to God. To cry out to Him for His presence and power, trusting that as we cry out to Him together that He will flood our lives with His peace. To call out loudly before him, as scripture tells us to do.
4. Psalm Remix
Have each person choose a Psalm and read it through on their own, then rewrite it in their own words. Encourage them to reference situations from their own lives, use their own phrases, and relate it to their modern day faith. Encourage them to read their versions back to God as part of worship.
5. Prayer Walk
Take the people for a guided prayer walk outside the confines of your sanctuary or usual worship location, and encourage people to have their hearts, eyes and ears open. Ask God to show your church things to praise him for, things to ask him to change, and things that challenge the way you live now. Talk to God as you walk together.
6. Song Stories
Look up the story behind some songs you particularly like. Often the background to these songs of faith opens up new levels of meaning. When you find one that inspires you, share that song story with the church, ask them to reflect on it and then sing it together acapella.
7. Quiet Time
Just like when we were in kindergarten and needed to calm down, some quiet time is good for our souls. Put on some quiet instrumental music, turn down the lights and dedicate some time to tuning in to simply resting in God’s love for us. For those who struggle to focus, provide guided reflection on some Bible verses, such as can be found here - http://www.openbible.info/topics/god_loves_me
8. Lord’s Prayer Reflection
Spend 5 minutes praying through the prayer slowly, reflecting on each phrase, letting God speak to you as you do.
9. Celtic Prayer
Go to http://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/ and choose the Morning, Midday or Evening Prayer depending on the hour of your worship service. Take your time praying through the prayers and readings.
10. Acts of Kindness
Lead the church in praying and asking God to inspire acts of kindness they could do secretly for someone that coming week. Have them write down the ideas, commit in prayer to carry out the acts of kindness that week, and plan time the next week in service to give the glory to God by having church members share some of the ways they found to show love in practical ways.
This is almost certainly going to be a challenging one: share the stories of Miriam leading the people in worship through dance, and of David dancing before the Lord unashamed and undignified. Put on some upbeat music and lead the people in trying out some moves to dance to the glory of God! Acknowledge the awkwardness and just let it happen. (Perhaps showing a video clip of the dance instruction scene from the movie “Hitch” may help)
12. Newspaper Prayer
Pass out copies of a national or local newspaper. Have people go through and either circle or tear out stories that touch you as they read them. Encourage them to listen to God for his heart for the situations. Have them write or draw prayers over the stories using felt-tip pens, and post these stories/prayers on a wall for reflection and continued prayer.
13. Biblically Directed Worship Response
Read a passage in the Bible and interactively ask the people to consider - what worship response does it suggest? Should you confess sin, praise God, offer thanks, express sadness and sorrow, question and doubt in God’s presence, intercede for a situation...? Then lead them in doing what you think fits the text.
14. Physical Posture
Suggest some ways of praying and worshiping God based on different hand and body positions. Spend a few minutes to teach the implications of different physical postures to the church, to help them in bodily expressions of worship and prayer: arms & hands lifted in praise, clasped in confession, push into your palm with a finger to reflect on the cross, bowing, kneeling, etc. Showing the Tim Hawkins video on hand raising may help encourage an atmosphere of willingness to try out new postures together.
How often do we actually just sit in God’s presence in silence and meditate? Intentionally carve out a time of being still before the Lord and let Him lead the church into worship by His Spirit alone.
15. Food Fellowship & Worship
Have a simple but substantial meal based around bread and wine (or grape juice). Use it as an opportunity to reflect or talk about the Last Supper, the cross of Christ, other symbolic references to bread and wine, and what these mean for us today. Relate the experiences of the early church as they met in each other’s homes and fellowshipped over meals daily.
16. Artsy Reflection
Provide art materials or rip pictures out of magazines, and a dedicated space of time in service to let people create art that expresses to God how they feel right now. Make a collective picture or collage collection to be displayed as an offering to Him. Alternatively, paint or collage prayers for other people, or reflections on a Bible passage.
17. Reciting Scripture
Saying passages aloud together can be an expression of worship. Though this is very ancient in practice, it may be new for many. It is a beautiful and unifying way of responding with each other.
18. Poetry or Spoken Word Readings
This can be a unique way of offering worship. Poetry is practically a lost art within the Church. Encourage poets from within our own communities to write responses of their heart, life, and connection to what God is doing, and recite them in Church. It’s another way for us to commune together and with God.
19. Communion, Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Lord’s Table
Whatever your name for it, it is a wonderful expression of worship, union, and response. We can even celebrate coming to the table in various different ways, instead of always using the same approach. Passing the plates/cups down the rows, coming forward together row by row, receiving at our own pace throughout the gathering time, having different stations in different places in the church, members serving one another (instead of deacons, ushers or whoever “the professional” communion servers in your tradition are), etc.
20. Old Fashioned Acapella Call It Out Song-Sing
This requires hymnals or songbooks to distribute, or someone who is an absolute whiz at visually projected media to pull off. Read Ephesians 5:19 to the church. Encourage people to call out the name of a song they’d like to sing together in worship. The caveat: whoever calls out the name of the song has to stand up front and lead the church in singing it. If you spend a few moments preparing the church’s hearts to embrace this time, it can be a very strong of community building and a sweet time of corporate worship as folks whom don’t normally lead do step forward in boldness to try it out.