By Curtis Shelburne
A neat thing happened to me at church the other Sunday. I think I worshiped. You think I’m kidding. I mean, you know I’m a preacher, and I help lead worship in a church, and I worship, and we worship, every Sunday, right?
Well, yes. But leading worship and worshiping are not the same things. And sometimes they are actually very difficult to do at the same time. If you’ve tried, you know what I mean. It’s very easy for conscientious worship-leaders to get so caught up in the nuts and bolts of leading worship that they themselves hardly worship at all.
Some of that can’t be avoided. Oddly enough, trying to help worship flow smoothly, feel genuine and spontaneous, necessarily takes a great deal of the kind of planning, preparation, and hard work which is not spontaneous at all.
I am absolutely sure that the best worship, the truest worship, really occurs when that which we do and see and say and sing and hear in worship points beyond us, when everything that happens ceases to be the focus because through it we’ve been helped to focus on God.
Worship happens when what we’re doing or what is being done has helped us to forget about what we’re doing and what is being done. And we focus on who God is, and what he has done. In worship, we open our hands to receive a blessing, and he reaches down to give it. We lift our hands (literally, figuratively, or both), and he reaches down to impart his touch.
Sometimes, though we worship-leaders mean well, the way we structure worship makes worshiping harder. About the time worship really begins to happen, we short-circuit praise to call out hymn numbers. About the time we’re really centering on the Healer of our souls, an ill-timed and lengthy announcement calls us back to Sis. Jenkins’ gall bladder. We’re just about to feast at the banquet prepared by God, and suddenly next Wednesday’s church picnic takes center stage. We’re about to really worship (though the service has already started), but then thoughts about worship intrude, tastes or scruples about forms of worship stifle, and the Life-connection that God graciously gives when we freely adore is lost when we slavishly focus on ourselves, our leaders, our rituals.
Make no mistake, the most important ingredient in worship has far less to do with the quality of the service than it does with the quality of the worshiper’s heart, but leading worship is still a big responsibility. To plan worship. To structure worship. Do it badly, and a shoddy, ill-prepared service calls attention to its shoddiness. Plan it and execute it well, and even then, if our attitudes are wrong, the attention may focus on the messenger and not the Message, the singer and not the Song.
To worship can be tough. But it can also be breathtakingly beautiful if, only if, it helps us connect with the One who is all Beauty.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at