Spiritual Direction and the Worship Leader (Pt. 2)
In this article, we’ll discuss some practical ways that the ministries of spiritual direction and worship leading interrelate. In Part 1 (catch up HERE if you missed it), we discussed some of the ways the two ministries are unique and the particular developmental benefits of spiritual direction in the life of a Worship Leader. We then turned our attention to these specific questions: How might a Worship Leader prepare, plan, and lead worship as a Spiritual Director? Is it possible to some extent? Could it be beneficial to consider? I said I believed the answer to both of these questions was a resounding “Yes”, so let’s dive in.
Let me address a question you might have right off the top; “Why should I adopt or embody this style or method as a Worship Leader?” Especially if you haven’t had an experience with spiritual direction and don’t personally subscribe to it as an element of discipleship in your life, this is a fair objection. But, whether you are a “fan” of spiritual direction or not, it’s important to consider that as Worship Leaders, we are also Culture Makers. Meaning, the way you approach, prepare for, and lead worship creates values and cultural touchstones within your context. Whatever you’re doing to get people in your pews, you will have to continue to do to keep them there. If your strategy and values, for instance, are high-production, Vegas-style smoke and mirrors, having the right fitting jeans, or staying up on the latest, greatest worship songs, you will need to keep that up, or do one better each week in order to keep your congregation engaged and entertained.
I’d propose another way, a deeper, more thoughtful approach. What is the culture you want to create through your leadership? What kind of worshippers do you want your people to become over time? Let these greater questions shape your worship leading. You and your congregation will be grateful and blessed by doing so. And, again, because I’ve experienced first-hand the profound journey of spiritual direction in my own life, and researched its effectiveness in the life of believers around the world, for over a thousand years, it seems worthwhile to pursue this connection between spiritual direction and worship leading.
It also seems logical and helpful to discuss elements of preparing for worship before addressing the act of leading worship in this way. It’s particularly interesting to reflect on the ways a Spiritual Director is instructed to prepare before meeting with a Directee, and how those items of preparation have some corollary with the preparation to lead worship. So, before talking through practical ways to lead worship as a Spiritual Director, let’s look at ways to prepare for worship leading through this lens.
These prayer points are copied from my course syllabus in Spiritual Direction and Soul Care at Talbot Seminary. I’ll list them, just as they were written (with a few edits for context), and then unpack various ways I see these instructions and values inform the preparation of worship leading. I see these prompts being helpful as Worship Leaders begin to plan a service or liturgy, or as they enter the sanctuary or worship space to prayerfully get things ready for the already-planned gathering to come. These postures take practice, repeated over time, to develop, and so they are listed as “practices” for that very reason.
5 WAYS TO PREPARE FOR WORSHIP LEADING AS A SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR
1. Practice stillness. Ask the Lord in prayer, “Spirit, how quiet is my soul? Show me and hold for me what is in my soul so I can be truly present with those I’m ministering to. Give me peace, make me still.”
What a powerful prayer for anyone preparing to offer service to another! How might starting your time of planning or preparation with a prayer like this shape your experience? How “still” is your soul as you plan your worship services, print chord charts, or plug in mic cables? If you took even five minutes to pause and ask this of the Lord in prayer before jumping into all the necessary, practical activities of preparation, your entire demeanor, pace, and availability to God and others may be changed. How might it change you?
If we’re honest, often our Worship Leader souls (especially in preparation for leading) are a churning, turbulent sea of anxiety, fear, and self-consciousness, rushed and compressed by hurry, busyness, turmoil, and uncertainty. Unfortunately, if this is the case, it gets reflected to our teams and congregation. We cannot provide a peaceful place of stillness to those around us if we are not experiencing it to some degree ourselves. We need the Spirit’s power to help us do this. That’s why this is a prayer, a request: “Give me peace. Make me still.” But not only is this a prayer, it’s also an action-step that we can begin to walk out. We can begin to evaluate the state of our souls as we prepare or set-up for worship. It’s an orientation that can color our every move, action, and word. What would it look like for a Worship Leader to lead from a place of inner peace and stillness? In what ways would this be a gift to our congregation and volunteer teams? In a chaotic and anxious world, this posture can make our sanctuaries truly become sanctuaries for many.
2. Practice safety. Ask God in prayer, “Lord, am I safe? Make me a place of confidentiality. Take away any judgment.”
Spiritual Directors operate with a code of confidentiality, like many other therapeutic practices, so this particular element may not directly apply to worship leading, but there’s something here nonetheless. What would it mean for a Worship Leader to be a “safe” person, without any judgment? Are you a leader that your congregants and volunteers can trust with personal disclosures, with vulnerability? Are you a safe person that others can be honest and real with about their failings and doubts? Can you keep confidences and respond with grace and love instead of judging too quickly? Do you thoughtfully address any hint of “gossip” as you manage your team members, their personal challenges and prayer requests? How about addressing musical or liturgical differences? How do we approach the various musical tastes, preferences, and suggestions of our congregants and volunteers – with snap judgments and quick dismissals if we don’t agree, or with grace and a suspension of criticism?
Practicing this kind of posture as we plan and lead our teams in rehearsal and preparation can help us deepen relationships and provide a space for accountability, honesty, and spiritual growth. Practicing safety also enables our congregants to express their unique perspectives, challenges, and insights, strengthening a sense of dialogue and conversation – key elements of spiritual formation for all believers.
3. Practice love. Include this in your preparatory prayers, “Lord, give me the capacity to love these people. Remind me of how much you love me.”
What “love” looks like from the Worship Leader standpoint can take many forms. It has profound, practical implications in our song and liturgy planning. When you, as a Worship Leader, choose your songs, have you thought lately about how “loving” your song choices are? How about the choice of song keys; is this key loving to your congregation or more helpful to you as a singer, or to your electric guitar player or pianist? Our love should be directed to those we are ministering to, the congregation. How can you love them better in your worship planning?
How about your liturgy, service order, and pacing? How might you love your congregants with these decisions, as well? Greg Scheer, in his book Essential Worship draws a helpful analogy here. He describes our worship gatherings as “nourishment” for our spiritual formation. We know a loving thing to do when caring for a child is to provide a balanced diet, a healthy plan of nourishment for them to grow. In the same way, we can view our congregants as people who receive nourishment from our worship services, and this means we need to lovingly provide a balanced diet for them, not a reliance on our own personal preferences or strengths as a leader. Greg writes, “If worship services are indeed sustenance for lives of worship, we could approach them in the same way we do with the meals that maintain our physical health. We wouldn’t fall into the trap of the head mode, which is all vegetables and no dessert. And we wouldn’t fall into the trap of the heart mode, which chases after anything sweet and memorable. Instead, we would be careful about our long-term diet. Are there some things we focus on to the exclusion of other things? (All praise and no lament, for example.) Is there enough Scripture to fill our services with the right ‘nutrients’? Do we sing about all facets of the faith? Do we pray for the needs of the whole world? Do we enjoy a balanced diet of Word and Table and celebrate the work of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit?”
This is a loving way to plan and prepare for worship!
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV) reminds us: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
“Lord, give me the capacity to love these people. Remind me of how much you love me.”
4. Practice hospitality. Prayer point: “Lord, help me welcome these people and be fully present, as if they were you.”
As a Spiritual Director, this means practically making sure your meeting space is calmly lit, tidy, chairs are comfy and placed intentionally, cell phones are silenced, and Bibles, tissues, and other items are visible and available. These are small things that speak volumes and reflect our intention to love others well. As Worship Leaders, we can adopt this same value and practice hospitality in the way we prepare our worship spaces.
Before rehearsal, are the necessary materials and technical needs prepared in advance for your volunteers? How is the lighting, tidiness, and organization in the room? Does it represent a still, peaceful, loving, and hospitable soul? The attention paid to these details will greatly help your teams experience peace, love, and hospitality, and they will reflect it back. It will enable them to move beyond petty distractions and to focus more clearly on the important things, like their own spiritual formation and call to service, as well as the task at hand.
Before your congregation enters the worship space, how hospitable have you made it? How is the lighting, cleanliness, and organization? Are things intentionally placed exactly where they should be? Have you given adequate attention to how the platform looks (since most people, as they enter for worship, will sit in their seats and look in that direction first)? Is it organized, thoughtfully planned out, and clear of unnecessary distractions? If Jesus where to walk in a few minutes before service and have a seat, what would he be noticing? What are the surroundings saying about your gathering to come? Is the lighting pleasant and warm, theater-dark, or blindingly fluorescent? Are the seats arranged with adequate space around them, crammed together, or scattered haphazardly? Does the platform have intentional lighting, meaningful, color-coordinated items on it (candles, art, pulpit, nature, Scripture, etc…)? Or, is it cluttered with guitar cases, broken drum sticks, dusty plastic flowers, candy wrappers, and dented water bottles? Again, these items are surprisingly important to the care of others. When the topic of soul care and the eternal trajectory of a believer’s spiritual formation is on the table, the first step of hospitality is crucial.
5. Practice attentiveness. Prayer point; “Lord, help me focus on others and their experience, to feel for and pay attention to them. Help me set aside anything going on in my own life. Help me to be absent from myself and present with you and for these people.”
This last one is complex because there are often personal experiences we are going through as Worship Leaders that can be quite helpful to share with others. We need to be discerning, though, on what things might be truly helpful or not. This is where practice #3 comes in; is what you want to share about your own experience “loving”? Be skeptical and suspicious of your own motives. It’s likely better to error on the side of the prayer above, to be “absent” from yourself and more present with God and others.
In our worship planning and preparation, it is a rich gift to offer our attentiveness to others, instead of ourselves. How might they experience these songs, these readings, or this liturgical order of things? When we are able to step out of the way, we can more deeply connect with God and others, which allows others, in turn, to more deeply connect with God.
So to recap, the five practices are stillness, safety, love, hospitality, and attentiveness. I pray these five ideas will be an encouragement to you and those you serve with. These aren’t “5 Quick Steps” – they’re more like deep, inward character traits that we learn to embody over time. There are entire books written about how one becomes a person of “stillness” for instance. Putting on an act, or trying to emulate a behavior pattern is not the same as internalizing these values and becoming a person who is these things. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, so be patient, and begin by opening to God (maybe with the help of a Spiritual Director!) and inviting the Lord, the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2) into the places where change and growth are needed.
Now that we’ve addressed some of the preparatory elements of worship leading, the next article will touch on the mechanics and execution of worship leading, through the lens of a Spiritual Director. I’ll present “5 Practical Ways to Lead Worship as a Spiritual Director.” Stay tuned!
Subscribe (HERE) to receive updates on future articles. And feel free to leave a comment below. Are you a Worship Leader, Spiritual Director, or congregant with further reflections to share? What’s been your experience with these topics and where do you see the connections? I would love to hear from you! Your voice would be a welcome addition to the discussion. Also, consider checking out Greg Scheer’s helpful book Essential Worship quoted in this article.
This is such good stuff…it moved me to tears. I’m currently at a church that (and I’m sure you’re familiar with this) issues earplugs to those who feel the music is too loud. This is so hurtful to me. I’ve always found that hearing the voices of others in the congregation lifted in praise was a type of communion that my soul longed for. This is impossible given the sheer power and volume of our current worship teams.
It seems that any suggestion to “bring it down a little” is met with the response you mentioned in your article. If I’m not satisfied with the way things are…too bad for me. Suck it up. I haven’t read part three of your article yet so maybe you address this, but how would you tactfully go about presenting your own article to those who are leading worship. I so miss a sense of being led into the presence of God. Our times in “worship” grieve me…(when I’m not standing in judgement.) Any suggestions? Thanks So much for the article. It’s so comforting to know that there are worship leaders out there being so thoughtful and responsive to the lead of the Holy Spirit. God’s best, Pat
Thanks for your encouraging note and question, Pat! The challenge of managing “rock band volumes” in many churches right now is a hot-button issue, for sure. It seems to boil down to a philosophy of ministry and what various worship teams have chosen to value and measure as marks of “success”. For instance, is the goal to match the audio recording and arrangement of a popular worship song, or is it to facilitate congregational singing in a church setting? Ironically, these two values are often at odds with one another – as you’ve experienced. There is a growing community addressing this very thing (Calvin Instituted of Worship, 9Marks, Center for Congregational Song, etc…). I pray God gives you wisdom, favor, and patience as you seek to address this in your own context!
Very good post. I definitely appreciate this website.
Continue the good work!