I’m a worship leader at a local Methodist church in Raleigh, NC. I’ve been part of this community for nearly 6 years, and right up until recently I’ve been doing what has always been done at this church. The countdown winds down, the worship team enters from stage left behind the curtain, we take our place on stage, we lead worship and we exit stage left, and we come back on stage when our preacher says, “let’s pray.”
There are lots of benefits to doing this – smooth transitions, proximity to stage, less distractions as six people come from seats to stage and back to seats, and of course quick access to snacks and coffee. However there is a glaring negative to this approach which has convinced me to change our way of doing this.
I was reading Thomas Long’s, The Witness of Preaching recently and encountered the idea that though it logistically makes sense to enter the stage from the side, or from a seat near the pulpit (speaking of the preacher), he says this can paint a picture we don’t want to create theologically. He says, “Regardless of where the worship leaders emerge physically and architecturally, theologically they come from within the community of faith and not to it from the outside. Whether they use this door or that one, process down the center aisle or modestly glide to their chairs, it is not nearly as important as remembering that, even though they will now be the leaders of worship, they have come to this task from the midst of the community of faith.
So why am I changing this? Well for starters, I don’t think that our people ever give a second thought to this matter theologically. Sadly, pastors and worship leaders are often seen as just the opposite as we should be seen – we are seen as “above”the congregation. This mindset has emerged from the professionalization of clergy and the idea that paid professionals get up front and lead the people in worship and preach the gospel. So it’s very easy indeed to appear that we come from the outside and not from within the congregation.
Secondly, I’ve noticed a pattern that our people who lead on the worship team (volunteers and musicians paid and unpaid) do not end up listening to the sermon. They may get bits and pieces, but for the most part, because they leave off the side of the stage, they are disengaged from the service as a whole. Frankly, I’ve set the example of that, and now I’m the one who is changing it.
It’s a small move, but an important one. We who lead in worship are not above, separate, or apart from the congregation in any way – we are within and an essential part of it. The more we engage with the service we are a part of, the more attuned we are to lead at our best. The more our volunteers and musicians are a part of the service, the better they will lead as well.
Long, Thomas G. (2005-10-20). The Witness of Preaching, Second Edition (Kindle Locations 115-118). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.