Pursuing Fitness & Leading Worship: A Worship Leader’s Insights

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Regimen is an outdoor training program here at the beach on St. Simons Island. This is group training – some would call it boot camp, but not quite.

Over and over during the last 1-1/2 years I have observed principles that our trainers are using that easily carryover into worship leadership, or leadership of any type.

1) R.A.N. (Rest As Needed)

It’s an acronym that our trainers constantly use.  They want us to be pushed past our comfort zones but they don’t want anyone hurt.  Every person that arrives at “Regimen Training” is at a different place in their fitness ability.

It’s profound how true this is when we gather to worship.  Every person that arrives is in a different place spiritually.  Some are super-charged and ready to go.  Others are broken, hurt, devastated, or discouraged.  Some are full of confidence while others are beaten down with guilt.

These are examples of one’s spiritual condition – but we have to account for one’s physical condition as well.  Have we ever considered that not every person in our congregation is comfortable standing for 25 minutes?  That clapping actually hurts the hands of the person suffering from arthritis?

As worship leaders we should encourage our congregations to press past their comfort zones.  At the same time, we have to give them freedom to “rest as needed”.  Perhaps communicating this to congregations will liberate them from the fear of being judged if they take a break.

So what do we do?  Communicate that worshipers can “rest as needed”.  Communicate it frequently.  Communicate it lovingly.  At the same time, encourage your congregations to push further and deeper into their expressions of worship than before.  Encourage them past their comfort zones.

2) Change It Up

Routine.  It can be a good thing – for a while.  But changing up our fitness routines makes it more enjoyable and unpredictable.  We never know what the routine will be.  Some days we’re on the beach.  Some days we’re in the grass.  Some days we have “toys”.  (ie.  kettle bells, jump ropes, dumbbells, TRX suspension systems).  Other days – it’s just old-fashioned exercising.

Granted, when we plan a corporate worship experience, making it “enjoyable” shouldn’t necessarily be our first intention.  However, breaking up the routine can bring a freshness to the gathering and help give our minds a jolt out of the norm.

Changing the routine can make us pay more attention to what is happening.  When we depart from our normal way of doing things it causes people to stop and take notice.  Try opening up with a more reflective, slow worship song to begin your services.  Put more songs together in a set, or break them apart with some readings or prayers.  Just don’t do the same motions – over and over.

3) Teach The Why

I’m a parent of 4 kids.  If you’ve been around kids much there is one word they learn at an extremely early age.  Do you know what that word is?

“WHY”

Maybe it’s the God-given instinct to learn, but people like to know “why”.  Leadership gurus have taught for years that if you can give people a reason “why” they are more likely to follow your lead.

One of the things I really enjoy about our Regimen Training is the teaching and instruction we receive from the primary trainer, Eric Taylor.

There have been plenty of times when Eric has stopped the group and started teaching.  Proper form, proper technique, breathing, etc … and why.  Why do we ask you to do this? Because if you don’t do it that way, this muscle group is not getting worked or this joint is taking too much of a beating.  How and why does this exercise help in your cardiovascular routine.  Hearing the “why” and some teaching behind the proper way to exercise is motivational and more importantly, it keeps us on the track of safety and maximum results.

Sunday after Sunday, Worship Leaders take the stage, strum their guitar (or in my case, play their keyboards), start singing, and expect everyone else to follow suit.  I’ve found that there is very little teaching and instruction on how to praise and worship our God.  I’m convinced that we come out of the womb educated in praising and worshiping … just watch a little kid or toddler when music starts.  Somewhere down the road of growing up, we tend to forget.

The Worship Leader may bark out a few instructions (oh, wait, let’s use church-speak and call them exhortations!) … “c’mon, clap your hands”, or “lift those hands.” And though they may not say it out loud – people in your congregations are thinking, “Why”?  Or they may be thinking “I don’t feel like it”, or “I don’t get it, that freaks me out”.

Let’s take the lifting of hands as an example, which is clearly a physical act of praise and/or worship to God from the Scriptures.  Wouldn’t you feel more motivated to engage in that physical act if you understood the “why”?  Perhaps if you were taught – even in a short, 30-45 second burst?

Example:
“One of the many ways we can physically respond to God in worship is with lifted hands.  Many of us do this, or see others doing this, but let’s discuss it for a moment.  Throughout Scripture (some references would be helpful) we see the “raising of hands” as an act of worship and surrender to God.  In doing this, we’re honoring God and we’re physically showing a sign of surrender.  It may seem a little strange of uncomfortable at first but try this with your heart and mind focused on surrendering and worshiping God”.

Now, I understand why.  I’m motivated to express myself and I’m taught why.

Why do we sing?
Why do we clap?
Why do we play our instruments?

Don’t just lead and give instructions – teach the “why”.

4) Encouragement Matters

The teaching is critical but it’s not enough.  You have to have encouragement.  In the trenches when the sweat is pouring, the body is resisting, and the mind is telling you there’s nothing left, it’s that encouraging word that pulls you through.

A good fitness trainer will challenge you in your routine, correct you when you’re wrong, and encourage you when you are doing it right. But how can we apply that to worship leading?

So far these insights have primarily applied to how we (as leaders) interact with our congregations.  Now I want to focus on how we interact with our teams.  How often do you encourage them?

Keep in mind that the majority of us work with volunteers who have already been bossed around all day and have endured stress and anxiety at the work place.  The last thing they need as they volunteer in the band or tech team is to feel the same way.  Encourage your team.  Build them up.  When they play well, acknowledge it.  When they seem frustrated or overwhelmed with a part, encourage them.

Take this beyond words.  I’d encourage you to have a box of stationary in your desk so that you can mail a letter from time to time … you know, write it, stuff it in an envelope, place a stamp on it, and put it in that old thing called a mailbox.

Don’t let this stop with your band.  There is a tech team that makes everything work; yet, they are usually acknowledged only when something goes wrong.

Can this apply to our congregations as well?  Of course it can.  As you notice those who seem to really connect with the worship, make a point to encourage them.  Tell them that seeing them worship and engage encourages you and spurs you on as a leader.  In the same way, with sensitivity, you may approach someone who is obviously struggling.  Pull them aside and give them an encouraging word – tell them how glad you are they came and ask if there’s anything you can pray with them about.

I know this.  When I’m on my last pushup … and my body screams it can’t do another … all it takes is a trainer standing over me saying “c’mon Fred, you can do it, one more” and I push it out.  You can too.

Fred McKinnon, worship leader at St. Simons Community Church and founder of The Worship Community shared this blog series at his blog this month. To view the series in it’s entirety visit Fred McKinnon.com.



Fred McKinnon is the Founder and Publisher of TheWorshipCommunity.Com. He’s also the Worship Director for St. Simons Community Church, a husband, father of 4 wonderful kids, an e-biz owner, and a self-professed web2.0 addict, blogging at www.fredmckinnon.com.