The Practice Of Worship

Rick Lee JamesEditor’s Note: This is a guest post from our friend Rick Lee James, whom you may remember from this interview. You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RickLeeJames . Many thanks to Rick for sharing this article with us!

I felt a call to ministry through music at an early age. In spite of what we might think, however, the skills required to answer our calling don’t just come to us naturally. Even though we may have a calling, it will still require a great deal of practice and preparation to fulfill that calling.

None of us are born with the required skills to fulfill our calling. We are born and then must acquire the skills necessary for the task at hand. This is true of engineers, scientists, pastors, and it is especially true of musicians. Even people who have natural talent must hone their craft or their calling will elude them.

If you’ve ever really learned to play an instrument then you know all about practice. I can remember sitting in my room with a guitar on my lap, a Mel Bay Guitar Method Book on the music stand in front of me and mechanically playing the C chord. After a few minutes of straining to make a clear strum without muting any strings I would move on to the second chord in the book, G7. I would spend hours slowly switching chord positions from C to G7 and back again.

My fingers would hurt from pressing down on the strings. I didn’t enjoy it but I wanted to learn more. I wanted to play actual songs so I persisted. Finally, after about a week, I could play C and G7 with ease, but then Mel Bay threw an F chord at me. Holding down two strings with one finger is a chore and it really hurts, but I wanted it more than anything, so I played through the pain.

It took a some time but eventually practice became more like play. As my fingers strengthened, muscle memory began to develop and I started to be able to play without any music in front of me. It seemed like such a triumph for me when I was able to play along with the musicians at church.

As time progressed I began learning how to sing while I played, and then how to sing more correctly while playing. Guitarists tend to have very nasal sounding voices when they are learning to play and sing. With practice though, we can learn not only to play guitar well while singing, but we can also learn to play well and sing well at the same time. It takes practice, but it can be done.

Eventually I began learning to write songs that I could play and sing. What a joy that was, but writing is a whole other skill set. It takes research, patience, trial and error, and most of all practice. Once I became a decent writer I began writing songs for other people, songs for my congregation to sing. It took years of practice, years of struggle, years of rejection, rewriting, and hard work but eventually I heard these words from a major publisher; “We want to publish your songs”.

Why am I telling you all of this, and what does all of this have to do with leading worship?

I believe that leading worship requires just as much practice as playing an instrument, learning to sing, and writing music does. This goes not only for the worship leader, but it also applies to the other singers and musicians on your team. In order to do our calling well, it requires practice. As the leader of a worship team in a church I have found that one of my most challenging tasks is not just teaching the congregation to worship, but teaching our musicians to worship.

I have felt the strain, and still do feel the strain, of making our rehearsal times with our musicians a worshipful experience. I really want us to sound great when we are leading on Sunday morning, but more than that I long for us to be lead worshipers. One of my greatest desires is that our times of rehearsal could become moments of worship. If we could learn to experience God in our rehearsals then I believe that it would translate into our service times. If in our practice times we can enter fully into the presence of God, then maybe we can do the same for our people on Sunday morning.

Is there a way to rehearse this? Is there a way to practice the presence of God in our times of rehearsal? I believe the answer is yes, but it will take practice. There really isn’t an instruction manual on how to do this. I’m only able to give you ideas that have been helpful for me as a leader. I certainly don’t think our rehearsals are where I want them to be, but we are practicing to get there.

As a leader, I think the number one thing you can do for your musicians during a rehearsal is to set the tone by making time for prayer. If we aren’t careful, we will rush right through a rehearsal, proficiently getting the notes correct, while missing the message that we are bringing. If we can slow down somewhere in the midst of our practice times together, and truly approach the throne, examine and even critique the words that we are singing, then I believe we will start to see a change in our times of rehearsal.

As you pray together, remind your musicians of the content of the songs that you are bringing. Remind them of the people who will be coming through the doors this weekend and what they may need to hear. Remind your musicians that their task is to remove distractions by playing together.

Our playing together in harmony is one of the best examples of modeling the Trinity that I can think of. Remind your musicians that in their playing they are embodying the presence of Christ. It’s not a solo performance, it’s a gathering of the believers to worship the One true God, Who is our only audience.

Teach them that we don’t perform cover songs on a stage; rather we rehearse God’s story on the platform. We don’t bring God’s presence into the room; we point to where He already is. We don’t have special spiritual powers that enable us to be better worshipers than anyone else; we are leading where our practice has already taken us together as a team.

Enable your team to be worshipers of God who are able to step out of the spotlight so that God can shine in our midst.

One last thing as we are learning to practice the presence of God together. As a leader you should strive to embody repentance and humility. There are times when we all come in with a sinful Spirit in need of a touch of grace from the Father. It’s okay to apologize and repent in front of our musicians, and even in front of our congregation. This is part of our practice together. We lead by example.

Well, there is certainly a lot more to be learned and I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do hope that we can practice our worship together just as much as we practice any other calling. May the Lord bless you as you lead His people in song. Practice makes Perfect.

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