Have you ever noticed that there are songs chosen by worship leaders that absolutely open the heavens and the whole room soars? Or perhaps just the opposite; a song is chosen and it seems flat with no movement toward connecting with God? I call this the vertical and horizontal effect of worship. There are songs that create a connecting place between the heart of God and the hearts of men. Those are vertical: they require relationship with Him, and they advance our relationship with Him. The other songs are horizontal. They are sung by men to be heard by men and require no relationship with God to sing or perform.
So how does a worship leader know the difference? It would be easy to say if the music is sung toward God using words that are directed at Him it must be vertical, but that isn’t always the case. It would also be easy to say that if a song has many ‘I’s and ‘me’s’ it must be horizontal, but that isn’t always the case. It’s also possible that a song using the name of Jesus is not worshipful. It would also be easy to say that if a song is vertical one week, it is destined to be the same next week. Again, that isn’t always the case. Sounds confusing? Let me expound.
An example of a song that is often horizontal but has been on other occasions vertical, is the Freedom song by Rita Springer. (I love Rita’s music, this is simply an example of the use of a song.) The chorus lyrics are: ‘Freedom reigns in this place. Showers of mercy and grace, falling on every face, There is freedom.’ This song can absolutely be vertical provided hearts are being moved in the room. The first time I heard this song it was just like that. Everyone was attentive to the heart of God, and He was moving in the room releasing freedom to people. The song was probably written in that very environment. Subsequent times when I’ve heard the song, it was used in a song set. It was flat and lifeless because the Lord wasn’t moving that way with the people. Furthermore the chorus lyrics, which are generally repeated more frequently than the verses, don’t engage the listener to relationship with the King of Glory unless He’s moving that way. Singing about His freedom without experiencing His freedom is horizontal: people singing to others about a good thing, no heart of God and no relationship required. Great performance worship band, next song please.
Jesus said His sheep hear His voice. Jesus also said that a time was coming and now is that people would worship the Father in spirit and in truth. That day is here. The time of creating a song set without asking the Lord what’s on His heart is coming to an end. Worship leaders are being wooed to a different place of offering: it is a place of relationship and a place of responding to the movement of the Lord. It is time to ask God how He would like to be worshiped and what songs and lyrics would touch His heart. Leaders must be willing to ask Him and follow His leading throughout the worship time. This may mean dumping the planned set and allowing the musicians and singers to be spontaneous playing and singing the song of their hearts. Sounds risky? Yes, it is! But when we realize that the song set is simply just a group of greeting cards that open a thought toward God, then we realize there must be a letter attached otherwise the sentiment is always the same each time week after week. As worship leaders we have a responsibility to open the card and begin to write the letter. As we do that then the people are released to respond to God themselves and give Him the their hearts, writing their own letters if you will.
Worship leaders are vehicles for connecting the hearts of the people to the heart of God. We are not star performers. It is time as leaders to nurture others in their ability to worship God. We have for years now been spoon feeding the sheep. What happens when the sheep no longer need spoon feeding but are ready for solid food? Do they leave our churches or just attend and look bored? When we are born into the Kingdom of God we are placed next to the well of Holy Spirit, and we are equipped with a bucket with which we can draw from Him. We must teach and allow people to draw for themselves from the wells of salvation. Then we will have worship in the streets, worship in the midst of crisis, worship that brings healing, deliverance and salvation. We will create an army of worshipers who can change the world around them and influence the culture of the community. Do you want to see your church or community change? Create worshipers who are equipped to draw from the well themselves. No more baby Christians who have professed faith in God for years but have never been allowed to follow Him for themselves. That time is over. It’s over for the pulpit ministry, and it’s over for the worship leaders. We must have resolve that we will not enable that behavior again.
So let’s get vertical. Let’s ask God what’s on His heart before we begin to choose a song set. Let’s ask Him what songs were flat, horizontal songs last week and why. Let’s lay aside the presumption that if a song is powerfully vertical this week, it will still be the same next week. Let’s be willing to lay down our performance mindsets and take the risk of looking foolish by playing or singing the song that is for the moment. Let’s allow Holy Spirit freedom to move on the hearts of the people and respond accordingly. Let’s allow ‘Selah’ times for the people to reflect on the greeting card that has been opened before moving on to another sentiment. Let’s teach the whole congregation to worship for themselves creating a new breed of worshiper that is empowered to change the very atmosphere surrounding them throughout the week with hearts uplifted before God.