The Many Smiling Faces of Kathryn Scott

Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5)

A few weeks ago I was watching a worship service online that had Kathryn Scott as the guest worship leader. I’ve always enjoyed her songs (she’s best known for her song “Hungry (Falling On My Knees)”) but had never seen her lead worship before.

I was struck by the joy, enthusiasm, and smiling that permeated her leadership. Here are a few snapshots:

I’ve been told that I oftentimes look really intense, sometimes a bit angry, when I lead worship. I could learn a lot from Kathryn’s genuinely joyful example. What a difference it makes and what a message it sends!

Don’t be fake when you’re up front – plastering on a smile or putting on an act. Worship God genuinely and whole-heartedly, and model to your congregation God-centered worship.

But remember that what we’re celebrating and proclaiming each week is that God has rescued sinners through Jesus Christ – this is the Gospel, this is “good news” – and it’s worth smiling about!

Say No To Just Standing There

At our Monday night meeting, I encouraged my church’s worship team to “say no” to three things: (1) sameness, (2) winging it, and (3) just standing there.

For fun, I made up little stickers and handed them out at the beginning of my talk. It made everyone laugh and (hopefully) helped them remember what I said once they got home.

Here’s what I shared about not “just standing there”.

Fresh, creative, excellent, and well-rehearsed music will never change anyone’s life. Jesus will.

Good mixes, proper speaker placement, in-ear monitors, and skillful lyrics/video operation will never bring anyone salvation. Jesus will.

Our areas of giftedness can so easily become idols: things we look to for comfort, deliverance, help, and companionship. We consider them worthy of substantial time and/or money, and pour our lives out for them. Eventually they leave us empty.

We must never worship at the altar of relevance, freshness, music, technology, arrangements, or creativity. We worship the “Lamb who was slain”, who is worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:11). “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!” (Revelation 7:10b, 12).

Your job is not to just run sound. Your job is to lead people in exalting the greatness of God in Jesus Christ.

Your job is not to just play drums. Your job is to lead people in magnifying the one who is “great and greatly to be praised”. (Psalm 145:3)

Your job is not just to sing. Your job is to lead people in encountering the glory of God.

Do we make it clear on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings that our passion is for the glory of God, and that our lives have been changed by the gospel?

When people look at us (and they are looking at us), do they see people who are in their position first and foremost to make much of Jesus? Or do they see people who are in their role just because it kind of seems like that’s where they should be… and they could take it or leave it… and they’re not really into it… and they’ll just let the worship leader do his thing…?

Please, in whatever area you serve during a service, don’t just stand there. Sing along, model physical expressiveness, engage with God, pay close attention to the reading and preaching of God’s Word, and “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name, bring an offering, and come into his courts!” (Psalm 96:8) 

Where’s the Passion?

danceIn 2 Samuel 6, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought back into Jerusalem, David “danced… with all his might”. Take that description literally and just imagine how David looked. Undignified enough to draw the mocking of his wife Michal – but not nearly undignified enough for David to think about pulling back.

In Mark 14, a woman pours perfume on Jesus’ head. This perfume is expensive (worth “…more than year’s wages…). She didn’t hold any back (“she broke the jar…”). She drew the mocking of those around her (“they rebuked her harshly”). But Jesus was honored enough to say “she has done a beautiful thing to me”.

When I stand in front of a congregation to lead them in worship, do I resemble David or Michal? Am I worshipping “before the Lord” or too worried about my dignify? Am I willing to become “even more undignified” or do I look upon such behavior as worthy of contempt?

When I leave a service on Sunday morning, can I look back and say that I “broke the jar” – giving my all to worship Jesus? Did it cost me anything? Or did I hold back for fear of rebuke or for fear of giving up too much? Do I resemble Mary, whose worship was “beautiful” to Jesus, or the people who look upon such extravagant worship with suspicion?

Where’s the passion when I lead worship?

God deserves my whole-hearted, enthusiastic, God-glorifying, genuine, and even full-bodied singing.

The congregation is served by my example of a David-like abandon and Luke 14-like devotion.

I become a more effective worship leader when my passion for the glory of God is contagious and spreads into the congregation.

Where is your passion on Sunday morning?

If your passion is the music, it will show. You’ll contribute to a music ministry that exists to perform and a congregation that exists to hear and critique music.

If your passion is perfection you’ll contribute to a music ministry that exists to impress and a congregation that exists to applaud.

But if your passion is the glory of God, you’ll contribute to a music ministry and congregation for whom God’s glory is the goal and delight.

It’s not enough to be a good musician. Break your jar every Sunday, worship with all your might, and do it all “before the Lord”.

Ten Questions for My Worship Team – Pt. 1

growthThis past Monday night the worship team that I have the privilege and joy to lead at my church gathered for our October “tune-up night”. We typically begin at 7:30pm with pizza, drinks, and snacks, and then around 7:45 move into a time of extended and unhurried singing and prayer. After that, I’ll share some thoughts either on the practicalities or principles of worship leading, and then we’ll close by praying for our ministry together. We’ll wrap up by 9:15 and people will hang out for a while afterwards.

We started these meetings about three or four years ago and they have made a tremendous difference to our effectiveness as a worship team. It’s taken me a while to figure out how best to lead them, what night to have them on, what time they should be, what room to have them in, and how to structure them – and I’m sure they’ll keep evolving – but overall, they’ve been crucial to our growth and maturity as worship leaders.

I’ve learned that only the worship team that worships together is able to lead worship together.

For this reason, I expect every member of the worship team to make these “tune-up nights” a priority. Occasionally, because of work or family commitments, sickness, or travel, people have to miss them, but if someone is committed to serving on the worship team, their regular attendance is the primary way of displaying this commitment.

Last night, after our time of singing and prayer, I asked each member of the worship to share how and when they came to The Falls Church, when they joined the worship team, and why. It was great to hear from everyone, and I expressed my genuine appreciation for their humility and passion for God’s glory, and my gratefulness for the health of this worship team. I meant it! Then I said I wanted to challenge everyone – and I meant that too.

If we’re not intentional about growing in our gifts, dealing with our pride, and prioritizing God’s glory, we will just spin our wheels as a worship team over this coming year, and slowly lose effectiveness. We’ll go through the motions when we lead worship, our services will feel the same, the songs will feel the same, our tune-up nights will feel the same, we’ll eventually burn out, and our worship team will become unhealthy. I don’t want to see that happen, so I posed ten questions for everyone to seriously consider. If a particular question made someone uncomfortable – that’s fantastic. If not, that’s fine too.

Here are the ten questions I asked the team (this is taken from a summary I emailed to the worship team afterwards):

Do I see myself as a worship leader – or backup to Jamie?
I am not interested in leading worship with musical back-up, but with a team of worship leaders. Each member of this worship team should think of him or herself as a worship leader. This will radically change the dynamic of our team and the services in which we lead. Our priority and passion must be, along with the congregation, magnifying and encountering the greatness of God. If you’re on this team just to play music, you’re in the wrong place.

Do I sing?
This is a direct, but loving, challenge for every instrumentalist, every sound engineer, and every lyric operator on the worship team – particularly the men. If you’re consistently not singing, you’re inadvertently sending two messages: First, singing is for girls. Secondly, what we’re singing isn’t important. Shame on us if we’re sending any of those messages. We need to be sending a message, loud and clear, that we are here to proclaim and celebrate the glory of God in Jesus Christ, and that what we’re singing about has changed our lives.

I know it’s hard to sing and play an instrument at the same time. There may be times, during a particular section of a song, when you have to stop singing in order to concentrate. I understand. But try to grow in this area, however incrementally. If it means we are a little less “tight” musically for a time, I’m happy with that.

Ultimately, don’t sing because I’m making you sing. Sing because “(God) has done marvelous things!” (Psalm 98:1)

Are there physical expressions of worship encouraged in scripture that I do not display? Why?
I first heard this question phrased this way by Bob Kauflin in his seminar at the 2008 Worship God conference titled “Praising God with the Psalmist.” It’s a good and necessary question to ask. We don’t want to elevate physical expressiveness to the point where it either becomes an idol or a gauge of whether or not someone is worshipping – since we know God is first and foremost concerned with the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). But we also don’t want to ignore the overwhelming biblical support of expressiveness as being normal, appropriate and healthy as if it doesn’t matter to us at all. It does. Each one of us needs to grow in this area. If we don’t, neither will the congregation we serve.

(For your own personal study, here are some helpful scripture references dealing with different physical expressions of worship.)

  • Clapping: Psalm 47:1, Psalm 98:9, Isaiah 55:12
  • Lifting hands: Nehemiah 8:6, Psalm 28:2, Psalm 63:4, Psalm 134:2, Psalm 141:2, Lamentations 3:41, 1 Timothy 2:8
  • Dancing: 2 Samuel 6:14, Psalm 30:11, Psalm 149:3, Psalm 150:4, Ecclesiastes 3:4
  • Kneeling/bowing: Genesis 24:26, 48, 52, Nehemiah 8:6, 2 Chronicles 20:18, Psalm 5:7, Psalm 22:27, Psalm 66:4, Psalm 72:11, Psalm 95:6, Matthew 2:11, Revelation 5:8
  • Lying prostrate: 1 Kings 18:39
  • Shouting: Joshua 6:20, 2 Samuel 6:15, Ezra 3:11, Psalm 20:5, Psalm 27:6, Psalm 33:1, Psalm 33:3, Psalm 42:4, Psalm 47:1, Psalm 66:1, Psalm 71:23, Psalm 81:1, Psalm 126:2, Psalm 126:5, Psalm 132:9, Isaiah 12:6, Matthew 21:9
  • Smiling: Psalm 34:5
  • Jumping: Acts 3:8

Do I base my value as a person on how often I’m scheduled on the team?
If you’re not scheduled to sing over a four week period, do you feel crushed? If you’re scheduled to play an instrument every weekend, do you feel puffed up and validated? If the answer is “yes” or even “sort of” to either of those questions, it might be a sign that your understanding of who you are is frighteningly tied to how often you’re asked to serve on the worship team. Read through Ephesians 2 where Paul tells us how we were once “dead in (our) trespasses and sins”, “children of wrath”, “without God”, and “strangers”, – “but God… rich in mercy… lavished his grace on us.”

Our identity and value has nothing to do with how often we’re asked to serve. It has everything to do with how God gave us Jesus Christ who bore our sins, died our death, and raised us to life, and sealed us with his Spirit.

Am I comfortable (and faithful in) attending services of The Falls Church at which I am not scheduled to be on the team?
When members of a worship team begin to think that they belong on the worship team to the point that they are uncomfortable not being scheduled – or to the point that they won’t attend services unless they are – the worship team ceases to exist to serve the congregation and begins to exist for its members’ personal gratification. A worship team will only remain as humble, Christ-centered, and congregation-focused as its members.

I’ll post the last five questions tomorrow.

What They See is What You’ll Get

CongregationThey just stand there looking disinterested, disengaged, and unaffected by what they’re singing. Their bodies are stiff and their faces are stoic, betraying no emotion, no joy, and no life. Their eyes are glued to the lyrics in front of them as if they’re in a trance. The men don’t even sing. They all look uncomfortable. They look like they would rather be somewhere else. To call them “reserved” would be an understatement. They suck the energy out of the room.

And they call themselves the worship team!

It’s an interesting phenomenon for worship leaders to grab hold of: what they see is what you get.

Disinterested worship team = disinterested congregation.

Male instrumentalists not singing = men in the congregation not singing.

Zero expressiveness on the platform = zero expressiveness in the pews.

Worship leaders shouldn’t be surprised to look out and see a disinterested congregation if that’s what’s being modeled for them.

I am increasingly persuaded that this is the case: a congregation will not go beyond what they see modeled from up front.

A few months ago, I led worship for an evening session of the Anglican Church in North America’s inaugural assembly. To say that it was a challenging setting in which to lead would be an incredible understatement. We were in a crowded tent with low ceilings in the middle of summer in Texas. Five industrial-sized air conditioners lined the entire back wall going at full-blast (imagine the noise). The screens which were there to project the lyrics could hardly be seen. For many of the attendees this would be the first time they had ever heard a worship team or sung anything outside of a hymnal. The sight of drums on the platform could cause some to go into convulsions. The sight of an electric guitar could cause them to fall into a coma. During our sound-check people were plugging the ears and telling the sound engineers to “turn it down!” We had zero rehearsal. I had never played with half of the worship team before.

This was going to be interesting.

7:00pm rolled around and I welcomed the people – trying to read their faces and gauge whether or not they would even sing a single word once the songs started. We stood to sing and started off with Chris Tomlin’s “Holy is the Lord” – hoping that it would be a “new” song that most people would know.

The song began “We stand and lift our hands for the joy of the Lord is our strength.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw my electric guitarist and bass guitarist with their hands lifted in worship, singing to the Lord. Then I looked out at this group of Anglicans, who, five minutes earlier had been plugging their ears and looking a bit uncomfortable. I saw them, hundreds of them, with their hands lifted in worship, singing at the top of their lungs.

What they saw on the platform – I saw replicated in the congregation.

You can stand in the back of a room during a worship service and see this phenomenon displayed. Look at the worship team and then look at the congregation. They match!

A lot of instrumentalists and singers on worship teams don’t consider themselves “worship leaders”. They see that as the job of one person, and their job is to provide musical back-up to that person as he or she “leads worship”. That mindset leads to worship teams who just stand on a platform, with their faces buried in their music, offering no real leadership to the congregation. My goal is to cultivate members of the worship team who see their role as being a worship leader alongside me. Their musical responsibility is secondary to their primary responsibility of leading the congregation in encountering the greatness of God. When this priority is made clear, the dynamic on your worship team and in your services will change.

Look in the mirror the next time you lead worship. What do you see?