Lessons I've learned in worship leading - Presence, Identity, & Authority

I've had the privilege of leading worship for almost 20 years now.  I remember starting off as a very frightened, unsure twenty something - wondering why on earth I was even trying to lead other people in worship, when I felt like I had no clue what I was doing.  I can't tell you how grateful I am for people around me who have believed in me and gave me the tools I've needed to do what I do now.  They have done it through loving me, through giving very honest feedback, and through encouraging me to keep trying even when I've not quite hit the mark yet.


I want to share three things I've picked up along the way that have been life giving to me as I've learned to lead more effectively over the years.  I pray they encourage you too.


The first and most foundational is that there is nothing more precious than the presence of Jesus.  As worshippers, before we even begin being involved in bands or thinking about leading worship, we get this - it's why signed up.  The thing is, once we start serving in teams the relentless nature of leading from week to week, coming up with sets, trying to find songs that serve our congregations, can steal away our first love.  That is, unless we intentionally continue our personal pursuit of Jesus.  His presence is what will refuel our own souls, and it is what will fill our worship sets to refuel the souls of those we serve.  Nothing else will do.  Don't get so caught up in chasing the latest songs, or trying to get in on what the next cool thing is - find out what the presence of the King is on, and sing those songs (whether they are brand new or ancient, whether they are on everyone's lips or just giving voice to your community).  His presence is everything.


Secondly, who you are is enough.  Don't allow the subtle voice of insecurity to become the voice you trust.  As musicians we all struggle with wondering if we are good enough, if what we bring to the table is enough.  Know that you are chosen.  Your identity as a son, as a daughter is totally secure.  What you do is simply an overflow of that, and it's a beautiful thing to Jesus.  That means we can serve out of who we are - free from the pressure of trying to prove anything.  But it also frees us up to bring our best.  Excellence in what we bring in terms of musicianship and writing, and intimacy with the Father are two sides of the same coin in this worship leading thing.  When we know that who we are in Him remains unchanged by what we do, then what we do can change everything in the room when we lead - which leads me to the third thing...


We have been given authority for a reason - don't be afraid to use it.  Sons and daughters carry authority to release the kingdom of their Father wherever they find themselves.  When we grab a solid hold of our identity, we start to understand that things are meant to shift when we show up.  I vividly remember The Lord starting to lead me into this.


It had been bothering me that not a whole lot of kingdom activity was happening in the room during worship.  John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard used to teach that where the presence is, so is the power.  I knew the presence of Jesus was all over the room during those worship times, yet there was no power to release the oppressed, to see healing come to the broken, sight to the blind... and all that shows us the Kingdom is among us.  Sometimes the things that bother you the most are the things The Lord is leading you into next.  I love that!


Right in the middle of a set, The Lord spoke very clearly to me and told me to release what I saw Him on (in other words, I sensed that Jesus was there to heal the sick in that moment, and had always assumed He would just do that as I sang, but now He was asking me to 'action it' as it were).  I simply sang out something about The Lord being ready to heal, and as I did all heaven broke loose!  Not, honestly, what I was expecting, but it's what I've done ever since.


When Jesus commissioned us and gave us authority, that was the moment we were called into this Kingdom business with Him.  We are called as partners.  Paul uses the language 'co-heirs with Christ'.  This starts with identity, but it's more than that.  This is about knowing who we are AND what we carry.  


This will keep me going the rest of my life!  His presence is all I need, now and always.  His adoption of me into His family is what has set me straight on a brand new path.  His authority has given me a mandate to spill the Kingdom of heaven, in the fulness that is available now (remembering there is some that is still not yet, but there's way more for now than I dared believe before) everywhere I find myself - whether in a coffee shop, at the school gate, or behind a keyboard leading worship.


Carrying the culture of another world

The very first time I set foot on American soil I was 16 years old.  I’d never been anywhere like it - a place so expansive with dreams and possibility, ideas and imagination.  It won my heart!  Of course at that time, I had no idea I would become a worship leader, or ever have the privilege to return so often.

Embedded deep in the foundation of American culture is a powerful notion - that there is a different reality just within our grasp, even if it is yet to be realised; that we don’t have to settle for what has been handed to us - we get to reset the paradigm.  

That is exactly what it’s like when we come to lead worship, regardless of geography or demographic, history or present reality.  This ‘worship leading’ thing is all about the presence of Jesus - imminent, unchanging, ageless, true.  It’s not about the performance of songs, or the place we are leading, or even the people in the room - it is about the presence of the King.  As worship leaders, we are the climate changers; the presence carriers.  We introduce the activity of Heaven when we sing, and that creates the atmosphere of Heaven in the room; in every room…. wherever we find ourselves.

This past year, our favourite family movie has been ‘Frozen’.  There’s a wonderful character called ‘Olaf’, a snowman who longs for summer.  At the end of the movie (you should look away now if you don’t want to know :) Elsa gives him a cloud of his own, so that wherever he goes, regardless of the season, he has a little snow flurry right above him all the time.

This is such a helpful image when we come to thinking of carrying His presence; of setting the climate.  The authority we have been given by Jesus to bind up broken hearts, to set captives free, to release prisoners from darkness, to heal the sick, to proclaim a new day - it is all wrapped up in the cloud of His presence that we carry with us all the time.  When we step into a room, whether it’s to lead worship, or shop for groceries, to have a coffee with friends, or pick up our kids from school, the cloud is right above us.  We set the temperature through our conversation, through our choices; we determine the climate when we offer to pray for that stranger in the mall, or lift an instrument to lead others into the throne room of Heaven again in worship.  We are partners with the King of glory.  And that King is still hovering over the waters of people’s hearts - both inside the church and way beyond it’s walls; in every nation, every social circle, every tribe, every tongue.

Many are asking today, to what extent worship is a cultural reality, and whilst it is true that every language and tongue has a distinctive sound, ultimately worship isn’t cultural - defined by the borders in which we live - it’s spiritual, springing from hearts under the influence of the cloud of His presence.


Who You Are Is Enough

I distinctly remember sitting on the back lawn chatting to my Grandma at her house one summer day when I was about 4 years old.  She was asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I told her that I wanted to be a teacher, or a missionary, or a minister’s wife.... oh, and wrinkly - because that would mean I’d spent my whole life smiling :)

As you know, I got to fulfill the dream of becoming a pastor’s wife when I married the handsome Alan Scott at the ripe old age of 21.  And now closer to 40, am inching ever nearer to the reality of ‘wrinkly’, (well, ‘crinkly’ at least).  But I never thought I’d end up becoming a song writer, or a worship leader.  And truth to tell, I never had any ambition or desire to do so either. That is, until the Lord started to let me in on what He was thinking.

It was while I was studying Theology at Bible College that the Lord began to speak.

I had written songs since the age of 9.  The year I turned 20 I was given quite a number of prophetic words that I was going to write songs people across the world would use as their worship to Jesus.  I could barely wait to get started! I assumed the transition from writing the ministry type of songs I’d written all those years into writing worship songs would be a seamless, wonderful stroll in the park.  Not entirely the way things worked out though.

All of a sudden I went from writing a song or two a week, to not being able to write a single note.  At first I thought it was just a blip, and maybe when I tried again next week, it would come back.

I tried again. 

Still nothing. 

After a year, I’d started to give up hope that I’d ever write again, and it felt horrible.  It felt like my arms had been cut off.  This was the way I expressed myself to God, and how I understood my place in the world.  I felt lost.

After two years, I still wrestled with it from time to time, and tried to write again, but songs still wouldn’t come.  I’d begun the journey of finding out who I was, even if I never wrote another song.

By the third year, I’d set the words spoken over me into a treasure box in my heart; something I could revisit if the Lord ever wanted me to, but at long last I was ready to make peace with it all.  It didn’t matter as much any more anyway because I’d finally ‘got it’, that I was a child of God, and whatever He put in my hands was the gift that I would use to bring Him honour.  It could look the way He wanted, and was nothing to do with His love for me, or who I was.  I was HIS.  I wasn’t ‘in’ because of what I could do.  I was ‘in’ because I belonged to Him, and that was enough.

I thought that would be the pattern for the rest of my life, and I couldn’t have been happier.  Song writing had become a happy memory.

Until one night, deep in the middle of the night, I woke up with lyrics going round in my head.  I’d almost forgotten what that felt like, it had been a whole three years!  I grabbed a pen and paper and jotted them down. Honestly, they weren’t very good, and I knew it at the time too, but they were lyrics, real, actual lyrics.  I wasn’t at all sure that song writing was coming back, but I was totally OK with that.  I didn’t need it anymore.  I only needed Jesus!

Several weeks later, something started brewing in my heart.  It was a whole song this time, it was ‘Child of God’.  A few short weeks after that, I wrote a song called ‘Hungry’.  That was just the beginning, and what a beginning it was too.
Those songs, and many since, have become songs that the Church at large does use on Sundays and in services to sing out her worship.  It is the most incredible fulfillment of what Jesus spoke to me when I was 20 years old.  But the privilege, the wonder, where the life is for me, is in the belonging!  I thoroughly became His when I was between the dreaming and the coming true, and there is nothing in the world more precious to me than that.

Who I am - who you are is enough because of who we belong to.

The Gift of Perspective

Every once in a while I remember to stop and take stock.  It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it comes it fills my soul again in a brand new way.Life has a way of filling up way too full and leaving us feeling overstretched and overwhelmed.  We can get a little lost as we try to navigate the ordinary and often mundane stuff of going to work, raising families, studying, keeping homes…. or whatever our particular strain of ordinary life looks like.  We can become tired.  Our dreams get smaller, our sense of adventure and fun diminishes, and our capacity to risk the ‘reach’ for things that are still beyond us becomes increasingly restricted.  We can all too easily forget who we were going to become when the world was our oyster and real life had yet to take it’s toll.

There is just one problem.  We weren’t made to live that way.

The reason that way of living leaves us feeling like we’ve ended up in a dead end street is because Jesus came to give us LIFE.  When Jesus talks about giving us life He means life in it’s crazy fullness, bubbling with hope, brimming with adventure and excitement.  He revealed what the Father was like when He was here.  We have a God who loves to laugh and dance, He loves to party and include people who find themselves on the outside of things.  He clearly shows us that this journey we are on goes from ‘glory to glory’!!!  We live in the context of eternity, something that we can’t quite get our heads around just now, and yet there is an innate part in each one of us resonant with it’s truth.  We were created with a deep ‘knowing’ that there is more; that the ‘good old days’ are always ahead of us, even when we reach the end of our days on this earth.  And the wild thing is that this generous, fun loving, outrageously happy, extravagantly abundant, kind, eternal God invites us to grow up to be just like Him!!!

So, what do we do when we recognise the traits of ‘dead end’ thinking creeping into our own hearts? How do we plug our own weary souls into this type of life that Jesus came to bring us? Perspective is a great place to start.

Perspective has an inbuilt habit of stopping and breathing deep; of noticing the treasure in the normal; of remembering that the ordinary of today is yesterday’s dream come true.  It helps us realize that many tomorrows from now, we’ll look back at the gift of today we are holding in our hands right now, and wish that we had noticed it more, that we had cherished the joy of our children, or our health, or our partners…. more.  And that in turn can’t help but bring us to a place of gratitude.  Gratitude is the most fertile soil we can plant our hearts in.  It changes everything.  Victims become heroes; scarred but victorious.  Those broken by life become walking miracles; living stories of redemption.  The bitter taste of failure becomes the fine wine of experience, and the battleground of loss becomes the very place where dreams restored and rescued are visible to all as they rise from the ashes. There IS more. Whether today is one where you feel a little lost in the ordinary, or you’ve noticed your heart get sidelined into the dead end thinking of disappointment, take a moment today to remember perspective. Allow it to lead you to gratitude.  Drink deep in this moment.  Breathe in the goodness that you so easily could miss in the madness.  And don’t forget to dream.  You really were made for more.

Original Design

I love the phrase ‘original design’ – it’s a concept that roots and releases, reminding us that we have a Father who crafted and formed us deep within our mother’s wombs, dreaming over us before we were born.  We were planned.  We were longed for.  We were made with destiny coursing through our veins, and given the authority to match.

Each one of us has the image of our Father imprinted on our DNA – we are meant to resemble Him, to carry His mannerisms, to say things the way He does.  I love that!

Whether by design or default, we carry culture.  We ‘infect’ the atmosphere around us wherever we find ourselves.  It’s because we’re just like our Father.

We have been given authority as ‘trusted rulers’ – those who take wisdom from heaven and set it to work in the world.  It looks like life… the type of life that Jesus came to give according to John 10:10, full, vibrant, fully alert, fully engaged life.  It’s because we’re just like our Father.

We spill into every life around us, every person we engage in conversation, every stranger we befriend, every encounter, deep or fleeting – we spill what the Father has poured into us.  It’s because we’re just like Him.

Grace, forgiveness, mercy, purity, joy, generosity, fun, laughter, purpose, light, life – as we spill it, we call it out.  As we mirror heaven, we release it in others.  As we lean into the design as it was originally, those around us, whether slowly or suddenly, realise it’s for them too…. even when they don’t know Jesus yet.  And the mystery…. the more we give away what we’ve been given, the more we find our own hearts filled.

This is the way the Father dreamed it up in the beginning.  This is the way He calls every heart back to home.  This is the way He sets the lonely in families, and ignites purpose in the core of who we are.  This is how He redeems and restores towns and cities, nations and continents.  This is original design.

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