Most of us are music leaders, pastors, or serve otherwise as active leaders in our churches in some or most aspects of our weekly worship experience. In my case, as a music and worship leader, I help manage the details of each week’s “worship experience” in multiple services and styles. But as preaching pastors and other visible leaders of worship know well, effectively fostering our congregations’ experience is vastly different from simply worshiping as a member of our own church.
Recently I was pleased to attend a worship and music conference hosted at a large Indianapolis church. Attended mainly by pastors and other ministry leaders, we were reminded more than once of the importance of getting down off the chancel from time to time – and simply experiencing worship. In the leadership work we do, attending to details and presentation – sometimes to the point of consuming our focus – can be an occupational hazard. No matter how heartfelt and Spirit-led we strive to be in worship, events have to happen, and somebody – usually multiple somebodies – need to be focused on these important activities.
It may sound corny (this happened in the Midwest, after all), but sometimes tears can serve as a barometer of how deeply something touches us. Accustomed to leading a choir (fairly small – so I also sing) every week, I was unprepared for the overwhelming beauty of a marvelous 70-voice choir singing a powerful, modulating arrangement of “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” accompanied by their rich, resonant organ. Perhaps partly because it had been my mother’s favorite hymn lyric, and partly because it was set to the tune HYFRYDOL (also “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”), I was increasing mesmerized as the verses modulated and progressed. That powerful, unfolding melody in three-quarter time is simply one of my favorites in all the hymnody I know.
I listen to a lot of music, and I make a lot of music, but it’s been a while since I’ve wept unabashedly at a hymn offertory. I sure did at the weeknight worship service at this conference. It was simply beautiful and inspiring. I only wish I’d been able to sing along. (I did hum along, unbeknown to the musicians.)
My point is that I was so deeply affected in large part because I had no part in the presentation. No notes to read, no vocal production to manage, no singers to cue, no accompanist to maintain eye contact with. All I had to do was let the beauty wash over me. It was a rare and wonderful experience.
It surely is true for a music director, but probably also true for most pastors, that they would choose to simply experience worship more often – but they’re always busy at that time. True enough – and busy doing essential things for the Kingdom. But it behooves all leaders of worship to find a way from time to time, to simply experience the beauty and renewing presence of God in an authentic worship experience.
Tom LeFevre, Editor-in-Chief
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