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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.


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