In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. ~Psalm 5:3
A year or so ago, we were gathered for our denomination’s first annual Prayer Gathering. Hundreds of pastors and lay people had come together to learn about prayer, spend time praying together, and encourage one another in ministry. It was like any other conference: large group worship/teaching gatherings, peppered with a variety of seminars throughout the day.
We gathered for the evening main session and began with a time of worship through song. As we came toward the end of our song set, there was no sign of anyone moving on from that moment. No leader rushing up to the platform to guide us to the next thing.
So we stayed.
We kept playing, kept praying, kept waiting.
The Holy Spirit moved through the sanctuary in a powerful way in that moment as prayers and prophetic song filled the room.
Reflecting on that evening, I had to ask myself, “what was different about the prayer gathering from what we typically experience during our weekly Sunday morning church services?”
There was a keen sense of expectation among the people to hear from the Lord and a willingness to wait on Him.
The Lord reveals himself in myriad ways, so it’s not wise to try and recreate a moment. But there are ways that we can position ourselves and our church to listen. In her book The Worship Architect, Constance Cherry reminds us that “We don’t create worship…rather, we respond to a person.” Just as in a conversation with another person, we pause to hear their response, their thoughts and ideas, so we should pause to receive revelation from the Lord.
Spontaneity in corporate worship is often currently thought of as happening during the singing time, but it’s more than that. It’s also about leaving space for the congregation to voice their own prayers, leaving time for silent meditation, or creating opportunities for people to minister to each other through prayer or edifying words. It’s creating space to hear from God.
So what does this look like in our churches?
When your congregation comes to a worship service, what do they expect will happen? What have you led them to expect? What do YOU expect will happen during that time?
Corporate worship should be an overflow of our personal worship. If we lack expectation in our personal time, it comes as no surprise that we would lack expectation for God to speak when we gather.
1 Corinthians 14:26 reminds us, ”What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” The implication here is that we both bring with us something from our personal prayer time, but that we also have space corporately to listen to the Lord and encourage one another.
Many of our services have a strict timeline and it fills up quickly as we strive to fit in not just the typical elements, but also all the extras that pop up each week. But if worship is truly a dialogue with God (which I believe it is!) – God initiates, we respond – then it seems wise to plan for space to listen! Our God is a God of revelation, both through the Word and through the church body.
What if we approached every worship service with the expectation that God will speak?
1 Corinthians 14:26 reminds us, ”What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”
Worship Leaders and Pastors: As you plan your services, fight for the time and space! It may mean planning one less song, shortening a sermon, or saying “no” to the litany of announcements. Plan for the extra 2, 5, or 10 minutes of prayer and response time.
Communication between those leading in the service is essential. It’s helpful to work out a few signals or simple eye contact to (hopefully inconspicuously) make sure you’re aware of what’s going on and all on the same page. Be ready to go off script!
Worship team members: These people are key leaders in your ministry. Spiritually prepare them and teach them the importance of having time to wait before the Lord in a corporate worship time. Teach them to play/sing spontaneously together in rehearsals! Let it become part of the culture of your worship team to the point where when you say, “We’ll see where this song goes…” they are prepared to follow.
Congregation: It is your responsibility to teach and guide your congregation, verbally and visually. Show and tell! Plan to teach about these things in services weeks in advance. Introduce them to the WHY first. Then introduce them to the HOW. Both in song and in prayer.
3. Humility, Discernment, and Dependency
Leading worship is much easier when everything goes according to our plans. God works differently in different times and spaces! We have to leave it up to God as to how, when, and where he will move. Learning to give up our well-laid plans in favor of what the Holy Spirit is doing is a work of surrender on our part. Humility of spirit, leaning into the Holy Spirit for discernment, and dependency on a Holy God are all vital as we boldly lead our congregations.