First off, I want to reference a slightly different take on the same subject, as presented by my dear friend Suzanne here. She's uber-talented and knows about worship from the leading side.
What I'm pondering right now is corporate worship...singing, praying together, reading God's word out loud...all at a set time. I'm not all sorted out about it but I've found if I don't write something, it will all disappear into the void that is my mind. :)
Our family is involved in a house church but we also have the opportunity to have a more corporate time of celebration on Sunday nights. Partly because the baby is coming and partly because of some changes in me, we are making a more concerted effort to go on Sunday nights. Last night we had a good time of singing and praying, probably 30 minutes or more. I got something out of it but I also was left pondering, "What is it I'm supposed to be doing to really worship? How do I know if I've done it or not?"
The background is that I grew up in a church tradition where "worship" equalled "singing", specifically hymns with an occasional worship chorus if we were feeling cheeky. The mainstream church I attended as an adult also seemed to define worship as singing, only with edgy music that had drums and, perhaps, more hand raising.
One of the things that led my exodus from traditional church was the number of times I heard people rating the morning's worship by whether they liked the songs, performers, etc. So, if it was entertaining, it was good? Or if it was good music you could connect to God? You connected to God because....you cried? felt good? what? So then I got really sensitive to anything I thought was trying to manipulate me into some sort of feeling. I got really critical of "boyfriend Jesus" songs (replace Jesus with "honey" and get a pop rock song), dimmed lights, repeated choruses, you get the picture. I've carried that with me into my current "organic" church.
The problem is, I like music. I believe God calls us to worship Him. I even enjoy having an emotional experience around my faith. And here I am in all my prickly defensiveness just waiting for someone to try and make me feel a certain way about God, church or myself while worshipping. Let me tell you, this does not open up my heart to much of anything. I don't know about other folks, but I can't really hold the space of being open to receive while also saying "back off!"
So what am I supposed to be doing? What is worship all about? Who cares what it is about for other people, what is it about for ME?
As far as I've gotten, this is what I think (keep in mind, I don't have scriptures here. I might be all wrong against the Bible. My current favorite Bible has no concordance so I need to go hunt down my other one. I am not the source of Truth, I get that):
The point of worship is to help me get to my most vulnerable and deep self and have dialogue with Jesus from that place. This is the inner part that gets covered over with small talk and theology and my insecurity and sin. I don't like to go there, it is a hard place to find. So, in worship, I have to filter what I'm doing through my head (don't turn off the brain and regurgitate mindlessly but don't just think and stop), and let what I'm saying, singing, praying settle down into my heart. The risk is that I will get to my emotions and just stop, thinking that I've gotten to where I need to go. But, while emotions live in my deep heart, they aren't the point. They are, sometimes, a by-product of the true conversation. Sometimes the true conversation is more like colors or impressions than words. Sometimes it is a sense of needing to do something, pray for someone, a recollection of a piece of scripture. Sometimes it is quiet, sometimes it is unsettling. All of it comes from the deep core of who I am connecting to the I AM.
What I'm learning to do is to see those that "lead worship" as those facilitating an invitation. God is inviting me into conversation with Him. Will I come? What can help me focus on getting to my deep heart, what will minimize the distractions? Am I willing to open up to the probing, penetrating heart of God and show him mine in return? And so often this invitation is in music because music represents a beauty that goes beyond the mind. (I read a quote I love by Simone Weil that says "The beauty of the world is almost the only way by which we can allow God to penetrate us...Beauty captivates the senses in order to obtain permission to pass straight through to the soul...The soul's inclination to love beauty is the trap God most frequently uses in order to win it.")
At the same time, can a worship leader manipulate in order to see a desired outcome? Sure. If tears are the measure of a good worship time, there will always be someone who works the crowd for tears. But even if he or she IS doing that, I am still responsible for doing what I know is right and true. I know the real point, I don't get off the hook if someone else doesn't. It is yet another example of where I have to stand up and have my own relationship with God, not pass the buck to another person to make it happen. Which is much, much harder but really the only way to grow.