Lead People – 10 Year Series

Lead People.pngOver the next couple of months, I am planning to do a blog series that expands on a blog post I wrote entitled “10 Lessons From 10 Years of Worship Leading.” Here’s the first of ten, if God allows (and if my Enneagram 7-ADHD-self doesn’t get bored or distracted and move on to something else).

If I could travel back in time, I would tell the 21-year-old me to get a haircut and some different glasses. I would also say this, “Don’t just focus on leading song, lead people.”

1. Lead people. 

There is a night and day difference between just leading songs and leading people.

I can remember the early days of my worship leadership. I spent hours learning songs, memorizing arrangements, developing and adapting chord charts, and recording sub-par YouTube videos in the guest bedroom of my house. I longed to be excellent and not come across as lazy in my preparation. I was focused. I was diligent. I was…obsessed. I praise God for those early years as I grew exponentially in skill, talent, and vocal control.  Sometimes I’ll go back to an old recording and be amazed at the growth God has brought about. There is much to be said about the importance of developing familiarity and tone with an instrument or your voice, but my approach was lop-sided. You see, I focused a lot of time on song leading, but little time on thinking of how I could leverage every element of the worship service to shepherd the people of God.

When I was 21 years old, leading worship for a new church plant of about 30 people, I was given the title “pastor.” I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this then, but I can tell you that I viewed myself as a worship leader who just so happened to be a pastor rather than a pastor who just so happened to lead worship. More than my young age or lack of experience, it had to do with what I valued.

Peter reminds those of us who have the pastoral responsibility as worship leaders to “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2).

For me as a volunteer and then bi-vocational worship pastor during those early years, I can tell you that I wasn’t in it “for the money.” I thought I was above this exhortation Peter gives as I wasn’t leading for “shameful gain.” The truth is, I was in it for the shameful gain of man’s approval. I was addicted to people telling me how talented I was. I loved getting to be in front of others and for all my hard work of preparation to be seen. I know that I loved Jesus in those early years but I was immature. I was more interested in leading songs than leading people. Sadly, I still am sometimes. Praise God for the grace to repent from simply leading songs to leading (shepherding, serving, and loving) people time and time again. You and I can rest in the approval of Christ and lead people to experience the greatness of God through Christ by the power of the Spirit. Worship leaders, let’s not just lead songs, let’s lead people.

Diagnostic Questions:

Are you spending the bulk of your time prepping your instrument and voice? 

Do you take time to prepare Scriptures and words that you might exhort and encourage God’s people with? 

Do you think about how your songs fit together to lead people in celebrating the gospel or do you just think about flow/feel of songs moving from one key to the next? 

These are just a few questions to ask yourself as you seek to not just lead songs but people.

10 lessons from 10 years of worship leading

As I prepare to wrap up my 10th year in worship ministry, I’ve decided to share 10 different lessons that I have learned.  There have probably been a thousand, but I don’t know anyone besides my mom who would read that. Maybe you are an aspiring worship leader, or you have been in the midst of worship ministry for quite some time.  Whatever the case, I hope this can be a grace to you.

1. Lead people. —Anyone with talent (or in some cases, just a little confidence) can lead a song.  Lead people. Lead them to worship through grief and sorrow, through joy and victory, through the mundane and the apathetic seasons of life.  You get to point people to encounter the greatness of God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Lead people.

2. Share the platform. —The church needs to see that there are many singers, but One Savior, a plurality of leaders, but only One Lord.  Sharing the platform can start by giving away a song, a Scripture reading, or a whole service. God calls you to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11).  Share the platform.

3. Substance over style. —When the church gathers, they don’t need you to wow them with your abilities, they need to be wowed by the gospel.  Lead your team and your people to see that Jesus is better than their preferences.  

4. Two words: humble confidence. —Quit trying to sell yourself to people and start pointing people to Jesus. Humility, as C.S. Lewis observed, is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.  In God’s kingdom, we don’t walk with swagger or a limp. Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11). So give up on yourself, place your confidence in Christ and run headlong into the calling set before you.

5. You are a theologian. —Tony Merida said that our songs are portable theology.  The songs you lead are shaping the way people think about God and who He is.  The lyrics you choose to place in the mouths of God’s people will impact all of their lives.  “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology.” – Gordon Fee

6. You are a child of God. —Before God calls you to ministry, he calls you to intimacy.  Do you want to give the church your best? Before standing up before the congregation to lift your voice, sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his voice.  

7. Sometimes less is more. —I’m all for turning up the sound, pulling out all the stops, and worshipping the Lord with many sounds and instruments. However, sometimes we need to dial it back and remind ourselves and those we are leading that the Scriptures are sufficient to guide our worship.  If you feel like the church can’t worship God without a full-band, you are deceived.

8. You aren’t entitled to your platform. —The only thing you are entitled to is hell.  The only thing that qualifies you for salvation is your sinful need.  Everything you receive in this life is grace. So the next time you step onto your un-earned platform to lead 10 people or 1,000 people in Scripture and song, remember that you are just one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread. 

9. Stand amazed. —When Jesus sent out his disciples in Luke 10, they came back utterly blown away by what God was using them to do.  Jesus told them, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).  The source of our amazement is not in what God can accomplish through our gifts and leadership but in what Christ has already accomplished for us through His life, death and resurrection.

10. You’re not the worship leader. —Jesus is the true and better worship leader.  Only he can give people access to God. He lives to make intercession for sinners.  He alone is our great High Priest. By his blood, He leads His people into the presence of God.  Jesus is the Chief Worship Leader.

So there you go, 10 different lessons from 10 years of worship leadership.  I know there’s more. I would love to hear what you would add to this list in the comments below.

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This past weekend my wife and I, put on a garage sale (well, it was more of a driveway sale, but that’s beside the point).  Lauren worked her tail off all week to sort, price, and organize everything that we would sell and I basically was her work horse moving what she wanted where she wanted it.  She asked me to go through my entire closet and pick out clothes that I no longer wear or have need of which is a form of torture for me so I politely passed the buck by saying, “I trust you.”  That was her green light to get after it.  I’ve been so pre-occupied with writing and recording for a new project (more on that coming soon!) and finishing up a couple of online college classes that I was glad to have her sort for me. 

Fast forward to day two of the sale.  It was pretty slow on Saturday morning so Lauren asked if I wouldn’t mind sitting out in the garage where I could work on my paper and keep an eye on the sale (AKA make sure people don’t steal stuff) while she, my mom, and our boys went out and did some shopping.  Side note, it is the weirdest thing selling your stuff as you leave the house to go buy more stuff.  Just saying.

While I was typing away on my computer, a family showed up and began to look through some of my clothes.  As they unfolded them to get a good look at them, I started feeling, well, weird.  It was disheveling seeing a stranger hold up MY clothes to see if they might fit his taste and his dashing figure (see what I did there).  Honestly it was weird because I still felt a since of ownership with those clothes.  I mean those pants and I have been through a lot together.  I slightly felt entitled to them.  Even if I hadn’t worn them in over a year, they were after all, you know, mine.  To give up a pair of my pants for $2, two t-shirts for $0.75, and two dress shirts for a buck a piece felt wrong.  And to top it all off, the lady handed me a $5 bill instead of paying the $5.50 I was due assuming I would just take the $5 and not worry about my two quarters.  Sheesh.  I’m not bitter though.

I jokingly say all of this because I think that we look at many pieces of clothing in our life as things we are entitled to and to give them up for next to nothing makes us feel jaded.  Pastor, perhaps you feel entitled to your church.  Lay minister, perhaps you feel entitled to your program.  Maybe you have worked hard at your career for years, and if you’re being honest, your business card that has your title and position written on it is a huge part of your identity’s makeup. 

In some ways, we need to look at our careers, titles, ministries, positions, and possessions as a t-shirt.  There is a “time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away” (Ecclesiastes 3:6).  Yes.  Please put on your “shirt” and wear it gladly and humbly, but remember, you are as entitled to your shirt as I am to the $.75 cents I got for mine. 

The truth is, there is a greater identity to be had -one that will not be stripped away.  An identity that has been purchased for you and is being eternally kept in heaven for you. 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3-5

Confession: I am reading through the Bible and have been in Leviticus for a week or two. This has been, as you might suspect, the hardest book of the Bible for me to walk through. It’s so easy for me to just say, “This doesn’t even matter anymore. Jesus paid it all. Can’t I just move on?”
So this morning it struck me as I was glazing over Leviticus 14, “The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed…” Anyone else feel my pain here? The struggle is real. As I was inwardly murmuring and faking my way through another time of Bible reading it hit me, “Am I even slightly impressed with the holiness of God?”

God’s chosen people, the Israelites, weren’t murmuring and faking their way through these rituals.  Those who were pursuing God must have been blown away by the opportunity to walk in relationship with a God so holy, so righteous, so mighty, so perfect. Now contrast the perfection, wisdom, and eternality of this holy God with the imperfection, lack of wisdom, and finite existence of man. It should wreck us that God would stoop down to speak with and listen to His people.

As I continued to reflect on the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament with this in view, the Holy Spirit stirred my heart to long for a right view of God. I want to tremble over the holiness of God. I want to weep over my sin. I want to cry over the lavish mercy and grace poured out for sinners like me through the terrible cross of Jesus Christ.
So whether it’s Leviticus or Romans, Numbers or Ephesians, may we tremble as we read God’s Word and stand in awe once again over the relationship God invites us into through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sheila Heen, Lecturer at Harvard Law School says that humanity has two core needs.

  1. The need to feel accepted or respected or loved the way we are.
  2. The need to learn and grow.

Christ obliterated need number one.  Get this: In Christ, we are fully known and yet fully loved.  There is no hiding “the real us” from Jesus so that he will like us.  He died a bloody death for us while we were still sinners (that is, enemies of God who were condemned to hell), in order to adopt us as God’s children into God’s forever family (see Rom. 5:8, and 8:15).  *Mind-blown.  

Christ shatters need number two by sealing us with his Holy Spirit.  In the same breath that Jesus loves and accepts us in, he wants to teach us and grow us into something better -namely into his own likeness (see Rom. 8:28-29).  “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).  We are given the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, comfort us in affliction, and compel us to live life on mission (see John 16:8, 2 Cor. 1:4, 5:14).

This is huge.  You are loved and accepted completely in Christ, but you are not left to your own devices.  You aren’t just given a new legal status “not guilty” but ultimately a new identity: son and daughter.  Jesus doesn’t just take away the penalty of sin (death and hell); he crushes the reign of sin (life of obedience).

So now what?

First you need to stop and revel in the love of Jesus.  Stop striving and working FOR the favor of God -or of anyone else for that matter- and start working FROM the favor of God.  When you embrace the love and acceptance that you have in Christ based on his perfection, not yours, you are free to live a life of joy-filled obedience.  There isn’t a time or place to simply sit and sour as a believer in the Lord Jesus, we must work out our “salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

I set out to write and convey the entire Biblical Metanarrative, tracing the storyline of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation showing Christ as the center. I feel like Christians often miss the “whole story” of the gospel, and we all, myself included, easily forget the good news of the gospel.  Out of a desire to preach the gospel to myself, my church, and anyone else who will listen, I attempted to convey the whole story artfully through a “spoken word.”  May God be praised and may our joy be ever increasing in Him alone!

Jason Waller
“The Whole Story”

When the earth was void and without form
There was no space or time
There was nothing created simply the Trinity
and when I say simply, I mean God, simply the glorious mystery
One God in three persons in blessed unity
Father, Son, and Spirit living in perfect harmony

Out of the overflow of love, not out of any need
God spoke and gave life to all our eyes can see
Sun, moon, stars, and every galaxy
Mountains, trees, and rivers, all beauty we perceive
Tigers, birds, humpback whales, and honey bees
He spoke, and then it was, God shined forth His glory

But the crown of his creation was not apes, gazelles, or jaguars
Not Everest or the Grand Canyon -as good as these things are
No, God made man in his own image he created
Male and female to talk and walk with God the definition of blessed

But we rebelled when man bit the forbidden fruit and fell further than we can comprehend
In case you missed the memo, the Bible says all have sinned

Death is now our penalty, We turned God into our enemy
condemned for all eternity, we chose this, this is what we asked for don’t you see
No app can hack our life to save us -nothing in our grip could provide the saving answer
This sickness can’t be cured by man, though we all try to escape our sin-cancer

Now what could be left but hopeless pleas and cries?
So, “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”
No. The Sovereign King did not leave us in our deserved plight
He stooped down to speak when in his perfect justice He could have chosen to smite

He made us a vow with his word on that terribly dark night
“I will send the Promised King, the Warrior who will fight”
He will crush the serpent’s head, take your punishment for sin
He will become a curse to remove your curse, trust me, this war is mine to win”

Now as time travelled on, God’s promises grew faint
In no time the human race would rather move on than trust and wait
So we kept on sinning just like we did in the beginning
If worship were like our arrows then self is the target at which we’re aiming

But after 400 years, a Sound broke the silence
The Word became flesh and Light pierced through the darkness
Could it be true, the Infinite wrapped himself in human frailty?
The Omnipotent Creator set aside his glory to be born as a helpless baby

This is too marvelous, too wonderful, this news is far too good
That the same God who hung the stars moved into our neighborhood
This Coming King theologians call it “the Hypostatic Union”
That is, Christ is fully God yet fully Man in one Person

“You shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sin”
Not might, not maybe, not probably, He will, He will, He will win
Promise became reality as marry held the eight pound Savior
Nothing would be the same, this changes everything forever

Now this Jesus walked and talked and worked. He played and scraped his knees
He laughed, he cried, squinted at the sun, this same God who breathed out galaxies
He lived in full obedience to God, the life we should’ve lived
He was reviled but did not lash out.  We would selfishly take yet He would freely give

He came to wash our feet but we nailed his to a tree
Now his life, we didn’t take it, but he freely gave it, Jesus is the Loving King
For the Father made Him who knew no sin to become sin in our place
That we might be His Righteousness, through our murder he offered grace

The entirety of our sin debt was paid when the sinless Son of God was slain
So quit your striving and trying to earn salvation, simply call upon his Name
On that cross Christ breathed his last, “It is finished!” was His cry
And it was at that moment that The God-man, Jesus, gave up his spirit and died

And when I say “died” He really died
His follower’s scattered, Darkness filled the skies
The fire that once burned bright had dimmed as Jesus’ cold body was carried
They put him in a borrowed tomb, the Son of God was buried

Has the curse been lifted?  Who could really say?
Are you sure Jesus wasn’t just a man? I mean, he’s lying dead in a grave
Bricks of doubt upon doubt must have continually been laid
Hopelessness ensued all the more in those long long days

On the third morning, Mary Magdalene wept bitter tears
Her doubts confirmed as she gazed at the empty tomb, she was paralyzed with fear
“Who are you seeking?” Asked the voice behind her, a gardener, Mary had suspected
“If you moved His body just tell me where” but the man’s response was totally unexpected

“Mary” said the familiar voice. She couldn’t believe her ears
The same voice that calmed the storms melted Mary’s fear
“Teacher!” she exclaimed. Beaming, bouncing, bounding, she left the scene to proclaim
“He’s risen from the grave, I tell you, He’s risen!  My eyes have seen the King!”

Oh and this King has risen. He has ascended to his heavenly throne
Death is being reversed.  Drained is the power of the curse
The long promised King actually came
He lived, he loved, he died, he rose, he ascended, he rules and reigns.

But that’s not the end.  He will come again

The Lion of the tribe of Judah will roar, he will come riding through the skies
With “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” written down his thighs

He will gather his scattered people from the far corners of every tribe and nation
And around his throne we will lift one voice singing “Worthy is the King of creation!
May the Lamb who was slain receive blessing, and honor, and glory, and power
For Yours is the Kingdom forever and ever and ever!”


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Worship pastors, leaders, and team members.  If you play even the slightest part in selecting songs, praying prayers, or leading the people of God in worship, please understand the weightiness of your role.  You are not there to entertain.  You are not there to put on a show.  You are not there to look and sound good.

You are there to lead the people of God to sing the praises of God (Psalm 145:21).
You are there to remind the saints of the gospel through song (Col. 3:16).

Believe it or not, you are giving people a vocabulary to praise God with.  You are giving struggling saints weapons in their battle with sin.  You are giving those grieving and mourning words that will act as a healing balm on their soul.  You are teaching new believers how to relate to God in prayer.  You are shaping the way people view God.

So don’t take what you do lightly.  Your work matters.