It can get quickly complicated talking about worship leading! We might ask a seemingly simple question, what's the goal of a worship leader? A tempting answer is, to take people into the presence of God! But that raises a few questions: where is God that we need to take them to that place? If God is already present among God's people, does worship need a leader? Do we judge whether a worship leader has done a good job on the basis of congregational perception of 'experience' of God?
A different line of thinking could begin like this: corporate worship of God takes place in a variety of ways across the diversity of Christian communities; most popularly, corporate worship has been led by a worship leader or team of leaders (minister, priest, song leader, intercessor, reader, preacher, cantor, etc); and in such corporate gatherings there has normally been a recognisable point of beginning and of ending. Thus the goal of the worship leader(s) is to lead the gathered people (congregation) from the beginning of the service to the end. On this line of thinking we can set aside (at least for the moment) questions such as 'should there be a worship leader?', 'what can a worship leader do to enhance people's sense of the presence of God?' and focus on questions such as 'what can a worship leader do in order to lead a service from beginning to ending excellently rather than poorly?'
Subsequent postings will look at aspects of the answer to this question. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- how can the journey from beginning to ending be made smoothly?
(In Anglican prayer book services I notice a lot of bumpiness due to our tendency to frequently announce page numbers. This bumpiness contrasts with (a) non prayer book services (b) Roman Catholic masses where there is reliance on people knowing the service more or less by heart (c) prayer book services which do not use the prayer book but use Powerpoint or printed service sheets instead).
- how can the congregation be included more rather than less in the services? (Anglican prayer book services offer frequent opportunities to do this, but sometimes those opportunities are muffed or missed if (e.g.) readers are not schooled up to say the correct words at the end of a reading. Non prayer book services tend to have an inbuilt resistance to some forms of congregational response, but they can involve shared prayers (e.g. confession, collect, the Lord's Prayer) and songs can be chosen which enhance participation (e.g. a eucharistic song which becomes part of prayerful preparation for receiving the bread and the wine).
Back to the 'presence of God' for a concluding moment: whatever is meant by 'the presence of God' in respect of worship services, its my experience that people are more appreciative of services, of any kind - formal/informal, book/no book, with music/without music - as contributing to profound experience of God's presence, WHEN THE SERVICE IS WELL LED!