In some circles, I might be called a professional worshipper. Most Sundays, I lead at least one worship service and generally do more than one. I am also called upon to lead worship in a variety of other contexts: nursing homes, public events, family functions, life transitions and the list goes on. I take my task of leading worship seriously. I spend time preparing worship so that it flows and the elements mesh well. As much as possible, I try to have the emotional content and the cognitive content complement each other. When other people are involved in the process, I work to help them be prepared and able to do their part well. I even periodically use sermons and Bible Studies to teach people what worship is and how we worship.
During the worship service, I am mostly conscious of my role as leader of the worship. While we are singing a hymn, I am looking up and marking the next one. When the choir is singing, I am using the time to look over the order of service and make sure I am prepared. I have all my prayers written out, except for the benediction which I memorized a long time ago. I even have the Lord’s Prayer written out in front of me so that I can make sure I get it right.
So, when we are worshipping God, I am sometimes not sure that I am really worshipping. Well, to be honest, I know there are times when I am not really worshipping. I am too focused on the worship to be able to worship. I could say that is an occupational hazard and someone has to do it and let it go. But I too need to worship and I, like everyone else, need to worship not just privately but as part of a community. The few times a year I get to attend worship and not lead it just don’t do it from that perspective.
So, how do I worship? Well, I think it means that I offer to God my leadership. He has called me to this ministry and so I believe he wants me doing what I am doing–so part of my worship is making him an offering of my leading worship.
When I remember that, I can worship. I try to begin that before worship. I greet all the worshippers as they come in–we are small congregations and our buildings have no office or vestry for me to hide in. Mind you, even when I had an office to hide in, I tended to spend time before worship greeting people.
Then, as worship is beginning, I take a few seconds to open myself to God–I suppose it could be called prayer but often, it is physically not much more than a brief closing of my eyes and a re-focusing on the worship to come. Sometimes, I use actual words but often, the words actually get in the way.
Then, as worship proceeds, I try to be conscious of doing what I do as an offering to God. I don’t always succeed. When I miss something in the order of service, I go into panic mode as I work out how to fix it. When my eyes fall on the wrong prayer and I begin to repeat the invocation instead of doing the offertory prayer, I get busy revising the prayer on the fly. When the sanctuary is too hot or too cold, I am wondering how that is affecting various individuals and how I can take care of the problem.
But in spite of my failures, I keep trying. I know that I can both lead worship and worship myself at the same time–but I need to make sure that I am prepared to open myself to the presence and wonder of God. In the end, my situation isn’t any different from any other worshipper. When I put in garbage, I get garbage. When I approach as an opportunity to acknowledge and praise God, I can worship, even if in the course of the worship I forget the offering or hit the wrong button on the tablet or am worried that the Advent wreath might catch on fire.
I lead the congregation in worship–but when I open myself to God, I can and so worship at the same time.
May the peace of God be with you.