Through their leadership style, some worship leaders maintain such a high platform profile that they actually distract people from worship. It’s hard to see the Lord when the leader is so large. I believe worship leaders can provide clear leadership while also seeking to be invisible before the congregation. How? By setting their focus on the Lord. When worship leaders engage with Jesus, the eyes of the people are naturally lifted to Jesus as well.
I’d like to present this dictum to worship leaders: Get control then lose control. Let me explain.
Get control. Exercise your strongest leadership at the launch of the worship service. Step up and take charge. Call the people to praise. Encourage and provoke with cheerful optimism. Lay hold of the meeting and gather the room. Sensing your confidence, the people will relax and follow.
But then, lose control. At some point in the worship service, take your foot off the gas, release your ability to muscle the meeting, and decide in your heart to give room to the Holy Spirit. It’s fairly easy to take control of a worship service; it’s threatening to our insecurities to surrender that control to the Spirit’s lead. Why? Because we don’t know what He’ll do with it. And yet, this is where worship leading becomes most effective and where running with Jesus becomes most adventurous.
An enthusiastic leader might be able to stimulate an enthusiastic praise service, but no human is capable of empowering people to worship. Only the Holy Spirit can unlock the heart. This is why we lose control to the Holy Spirit. We give Him room to move on hearts in ways we can’t accomplish even with our best leadership skills. If we insist upon holding a tight rein on the entire worship service, we can miss the sovereign move of the Spirit.
As long as we maintain control of the worship service, we’ll have a human-directed service. When we surrender our control, we open to the possibilities of a Spirit-led worship service. Notice that I didn’t say we’ll have a Spirit-controlled service. Why not? Because the Bible never talks about being Spirit-controlled. It speaks of being self-controlled and Spirit-led. The Holy Spirit will never try to control us but will graciously lead us in worship when we move over and give Him the driver’s seat.
The Holy Spirit never controls people, and neither should we. To get control means, therefore, that worship leaders don’t take control of the people but of the meeting. And to lose control means we give control of the meeting to the Spirit’s lead.
Some worship leaders today don’t let go the reins of the worship service until the tick of the clock indicates we’re done. But I’d like to advocate for an intentional letting go in order to make room for the Spirit. The Holy Spirit won’t impose Himself over our leadership; He waits to be invited in.
How can worship leaders lose control?
Ask. Stop and ask the Holy Spirit what He’s doing in the moment.
Withdraw. Pull back from the microphone and give the Lord room to move in a way we hadn’t planned.
Wait. Before moving straight into the next song, pause and wait upon the Lord.
Bow. When a worship leader goes to their knees, it signals a dependence on God and a reach for more of Him.
It’s threatening to the ego to lose control because, if the Holy Spirit doesn’t step in and help in a way we can identify, we can appear to be aimless and incompetent in our leadership. Worship leaders are always putting their pride on the altar. We’re willing to look bad so the Holy Spirit can have His way.
We don’t know everything God wants to do in worship, and rely upon the Holy Spirit from start to finish to accomplish what He alone can do. The potential of worship is as limitless as God Himself. Only God knows what He can do when we surrender to His leadership. Let’s give Him room to work “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20). That awareness may one day lead us to say something like this: “Let’s take a little more time to enjoy the Lord’s presence as we sing this line again. It’s possible that God is doing as many things in this room right now as there are people. Let’s take the time to allow Him to complete His work in our hearts.” God is always doing more in corporate worship than leaders realize or understand. So get control and then lose control.
This blog is adapted from chapter eight of Bob’s just-released book, EXPLORING WORSHIP, THIRD EDITION.