Speak to One Another

As I continue my series on Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, I want to explore a common key thought in our two key passages: to speak to or admonish one another.

Here are the passages again.

Ephesians 5:18-20:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The Direction of Worship

The concept of speaking to, teaching and admonishing one another goes to the direction of our worship. It is surprising because you would have thought the primary direction of worship is God, not our fellow believers. And yet, when Paul talks about psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, he was concerned that the church should “make music in their hearts to the Lord”, but also, in the same breath, that the church should “speak to one another”.

In the many years I’ve been involved in worship ministry, worship leaders often get worried about loss of focus and they say something like this: “I feel the songs we are singing are getting too subjective. We should focus more on objectively praising God”. That is a very legitimate view, but somehow, I think it limits the work of the Spirit in worship. For example, as I mentioned in my previous post, even though the song “How He Loves” is very much me-focussed, it is ultimately God-glorifying. And I think it is true that sometimes, like Mary, Jesus is more God (if that’s the right phrase) when we are drawing from his sufficiency.

In the olden days, we used to sing a song called “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” When I think about it, it was quite ludicrous that we would all stare forward towards the screen, look heavenward, and then sing these words to God and as if He needed to be reminded that He ought to seek first His kingdom! In fact, that was probably a prophetic song that we should have been directing to each other. Maybe it would have served its effect better if we had looked into each other’s eyes and sung it!

But it is clear to me from our two key passages that worship actually moves in two directions (and if we must rank them in order of priority, we would say it like this): worship is to God, but also for the people.

This correlation exists precisely because God is God. His goodness cannot be contained within Himself because God (by definition) must be the highest example of selfless generosity.

Tom Inglis put it this way:

“Worship is something that God cannot give Himself. When we give God what He cannot give Himself, He gives us what we cannot give ourselves.”

Jack Hayford in his book Worship His Majesty says this:

A worship service is convened (1) to serve God with our praise and (2) to serve people’s need with His sufficiency…. We gather to worship God. But now, without supplanting the worship of God, we add a second focus: man’s need and God’s ability to supply it.

Our blessing God, and His blessing us, is actually part of the same continuum.

So let’s not be too religious about this. It’s okay to expect God to bless us too! And you can expect this to happen this coming Sunday (or any other time for that matter) when you come to worship.

The Teaching Function of Worship: Being Filled with the Word

I have already touched on the fact that Luther was very astute about the role of music in teaching the masses.

This is why Colossians 3:16 says that we need to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us.

Well after you’ve forgotten the sermon, you might still be singing or humming Brenton Brown’s song “Our strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord / We will wait upon the Lord”. It’s completely scriptural and you don’t even realise you’ve memorised parts of Isaiah 40. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are actually part of the process that causes the word of Christ to dwell in us. Not just for our brains to process, but to actually “dwell in” us and become part of our lives and character.

There is a further implication however, and that is for ministers of worship to be Scripturally faithful. These days, songs are getting more and more fluffy and less grounded in Scripture. Which is fine to an extent, because as I have said, the Holy Spirit can use anything to speak to us. But if we are not careful, we could be wasting a wonderful opportunity to instruct and teach our congregations, rather than just to leave them with a good feeling.

In a sense, this is a call to songwriters to write songs which don’t only sound good and are catchy, but to responsibly teach the truths of God and to unveil Christ, through those same songs.

Being Filled with the Spirit

So we’ve looked at Colossians 3 and “letting the Word of Christ dwell richly”. It is interesting that whilst Ephesians 5 uses the same sentence template, Paul introduces a complementary foil to the Word of Christ, namely “to be filled with the Spirit”.

Recently, Pastor Benny has been preaching about activating the gifts of the Spirit in Faith Community Church and I think that there is a real avenue to exercising some of the gifts right in the middle of our worship. In fact, I have found that if we’d take the step of faith, there is no more conducive environment for healing, prophecy, tongues/interpretation and words of knowledge than in a corporate worship setting. This is because, as I have said, when we bless God, He stands ready to bless in return.

Have you ever had conversations with people who don’t stop talking? You think sooner or later, they are going to have to breathe, but it seems they have a ventilator or something strapped to them and they never stop.

Worship can be like that: we can get so caught up in a 30 minute routine of our non-stop ramming things down God’s throat and He is just waiting for us to stop saying stuff so He can respond. And I believe that if we will just give Him some room, His response might actually take our breath away!

So in our worship, I want to encourage leaders to make room for the Holy Spirit. Let Him speak through us and to each other through and in our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. In our worship services, let us gather to worship God, but let us gather also that we might be taught and encouraged and blessed.

Worship Leaders Who Talk Too Much

I had just finished a couple of hours of tennis with some friends of mine, some of whom actively serve in church worship.

One of the guys (a young, upcoming worship leader) made the observation that sometimes, worship leaders spend too much time talking at the start of the service. In fact, he said, at his old church, the senior pastor had to restrict the worship leaders from talking at the start of the service.

And it made me wonder: do I talk too much when I lead worship?

At Faith Community Church, the chairperson usually introduces the service and “gets the crowd ready”. (No, they don’t do a stand-up routine in case that’s what you were thinking). As soon as the chairperson is done, the drums click in and away we go with the first song.

When I led worship in my previous church, I would often start with an exhortation to try to engage the congregation.

I realise now that I did have a bad habit of talking too much!

There are many reasons why worship leaders talk too much. Here I want to set out some reasons (and perhaps some possible remedies):

Building Rapport

The worship model that has the worship leader say very little during the worship set has a disadvantage of having the worship leader as a mere “figurehead”, i.e. the worship leader becomes almost like a lead vocalist who just has the loudest voice and the coolest solo parts. On its face, the unsophisticated congregant won’t realise that the worship leader is also shaping the worship set as they go.

Rapport is extremely important in weekly church worship leading.

Unlike a conference setting (say like Hillsong Conference) where everybody comes pumped and ready to worship, the church worship leader (who is “on” every week, or every two or three weeks) faces a different challenge: familiarity. As they say, familiarity breeds contempt. That’s not to say that the congregation resents their worship leader; it’s just that they are more unforgiving of mistakes and more critical.

The opportunity to talk to the congregation is a way to build rapport.

But I want to suggest that rapport is best built up in participating in the life of the church apart from the stage.

In my last church, I had (I hope) the respect of the congregation not because of what I said on stage, but because I had helped to stack chairs; attended a small group; manned stalls at the church food fair; mentored some people; did Bible study with others; ate dinner with the youth; ate dinner with the older folks; got “in the face” of lots of people!

So the cure for the talkative worship leader? Build rapport at the grassroots level.

Focus the Congregation for Worship

Let’s face it. Because of the familiarity phenomenon, the congregation often will not come to church ready to worship. So worship leaders feel the need to try to rev the congregation up before the first song begins.

The need to talk at the start is quite legitimate if there’s no chairperson to open the service. Then I think the worship leader should fulfill this role.

But in most churches I’ve visited, they do have a chairperson.

I think chairpeople should be trained to engage people. They are an integral element of continuity throughout the service, all the way through to introducing the preacher and sometimes ending with the benediction. If the chairperson hasn’t yet focussed the congregation, they should keep at it.

Then, there’s really no need for the worship leader to say anything.

There’s a principle of economy that also needs to be observed: most church services have time constraints and there’s no need for two people to double up on the same job. If the worship leader has to spend another 3 minutes starting the service with an exhortation, then that’s 3 minutes less for the congregation to participate in worship.

The Need to Teach About Worship

Sometimes, I’ve felt the need to talk during the worship time to explain the significance of a certain action the congregation is participating in.

This is important. If a member of the congregation is just doing something out of rote, we have to ask whether they really are engaging their hearts, minds and emotions in worship.

When I grew up in the church, I remember that as a young kid, I never really understood why the church did the things they did. I didn’t understand what those archaic words like “exalt” and “extol” really meant. When the worship leader started singing in tongues, I thought that God had gifted him with the Hebrew language.

I find it strange and incongruent that whilst churches expect their congregation to actively participate in, and take personal responsibility for, worship, little time is actually spent in teaching the congregation how to worship and the significance of its various expressions.

So imagine yourself as a new Christian suddenly dropped into a worship service. You look around and you see people clapping. Well, you say, I guess that adds to the atmosphere. So you clap along. But did you know that clapping is a sign of unity? Or that it is a means of engaging in spiritual warfare?

What about the lifting of hands? It looks cool. Anyway, they do that at the Bon Jovi concert, so why not? But what if you knew that the lifting of your hands symbolised surrender, as if it were the evening sacrifice?

In my opinion, churches don’t spend enough time teaching on worship, even though it is a very large part (even if only by reference to the amount of time spent doing it on a Sunday) of the life of the congregation.

Because of this, I’ve devoted a good deal of my ministry to teaching on worship. I admire worship practitioners who are also teachers of the Word, like Jack Hayford, Lamar Boschman, Kent Henry and Matt Redman.

Churches should spend more time teaching worship, and maybe that will save worship leaders from the need to spend too much time talking during the worship session!

Remove the Distractions

At the end of the day, even though there might be good reasons for the worship leader to talk a lot, what tilts the balance for me against talking too much is that the goal of a worship leader should be to minimise distractions and to simply let the people worship. And if that means the worship leader gets out of the way, so be it!

In summary:

// build rapport at the grassroots level

// have a strong chairperson overseeing the service and exhorting the congregation

// encourage a culture of teaching worship at your church, or better still, facilitate the training yourself in other forums outside of your worship session.

I hope this encourages worship leaders to make the best use of the 25 or so minutes they have on a Sunday so that as much as possible, the congregation can participate in expressing their worship to God, rather than watching one person keep talking before another guy (the preacher) gets up to talk some more!


St Augustine:

Idolatry is worshipping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that ought to be worshipped.

As worship ministers, this is something which we are especially prone to – worshipping the music and the musicianship rather than using the music to worship God. It’s a fine line which is easily crossed if we are not too careful.

Jack Hayford once said this, which has stuck with me ever since: “Lucifer was the closest to the throne of God.”

Worship leaders are often seen to be the closest to God (which by the way is a myth worthy of being busted!) but this does not mean that they are immune from revelling in the worship; as if the worship was for us rather than for God.

The second part of St Augustine’s quote is about using God for our own purposes: our self-worship. How many times do we treat God like He is a divine vending machine, ready to dispense blessings at our whim and fancy?

It’s a fine balance and any time it tips one way or the other, we are at risk of idolatory.