Written By Justin Lim, Singapore
Yet another routine—our alarms go off, and in our drowsy states, we set off on our weekly journey to church with our half-eaten breakfast and coffee in our travel mugs, slipping into the pews of the church as we walk past the friendly ushers and the lights dim.
The worship leader starts off with a call to worship and encourages us to “Praise God as we worship Him today . . .” With Psalm 100 on the big screens, the pads fade in with a single melody accompanied by a low bass note.
Growing up in church as a teenager, I picked up the guitar, then became a musician for the youth, then the main congregation, and was finally asked to be the elusive “worship leader” that I was so excited to be.
At the tender age of 19, I sang my heart out in front of the church, in hopes that the congregation would do likewise. I often questioned why we did not sing loudly or with vigor like charismatic churches, and always tried to find ways to improve the setup in church so that our worship could be as loud as the bass thumping from the church across the street. Listening to concerts from Jesus Culture, Bethel or Hillsong, only caused me heartache—why couldn’t we worship like that in a Presbyterian church?
“All of Life” Worship
Then came a change of scenery—I went overseas to Australia for further studies. I quickly settled down in a good church, and when the opportunity arose, decided to join the worship ministry.
However, I soon realized that it wasn’t the worship team I was joining. It was called the magnification team, or mag team for short. I was confused, and I soon noticed that the word “worship” was rarely used during the singing portion of a service.
I spent my second year playing for a different campus of the same church, often asking when I would be asked to lead the band. However, in hindsight, it was clear that my heart wasn’t ready—I had to rid myself of things that I struggled with: pride, envy, malice.
Towards the tail end of my second year, my music director and I read through Titus together. We prayed and gained each other’s trust as Paul did with Titus.
One day, I finally decided to ask the question, “Why don’t we call our mag teams worship teams?” My director replied, “It was because we are moving away from the misconception that worship is solely about music, towards an ‘all of life’ worship as we see in Romans 12.”
Paul reminded the Romans to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). God demands our undivided attention in all of life. This means that our hearts should yearn to do His work and love Jesus as He loves us in every area of our lives.
And then it dawned upon me that worship was more than just singing. It was more than just good music. It is about my entire life. I think David clearly hits it on the nail when he said that God does not delight in sacrifice or burnt offerings, but wants a broken and contrite heart, and for us to do His will (Psalms 40:6-8). Fast forward to this side of the Cross, worshipping God is about listening to what God truly says in the Bible, holding fast to it, and following it dearly as an act of worship.
Singing is often echoing Scripture creatively and poetically. It is declaring how we should respond to God for the rest of our lives. Congregational singing is meant to be an avenue for teaching and a means to encourage one another (Ephesians 5:19). Singing is not simply a “spiritual encounter”. No amount of clap offerings or shouts of praise would suffice if our hearts aren’t broken and our lives entirely devoted to God, as David reminds us in Psalm 51. That step of reconciliation is the mandatory step towards worshipping Him in spirit and truth.
Outward Expression of an Inward Posture
Two years down the road, I am now leading a band while also directing music in my own congregation. I hope to help fellow brothers and sisters in Christ see that congregational singing, while significant, is just one facet of worship. I hope that we can remind one another, through song, who Jesus is, and together praise Him melodically (how good would that be?).
Music leaders, while we know that worship is much more than just 30 minutes on a Sunday, can sometimes fail to emphasize it. How can we communicate that to brothers and sisters in Christ whom we help lead in congregational singing? Can we be intentional about our words, and the way we carry out our Sunday gatherings? Can we help our churches look for more than a “spiritual encounter”, but to see that singing is an outward expression of an inward change and posture that is worshipping Jesus 24/7?