A lot of people think John the Baptist was Baptist. You know, like, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Georgia Baptist Convention or whatever- you get the idea. This, obviously, is not the case. “Baptist” here means something more like baptizer or washer. A preacher who communicates regularly for my church often refers to him as “John the Washin’ Man.” He was the one who baptized followers of Jesus’ way- even before Jesus arrived on the scene! And, just as a side note, John’s worship leading is of a much different style than you’d find in your average Baptist church- the one I grew up in included. John the Charismatic could have been a more appropriate term were his name a reflection of his denomination or worship flavor as some have supposed. Maybe John the Pentecostal, I don’t know. Anyhow, John the Baptist is an extremely influential lead worshipper we see in scripture, yet there’s not one mention of him sitting at a piano or holding a guitar. John did two things well, two fundamental, essential things well, and if you or I ever hope to become effective lead worshippers for God’s glory we’ve got to begin modeling our worship leadership in large part after what we find John (a) implementing and (b) having success with.
The first thing John does is simply announce the coming of God, the arriving of Jesus, God’s Son. People saw the crowds John was drawing and were curious as to who exactly this man was. Scripture says John “did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Christ . . . He who comes after me has surpassed me . . . from the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.’” That answer wasn’t enough for the questioners, though. It still didn’t tell them who he was, who John was. Finally, John announced, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” If there’s one thing to learn here from John the Baptist aside from his bold, unashamed confessions of faith, it’s humility. Notice he says he is “one” calling out, not “the one.” He knows he’s not the man- just a man… a man. If, for whatever reason you’ve found yourself thinking more highly of yourself than you should, allow me the great privilege of reminding you you’re just a man and you’re just one man. By the grace of God, this is a truth John the Baptist was completely aware of. It’s almost like he’s saying, “Hey guys, I’m nothing special. I’m just one- one of many- who’ve heard of what’s ahead, who’ve sought and found that there’s something bigger worth living for, that Rescue is on it’s way. I’m just a messenger, one messenger, here to tell you, ‘Get ready! God’s coming! And He’s far greater than you and I could ever dream.’” What perspective John had! Humility is all about perspective. What hinders that is when I think I’m bigger than I really am, or I perceive God to be much smaller than He really is- often both at the same time. But John had 20/20 vision. He knew his role and his place, and it gave him the freedom to announce fearlessly, with great confidence and without reservation, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Worship is commonly understood as God’s revelation prompting man’s response. God moves, we respond. God convicts, we respond. God is the Initiator; we are the responders, the followers. The job of every worship leader, then, is to announce God to the congregation, to point Him out, to shine light on Him, to paint pictures of Him, to reveal truth about Him. This is the first thing John does well. He makes no mistake about the encounter that’s about to take place. He knows it’s not about him, and from the start he begins setting people on that path toward experiencing God- revealing truth about God, inviting those gathered to steer their hearts in a direction toward Godliness and the hope of God-come.
The second thing I see noteworthy in John’s worship leadership, equally an act of humility, is his God-given sense of timing and yielding to God’s Spirit. John 3:30, a favorite scripture verse of mine for a long time and one that every lead worshipper should pay attention to, says simply, “He must become greater, I must become less.” Perhaps you’ve heard it, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Hear it from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message, however, and let your heart receive it through the lens of worship leading and your worship leading in particular: “This is the assigned moment for Him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.” Wow, huh? I believe there’s a balance in leading worship. How do you engage people into worship, announcing God’s presence like I talked about above, but still make it not about you? I mean, you have giftings, right? How do we use those gifts in a way that shows God off and not us? It’s a Spirit issue, a Spirit-led issue that involves timing and humility and Spirit-sensitivity. Here’s what I mean. The most effective lead worshippers are those that, by the anointing of God, are finding a way to engage the audience, the crowd, whoever, but then- before you know it- they’re at the back and Jesus has moved into the center. They’ve moved to the sidelines and Jesus has come into the spotlight. John says, “This is the assigned moment.” On a spiritual level, the assigned moment, for worship leaders, has to come before you ever walk on stage, resolving in your heart that God’s glory will be exalted and that yours will not. On a practical level, we must find ways to capture an audience, draw them into where we’re going, but then gracefully exit the spotlight- without people ever noticing- as the Son of God comes center stage to receive the glory due His name. It’s a balance and it looks different for different individuals; I think in part it’s a personality thing, as different worship leaders lead in naturally different ways. The step for you and me to take now, then, is to pray. Pray for God to make us more sensitive to His spirit while we lead and give us the grace to get out of the way so worshippers can encounter The Way. The command in John 3:30 is an imperative. He “must” increase. We “must” decrease. There’s not really an option there for you and me, not if we want to show ourselves effective and accountable to the task (and privilege) God has afforded us. John the Baptist’s story teaches us that effective worship leading involves announcing the arrival of Christ- engaging the audience with truth- but exiting the spotlight by grace so Jesus can be made much of.
Spirit of God grant us sensitivity and humility today.