Ever been tempted to sum up the success of a worship service based on how loudly people sing or how many raise their hands during your songs? I think we’ve all done that at one time or another. The more people engage in (and clap for) our music the more we tend to think they’re worshiping.
Yet, worship is more than outward praise; worship is something that must start in the heart. Jesus wanted nothing less than sincere heart-change. As leaders of worship, we must have that same goal for our congregations.
Listen to what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. ‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘we all know God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God’” (John 3:1-3).
Those opening verses of John 3 reveal a profound and important truth: Jesus was never impressed with people’s knowledge or their outward praise of Him. He didn’t take to flattery or patronizing. As sincere as Nicodemus may have been, Jesus wasted no time getting from his head to his heart.
Jesus went on to engage Nicodemus intellectually. He took time to give him a simple and profound analogy about the wind. He didn’t ignore Nic’s questions or concerns. However, everything Jesus said to Nicodemus was for the purpose of changing what really mattered–his heart.
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He knew Nicodemus would only be truly found and saved when he became born again and when his heart had been transformed through God’s power. Any expression of knowledge or praise that doesn’t start from a transformed heart is really nothing more than cold, carnal intellectualism (or warm, fuzzy emotionalism).
When we lead others in praise, our goal should always be that they are led to truly worship God. Praise can be done with the head alone. Anyone can cognitively choose to lift a hand or outwardly sing along on a song. However, only those whose hearts have been changed–only those who have been born again of the Spirit–can authentically engage their hearts and worship the Lord inwardly.
As worship leaders, we can’t make people worship. We may be able to coerce them to praise on the outside, but only the Holy Spirit can lead them to worship God in spirit and in truth. Or, put another way: We may get their feet to tap, but only God can cause their hearts to sing!
That’s why we must always pray for those we lead. We shouldn’t be impatient with our congregations or try to manipulate them to worship. We must let the Holy Spirit flow through us as we worship Him in front of them. In time, He will use us to inspire and influence true worship–from hearts and lives made new by His power.
A Prayer of Response
“Lord, thank You for reminding me of this truth about true worship. Thank You for challenging me not to settle for outward praise only, but rather, to pray for our congregation and our team that they experience true, heart-felt worship. Please increase our burden for those we sing to each week who are not Christians, who have not been born again. Help us never settle for head knowledge and emotional experiences only. May our church and those we lead come to know You and love You with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength.”
NOTE: For more help with leading others in worship, check out Dwayne’s book, Pure Praise: a Heart-focused Bible Study on Worship and our other great resources for worship teams and leaders.