Once when I was nine or ten years old I spent the summer at my grandma’s house. I’d just bought a sweet new plastic ninja sword, and I was playing by myself in her backyard pretending to be a Power Ranger or a Ninja Turtle or something. I was fighting some imaginary evil ninja bosses, and I was really taking names and feeling good about it.
My karate moves were complete with kicking sound effects and a hearty “hi-YA!” every now and then. I flew through the air taking out sixty-two bad guys with one jump kick. At one point I got swept up in a moment of ninja bliss, and busted a roundhouse that would have made Chuck Norris cry like a baby. But as I spun around, I froze in terror.
My grandma was standing in her back doorway, watching and smiling at me.
I was horrified.
Naturally I tried to play it off like I had a muscle spasm or something. After a while she went back inside, but I just couldn’t get back into my ninja groove after that. The presence of someone watching me completely killed the karate magic.
As a worship pastor, I’ve come to realize that preachers and lead pastors have this sort of experience every Sunday. People are always watching them during worship time. Recently a pastor friend of mine realized this, and it freaked him out. I guess it is sort of weird when you think about it. If you’re trying to worship in the presence of God, it’s sort of awkward to have spectators.
But if you’re a preacher or lead pastor, I’d also suggest that there’s an opportunity in the weirdness. An opportunity to lead by example. An opportunity to be a worship leader in the truest sense of that term. Bob Kauflin nails it in his worship-leading essential, Worship Matters:
“As a pastor… you may not own an instrument or know how to play one. But your congregation looks to you to know what it means to be a worshiper. You are the primary worship leader in your church. A church’s response to God’s greatness and grace rarely rises above the example of its pastor. Your congregation is watching and listening to you on Sunday, and not just what you preach. What are they learning? What kind of example are you providing for them?”
Right, wrong, or indifferent, there’s something intrinsic about people looking to their pastor during worship time. And you can totally leverage this to promote healthy worship within your church.
Here are six ways that your own worship participation affects the whole congregation.
- It establishes a certain culture. As the lead or preaching pastor at your church, you’re the unofficial “curator of culture.” Worship is definitely a culture thing, and when people see you completely engaged with God, it influences them to explore that for themselves.
- You’re teaching kids, newer Christians, and the less mature. Sometimes, rookies just need some permission to express themselves to God. When you lift your hands or get on your knees or sing out to God, you’re communicating to the rest of us, “it’s safe to worship God in this place.” I remember watching one of my pastors every Sunday, belting out the lyrics with his arms wide and his head back. Seeing him so physically engaged in worship made me more comfortable to do it myself.
- It’s a testimony for people who aren’t Christians. Unashamed worship is one of the greatest ways you can declare the supremacy of Jesus to the unconvinced. On any given Sunday, we welcome folks who are curious about Jesus but haven’t said “yes” to Him yet. Your worship communicates that Jesus is the God is worthy of our passionate admiration and respect.
- You’re the first to jump off the high dive. Let’s face it, sometimes the worship leader asks the congregation to do something they’re uncomfortable with. Maybe it’s singing a new song, or a communal reading, or assuming a certain worship posture that people aren’t used to. And when you’re the first to jump in and participate, it puts others at ease. It gives permission and lets others know it’s safe to follow.
- It pulls you into the Presence of God. The closeness with God that you encounter during worship time no doubt affects the way you minister from the pulpit. When you take the stage to teach filled with the peace and freedom of the Spirit, it’s noticeable.
- It encourages your worship leader. One of the marks of a mature and confident leader is that they can follow other leaders. Going all-in during worship time communicates to your worship leader that you trust and have faith in them as a leader. Worship leaders, being the insecure artist-types that we are, need all the encouragement we can get!
So lead pastors and preachers: thank you!
Thank you for leading by example and co-laboring for the Gospel with your worship-leading colleagues. Thank you for worshiping God even when you don’t feel like it. Thank you for continually teaching us why God is worthy of every ounce of praise we can muster. Thank you for every time you engage, every word you sing, and every time you lead by example.
Thank you for being the real worship leader of our congregation.