Real Worship: What Does It Look and Sound Like?

Worship band
What is your approach to worship? (iStock photo)

I crave the real thing.

I don't know about you, but I want the manifest presence of God in my home, life and church—not just manufactured, emotional experiences with great songs.

Of course, I am not opposed to production. I love it. I love a creative, well-rehearsed band. I love the pursuit of ever-expanding creativity.

In the context of worship, I believe it's important for creatives to explore how their art can help to inspire and serve and help people see more of God's glory. I'm all about that.

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But I'm also all about dialing back. I've had a few conversations with some leaders in the worship community who agree. Sometimes we need to simplify to see where our heart is.

What is Your Approach to Leading Worship?

Worship leader, worship team, how you approach your worship leading is everything.

There's a way you present yourself that lends to spectating. But there's also a way you present yourself that leads to engagement, singing and corporate worship. I've seen creative, upbeat loud teams engage a room in worship. But I've also seen quiet, acoustic, simple teams cause people to watch.

What's the missing ingredient? Remember the old song you sung as a kid?

Have patience ... have patience ... don't be in such a hurry.

Your worship team doesn't have to be the best—the most talented, the most creative, the most long as you can be present, be patient, and find your voice. Let's unpack.

Be Present

When I say "be present," I mean to be with your congregation. Not present with your music, but present with the living, breathing humans in the room. Identify with them.

Study them. Know them. When you do, you tend to serve them more naturally. You don't have to guess what they need when you're in touch with their needs.

As a worshiper, I've made a commitment to worship no matter who's leading and how skilled I think the team is or what songs they do. But I love the worship leaders who are more in tune with the room of people than just their instruments—when what truly excites them is being with people rather than just playing music.

When I'm tempted to just run the reel of my worship set, I remember that never before has this group of people gathered in this specific place for this special moment. God always wants to move in unique ways.

Be Patient

When I say "simplify," I'm not saying massive production is wrong. I'm saying let's dial it back often.

Within every worship set, no matter how intense, there should be moments where you dial it back, allow people to sing out, and do simple songs. Don't just go from song to song. Be OK with a little quiet. Some awkwardness is good.

You know that urge you feel to avoid all silence and fill in the space with songs? In my experience that is often the moment where something real and powerful can happen. You can play it safe and just sing another song or you can step into the awkwardness and allow people the chance to bear their hearts before God.

Our aim as worship leaders is to get the room to a place where they don't need us. A place where they are engaged, the Holy Spirit is moving, and heaven is touching Earth.

Stop Copying

This isn't a fully tested assumption, but I'm starting to think that a lot of modern worship music isn't relevant to my church. It may be great at a massive stadium event, but that's hardly the world I live in on a weekly basis.

We have to remember this: Our people come to meet with Jesus.

Oftentimes, the reason your church may not be worshipping is because they don't connect with your song and style choice.

I'm convinced that we need more worship leaders who are willing to be less cool if it serves their churches well. There's more than copying Hillsong. There's more than mimicking Jesus Culture.

You have a voice. Your team has a voice. Your community has a voice. It's time to find what that is even if it means you sacrifice "cutting edge" on the altar.

But that's enough from me. I'd love to hear from you.

How do you keep from going through the motions with your church?

How do you keep worship fresh for you personally and fresh for your congregation?

David Santistevan is the worship pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh. For the original article, visit

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