Heart, Soul, and Mind
In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says the greatest commandment is that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus left no aspect of ourselves untouched. Our love of God and therefore our response to that love through worship requires all of ourselves.
As worship leaders, whether we are singing, playing drums, or running lights, we must lead our congregation to faithfully sing with all their heart, soul, and mind. But as many of us know, especially those from the more traditional backgrounds, elements introduced in worship to engage our congregations’ hearts are often met with skepticism at best or accusations of emotional manipulation at worst. How do we then lead our congregation to live out what Jesus commands in Matthew 22:37?
Jonathan Edwards said God wants “to stir up the pure minds of the saints and quicken their affections, bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance and setting before them in proper colors.” Our emotional responses to the truths of God give those truths sticking power in our lives. The words that we sing, in the proper emotional context, take on a new weight in our lives.
When I think back to the most formative moments in my life, deep and intense emotions are always at the center of those memories. Why should we then not aim to create intensely emotional experiences to give the Gospel the emotional weight it deserves? To quote Zac Hicks from his fantastic book ‘The Worship Pastor,’ “I can acknowledge conceptually that my sin offends God and violates our covenant relationship, but my understanding is more complete when tears are streaming down my face and my heart is aching in contrition.”
How we present the Gospel through worship communicates its weight and power, so we must be intentional in all that we do. If we are devoid of emotion, we communicate that the Gospel has no power to stir our affections. But if we express joy, we lead people to feel that the Gospel is good. If we express wonder, we lead people to feel that God is awe-inspiring and beautiful. We don’t want to haphazardly manipulate emotion for the sake of a response. Rather, we should act as an emotional shepherd (see note), leading the congregation’s hearts to the place where the Spirit can work in a life-changing way.
How we execute our service to put the truths of the Gospel “in their proper colors” will look different depending on the context of the service. I want to highlight three principles you can apply to any context.
Louie Giglio spoke at the Lift conference about writing the new simple chorus for Take My Life with Chris Tomlin. As a kid he sang these wonderful hymns at a breakneck speed, with almost no space between the verses. He recalled singing words that had huge weight behind them, and immediately jumping into another verse, with no time to reflect on what he just sang.
We need to not fear creating space in our songs for reflection, but be very intentional about how we use that space. When used properly, the instrumental section of songs can be a powerful moment for the congregation to reflect on truths they have sung.
Create a Narrative
Most musicians who spend any time on Youtube have seen the ad for the Hans Zimmer Masterclass where he states that “Music is basically a conversation,” and then plays a question/response motif on the piano. Every element in a service tells part of a story, whether it’s a perfectly timed lighting cue, the bass coming in to accent a particular lyric, or a guitar lick that adds a new dimension to the lyric.
We must be intentional to weave an emotional story around the words we sing. Even subtle elements, when taken together as a whole, can work together to impress the truths of what we sing on the congregation’s hearts.
One of my favorite examples of this is the Bethel song Lion and the Lamb. The song opens with a call and response instrumental with a celebratory motif at the end of each ascending guitar line. This leads directly into the line “He’s coming on the clouds, kings and kingdoms will bow down” in the first verse and “Open up the gate, make way before the King of Kings.” These joyful and expectant lines are given even greater emotional impact by the instrumental preceding it that speak a similar musical story.
Express an Appropriate Posture
We cannot expect our congregation to express proper emotions if we aren’t expressing them ourselves. If you look bored on stage, you communicate that what we are singing has no relevance to your life. If you are singing joyfully with hands raised or prayerfully singing with eyes closed during various parts of the songs, you are communicating the proper posture we are to have during the different points of each song.
Because we are created in the image of our triune, relational God, we are wired to live in relation to one another. So even if you are running lights, you can worship loudly with hands raised when possible, and this can in turn lead those on stage in worship! Each of us is leading someone in worship, so we must never think we are “just the drummer” or “just the sound guy!”
Music has the unique power to convey the entire breadth of human emotion. Worship is a place where the grand and beautiful narrative of the Gospel is expressed each week. We must never take this for granted. So as we prepare for worship each week, we must think about how everything we do expresses the proper emotions to put the truths we sing in their proper colors. We have been given a task of eternal importance, to help our congregation live out the greatest commandment.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.”
Note: The idea for this blog came from Zac Hicks book ‘The Worship Pastor,’ specifically the chapter ‘The Worship Pastor as Emotional Shepherd.’ I highly recommend this book, not only for worship staff, but worship volunteers as well.