I think all truth is God’s truth, regardless of who discovers it. I think there are practical lessons we can learn about our lives and our faith all around us. Sometimes they come from fairly unlikely places – they just need a little context.
Take a look at this video of Pete Seeger singing “Worried Man Blues” on the Johnny Cash Show back in the early 70s. Watch how he starts out alone in a spotlight, and then immediately connects and commands the room in such a subtle, unassuming way. Watch the room change. See how the dynamic morphs. As you may have ascertained, I think there’s some gold in here we can mine. Take a look and I’ll explain.
As a worship leader, I’m impressed and jazzed up by what I see there. I know, I know, it’s not a Chris Tomlin song and he’s not wearing a deep V. I’m not suggesting this is a “worship moment” like you might assume I would be if it was a U2 clip. I do think there are some practical things he does we can add to our toolbox as worship leaders and enfold into our context.
He Invites People to Sing.
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Sometimes we as worship leaders can be a little assumptive and thus appear a little aloof when we just get up there and turn on the tunes without engaging the people in any way. We’re there specifically to serve and lead the folks in attendance, yet for some reason we often revert to a posture that suggests we don’t even know they’re there.
Don’t Worry About Being Cool.
I know this one gets flogged all the time, but probably because it’s such a prevalent battle. I love how Pete has this little tinge of disarming self-deprecation; how he doesn’t seem to care about appearing hip or delivering a great performance, he just wants to be part of a moment with everyone assembled. The irony is even though he wasn’t a slave to the cool, his fans have included plenty of culture’s curators of cool over the years.
Connect the Dots.
I love the moment when Pete has everybody right where he wants them, and he stops to seal the deal. He gives people a little feedback and encouragement, then he unpacks the material and connects it for people. “This song is the whole human race…” Sure, we’ve been accused of stepping on the pastor’s toes and talking too much from time to time, but I do think there is a place for the occasional well-chosen word. Sometimes our role as leaders invites us to make a connection for people; to point out something about the song we’re singing and make it personal; to explain and illustrate a particular point or passage. Once we’ve engaged people’s minds in this way – a Selah of sorts you might say – we dive back in and give people the opportunity to express the moment together in song.
I think people want to sing together. I think even those who don’t at least have a deep-rooted desire to be part of connective moments with others in that way. I believe those things are true because I believe they are built in by our Creator. I believe we are built with an innate desire to be together in community, to share moments together, and yes even specifically to sing together (whether we’d all admit to it or not).
The role of the worship leader unpacks in a different way when considered in the context of those truths. I want to encourage all of us to lead from a place that understands our role is to coax and invite people to creative (often musical) and corporate expressions. The whole is different than the sum of the parts.
A corporately sung song is a communal moment – a picture of the worshiping church. Think about it: We’re all required to sing the same words and notes in the same rhythm and meter (theoretically). Even if we are to venture off from the melody, the choices we make must be in harmony with the melody. If they’re not it stands out and clashes, devaluing the whole. If they are in harmony, however, they elevate the song to something new. It’s just a hypothetical musing, granted, but I have a hunch God has asked us to sing and make music in worship partly because it teaches us about (and even requires us to be in) community.
So maybe it’s a stretch to suggest that next time you’re preparing to lead worship, you ask yourself, “What would Pete Seeger do?”. Fair enough. I would, however, encourage you to remind yourself that you’re not just leading a song. You’re inviting people to participate in a communal moment and a corporate expression of who the Bride of Christ is meant to be.
Grab your banjo, and keep up the good work.