The Need for Pliability in Corporate Worship
The following article by Dwayne Moore appears this week in Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox, Issue #370. This is an excerpt from Pure Praise: A Heart-focused Bible Study on Worship.
In worship services, we should plan as much as possible and then allow for spontaneity. But what happens when spontaneous worship actually occurs? How should we respond when our plans are suddenly changed? An important element that is necessary for a worship service to be effective is the willingness to be flexible.During a major citywide festival in Oklahoma City, I had no choice but to be flexible. It was six hours before the opening night. I had planned the service in detail two months earlier. The festival choir was prepared and expecting to sing a certain number of songs, the praise band had rehearsed, and the lyrics in their exact order had been given to our video operators. Then I got the call. The lieutenant governor of Oklahoma wanted to speak about her relationship with Christ during the festival. The only night she could be there was that very same night. Of course, you don’t say no to such a great opportunity – even with just six hours notice. So we reworked two months of planning in a matter of minutes.
Here’s the best news: The service flowed extremely well, and there was a sense of God’s anointing on everything that took place that night. In fact, hundreds placed their faith in Christ as their Savior that evening!
All of us who have planned services probably could tell stories similar to this – times that God got the glory even though our plans got the boot! Of course, it’s one thing to be forced into flexibility (as we go kicking and screaming), but it’s quite another to willingly allow our plans to be thwarted right before our eyes. That requires trust.
Jehoshaphat and the children of Judah
As described in 2 Chronicles 20, the people demonstrated their trust in God as they quickly recognized the need to be flexible. Consider this:
- Jehoshaphat had to be flexible because he’d never fought a battle in this way before – with praise rather than swords.
- The people of Judah had to be flexible because they’d never stood around waiting to hear, rather than suiting up to fight.
- The choir had to be flexible because they had never led worship from this vantage point before – from the front lines of an army going to battle.
At first, Jehoshaphat and the children of Judah no doubt felt forced to give up their own plans and turn to God. After all, they were having a normal and comfortably predictable day with everything going pretty much as usual. Then, out of the blue, they got the news they never wanted to hear: Three vast armies were coming to destroy them. (Talk about ruining your day!) They were backed into a corner and had no way to look but up. Most likely, more than a few of the people standing in that huge crowd around the temple grounds were somewhat bitter about their little “situation.” Frankly, joyful praise was almost surely the last item on their priority list at that moment. Yet, with just a few words from one man’s mouth, their circumstances downgraded from desperate to merely demanding – demanding of praise, that is.
Listen to the prophet Jahaziel’s words in 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 (NIV). Put yourself in the shoes of those listening to his divinely inspired words. Jahaziel said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’”
Romans 10:17 (NKJV) says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” The people of Judah heard the Word of God through his prophet. Can you imagine how relieved they must have been? In the same way, once we’ve heard from God and know he is directing us through a worship experience, we can relax and trust him to move it any direction he wants.
In 1 Corinthians 14:30, Paul instructed the speaker to stop if he is interrupted. Young’s Literal Translation says, “Let the first be silent.” Imagine you are helping with a great worship set that your music ministry and technical teams have worked hard to prepare. Before you can finish your complete set of songs, someone in the congregation lifts his hand. When you acknowledge him, he says, “Excuse me, I’m very sorry to interrupt you this way, but I have something I believe I’m supposed to share.” Granted, what he is doing might appear inappropriate to some, but according to Scripture, you have an obligation to stop and at least consider allowing that person to speak.
Conditions for spontaneity in services
There are, of course, certain conditions Paul puts on spontaneous “revelations” in order to “test” them. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:21a.) First, the one wanting to speak must be recognized in the church. In context, Paul was addressing “brothers” (1 Corinthians 14:26a). By inference, that brother should have a life that evidences his walk with Christ. Second, he should be willing to take his turn and not rudely interrupt while God is speaking through someone else (verse 31). Third, he should be subject to “prophets” or leaders in the church (verses 29-32).
I realize the idea of a revelation suddenly coming to a Christian sitting in the congregation during a worship service seems extremely unlikely to many. It’s certainly the exception rather than the norm in most churches today. I don’t believe Paul was necessarily advocating that it become a standard every church should follow. Nonetheless, I believe Paul was trying to burn into our understanding that God can do anything he wants through anyone he chooses.
If God can choose to speak through a layman in the congregation, surely he might speak through someone in a choir, praise team, or orchestra. These people have (I hope) already been proven and tested to be sensitive servants of the Lord. In many of our services, the music minister and pastor do all the talking. We would be wise to encourage other team members and church leaders to have “a hymn, or a word of instruction” to edify the body – even on the spur of the moment as the Holy Spirit prompts them. (See 1 Corinthians 14:26.)
As I’ve sat down to plan worship services over the years, I’ve tried to form a few good habits. Perhaps the most important habit is to always start with the statement “Lord, this is your worship service, so please plan it however you want it.” I’ve found this helps me keep my perspective during a service. Yes, it’s true that we as worship leaders and worship teams are responsible before God for what takes place during a service. However, it’s still his service. He’s in charge of it. And he is plenty able to protect and lead it. Until we lay aside our preconceived notions of what that service should be and totally yield it to him, we will never be effective worship leaders whom God can work spontaneously through and around.
Trust is the key. We must “trust in the Lord” even when we don’t understand him. (See Proverbs 3:5.) During each and every spontaneous moment of our worship services, he will grant us, as leaders in those services, the wisdom, discernment, and direction we need.
Excerpt from pp. 81-83 of Pure Praise: A Heart-focused Bible Study on Worship by Dwayne Moore (Group, 2009)