A few days ago I read a blog post about “The Importance of Being a Worship Leader”. In it was one of the best descriptions of a worship leader that I have heard in at least a couple of weeks… maybe more.
“Many years later, while leading worship at a conference, I received a note from one of the participants. She wrote that as she was trying to think of a way to describe my worship leading, “hospitable” is what came to mind. At first, she said, it seemed like a strange word to use for a worship leader, but then she realized that if worship is entering the throne room of God, then “hospitable” made perfect sense. We on the worship team were “standing at the doorway,” inviting others in. She went on to write, “All the things you do that make it easier for us to participate fully — from lining out words to leading us in clapping, teaching us how to pronounce non-English words, indicating when we’re repeating a chorus — all these things help us to find our way in. Wow, what a calling: welcoming worshipers into the throne room of God!” (you can read the rest of the post here)
I love the word “hospitable” in the context of worship leading. I want it to describe me.
One of the things that I have learned, and continue to need to learn when it comes to “hospitable leadership” is “attentiveness”. If we are “standing at the doorway, inviting others in” and we see someone unsure of what to do, then we need to respond to that. For me, this has meant fighting the urge to close my eyes out of nervousness. It’s hard for me to be attentive to peoples needs when my eyes are closed and I can’t see them. That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever close my eyes; if the mood is right and I really want to close my eyes in a moment of sincere worship, then I will. But I won’t if it’s just a default reaction to the fact that people are looking at me.
I can see my soapbox in the corner, but I’m gonna resist the urge to get on it. Let me just challenge something that I have witnessed in a lot of worship leaders (including myself). We talk a lot about how worship leading “is not about us… it’s all about God” and how we don’t want to “draw attention to ourselves”. And yet, so often we make choices that we try to pass of as “humble”, but at their core are so selfish.
One time I was leading worship with another guy and there was a moment at the end of the song where, as we rehearsed, it felt like we should have an extended instrumental time. The other leader was opposed to this idea because then he would just be standing there and he didn’t want people looking at him because it “wasn’t about him”. The irony here is that this decision was all about him.
We all make decisions like this. I think this is why I have been so fascinated as of late by the psychology that drives us. Because we all do things and make choices, NOT for the reasons that we may tell ourselves. To quote Dr. House: “Everybody lies”. Yet, the people we seem to lie to most are ourselves.
This is why I try not to close my eyes out of habit. I could tell myself that I’m just trying to demonstrate worship; that I’m trying to “lead the way”, but that’s not true. I’m just closing my eyes because I don’t know what else to do in that moment and shutting out the people looking at me seems easier. I think, if I want to be a more hospitable and attentive leader, I need to start connecting with people as we sing. To look them in the eye and let them know that we are in this together. To give them a smile so that they feel like they matter.
In the book of Revelation we get a picture of “many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands…”(Rev. 5:11). In other words, no one shows up to a party in the throne room alone. If I want to be a more hospitable leader then I should probably try to remember that.
What does “hospitable worship leading” mean to you? What does it look like?