Chemistry 101 by: Ps. Tim Sheppard

Our vision at Gateway Worship is to develop highly influential God-worshippers. We focus on developing the five following foundational values. They are:
Core – our understanding of worship;
Character – our conduct as worshippers of Jesus;
Craft – how we hone our skills to operate in our giftings with excellence;
Chemistry – how we engage the congregation in ministry; and
Community – being part of a family of people with similar interests and callings.

I want to share a few thoughts with you about chemistry. To this day, though, I have to admit that whenever I think of chemistry, I am reminded of Mrs. Peters … yes, Mrs. Peters.

You see, I was really nervous about high school Chemistry, and rightfully so. The subject itself was pretty intimidating for me. My bigger concern going into the class, though, was what I had heard about Mrs. Peters, the chemistry teacher. She was known as a stern, don’t-mess-around-with-me disciplinarian. Well, she certainly lived up to that reputation. Mrs. Peters’ default mood was set to mean. I survived both Chemistry and Mrs. Peters somehow, but her short-fused demeanor made a lasting impression.

My memories of Mrs. Peters illustrate a fundamental truth about chemistry (not the branch of science, but Gateway Worship’s fourth foundational value). People receive the message as they receive the messenger. I never developed an interest in the message of chemistry because I could not relate to Mrs. Peters, its messenger.

The very title “worship leader” emphasizes both the vertical and horizontal dynamics of our role. We worship (connect with God vertically), but we also lead (connect with the congregation horizontally).

Frankly, in my opinion, the most glaring mistake worship leaders make is they ignore the responsibility to lead horizontally. We must do more than deliver an epic song list or tell the congregation, “Come on now … let’s worship.” We should find ways to pastor people along the journey of worship.

It is true that connecting with God in front of people models worship. However, most people still need road signs in order to make the journey with us.

Consider how a great communicator, like our own Pastor Robert Morris, preaches. He not only delivers truth from God’s Word, but also illustrates those truths, often with stories from his own life. Pastor Robert personalizes truth. As people connect with the messenger through his illustrations and life experiences, they are able to connect with the Message he shares.

Jesus Himself delivered truth that He then illustrated with stories and parables.

Illustrations are just one of many road signs a messenger can use to help people make the journey to connect with the message. How do we apply this “road sign” concept to worship? In worship, the song lyrics contain the truth we deliver. What we share between the songs can often become the illustration—the parable—that helps people connect with the message.

Here are a few suggestions for providing effective “road signs” in worship:

LEAD WITH COMPASSION. Consciously open your heart to both God and the people. When I participate in worship as a congregant in some churches, I often notice how disconnected the worship leader is from the people. They might as well be singing to the back wall. People can usually sense when a leader’s heart is closed, and they are uncomfortable with it.

When you prepare to lead others in worship, ask God to give you His heart for the people. Realize that there will be those in the congregation who are broken and desperate. Some will be crying out in their spirit, “God, if You don’t speak to me today, I don’t know how I will survive.”

Jesus had compassion on people. He wept over cities. When was the last time we as worship leaders wept over our congregations?

GET A VISION FOR WORSHIP. Whenever you lead, ask the Lord to give you a particular theme or emphasis for worship. When I say “theme,” I do not mean a topic you build the song list around. Rather, the theme helps you to focus on a specific purpose that is on God’s heart for worship.

For example, this past weekend, I was reminded that praise is a weapon God uses to silence the Enemy (Psalm 8:2). Though no song touched on this truth, I used this as an emphasis with the team, and we focused on it and prayed into it throughout the weekend. We reminded ourselves that as we praise, we are not only bringing pleasure to God but also doing warfare by silencing the Enemy so people can hear God’s voice.

SHARE YOUR HEART. Here are some suggestions on how you can do this:

Be brief and to the point. People want to hear from you. They want to know how you relate to what is being sung. However, don’t try to teach a mini-sermon. Leave the teaching up to the pastor. Make sure your comments are moving the congregation forward in the journey of worship. The wrong comments can distract and pull people out of worship, so plan your comments wisely and be succinct.

Find the right placement. Think carefully through your worship list to find the proper place to offer your comments. Give the same level of skill and care to the placement of your words as you do to the placement of your songs.

Share a meaningful Scripture. It is always meaningful to read a few Bible verses that reinforce some truth God has laid on your heart for worship. I will sometimes read from the New Living Translation or The Message to try to bring freshness to a familiar passage. Offer the passage on the video screens so the congregation can read along with you. Ask them to read a portion of the passage aloud with you to help engage them.

Share a brief story from your own life. We must use good judgment when we share. Don’t embarrass or expose others or make them the punch line to your joke.

I once heard a worship leader share a story in which he stated that his wife “just didn’t get” his interest in patriotism. He should have never made a comment that would reflect poorly on his spouse. Be brief and to the point, but find a way to put a truth you are singing about into a personal context.

Be encouraging. Avoid correction and admonishment. I recently heard a worship leader say in the middle of worship that the congregation may have come thinking it was their duty to be there but that God wants us to come with our whole heart. Frankly, I was insulted because I didn’t come thinking it was my duty, and I am sure a lot of other people didn’t come with that attitude, either.

What are you yelling about? This may not apply to your worship setting, but here at Gateway, we try to lead with energy and enthusiasm. However, in my own leading, in an effort to encourage people to engage in worship, sometimes I have found that sometimes a lot of my verbal communication throughout worship can come across almost like I am yelling at people. A great way to check for this is to review your worship leading afterwards on video. Put yourself in the place of the congregant and ask if you want to be led that way.

DO NOT DISQUALIFY YOURSELF. As worship leaders, our mission is to inspire the full age spectrum of the church to answer its foremost call to be worshippers. Worship leadership is actually a form of teaching. We teach by word and by example, and are therefore held to a higher standard: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:1–2, NKJV).

Our conduct directly reflects on our ability to lead effectively. Whenever we interact with anyone anywhere, we need to ask ourselves if our conduct will in any way disqualify us from leading that person in worship.

Worship is not only a journey for the congregation, but also for us as worship leaders. Part of the joy of the journey in developing chemistry—how we engage the congregation in ministry—is that we are learning together. If we are to pastor God’s people with skillfulness of hands and integrity of heart, according to Psalm 78:72, then we need His wisdom and anointing to help us. I’m grateful to be on the journey with you, and hope and pray God’s best for you as you grow in leadership.

Tim Sheppard

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