The Essential Element

Featuring Tom Kraeuter Posted on February 1, 2010

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

Some time ago I heard an elderly gentleman discussing how his priorities had changed over the years. As a youth he had been taught that certain things were important. Over time he had abandoned many of those values and embraced new ideals. But as he grew in years and wisdom, he found himself doing another reversal. Those things which he had left behind were once again becoming top priority. He had realized that the standards he had learned as a youngster really contained lasting value.

I have gone through much the same process in my years of leading worship. I first began leading worship mostly out of a deep, intense gratitude to the Lord. He had redeemed me! He had, as the psalmist said, “brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm” (Psalm 40:2). I wanted to verbalize my appreciation. Beyond saving me, He had become my friend and constant companion. To this day I still have trouble grasping that the almighty God of all creation would desire me. But I had accepted the truth of His Word and my heart was filled with unending gratitude toward God.

From the beginning of my walk with the Lord it was obvious to me and others that He had called me to leadership. Therefore, it was only natural that my gratitude would spill over onto others, and I would end up leading others into this same expression of appreciation, or worship. Then the expression itself was more important to me than leading others in it. I just wanted to love and honor God.

As time went on, however, I began to realize that other dynamics played into the worship leading process. My musical abilities and understanding became increasingly important. I looked at the type and style of music being used and its affect on the song service. I began to grasp how people’s relationships affected their worship. Even the other musicians and their abilities came to play a more important role in my understanding of how worship “works.” I began more and more to take my cues from people’s reactions to the “worship” instead of from the Lord. I had almost completely abandoned the once simple, gratitude based relationship I had with God. Concepts effecting worship leading had become my focus more than the Lord Himself. I was more in touch with the process than I was with God. I was not spending time with the Lord developing our relationship. In fact, the only real quality time I was spending with God was while I was leading.

At first I was able to fool most of the people while I went through the above scenario, due at least in part, to the strong gifts which God had given me. No one really knew that I was more conscious of the techniques than I was of the Lord. Still, as time went on, my drifting from God became more obvious and had the potential for getting much worse.
I had reached bottom. I was not leading worship from a heart full of worship; I was leading using techniques alone. The tools which God had provided to be effective in leading worship had become an end in themselves. The reactions of people had become more important to me than having a heart which desired to please God. I was not really leading worship. In reality, I was only toying with people’s emotions, including my own.

Fortunately, I once more experienced the rescuing, redeeming power of the Lord. His unending mercies touched me where I needed them most, and I saw the falsehood of what I was doing. By His grace, I was able to recognize that the path I was on was quite a distance from the one I should have been on. The Lord graciously brought me back into that simple grateful relationship we had before. There were no lightning bolts from heaven or earth shaking revelations, just a simple understanding of His new every morning mercies. I could once again lead worship out of a heart which radiated true worship.

In going through this process I learned some lasting principles. The most obvious was this: the only way to be effective long term as a worship leader is to maintain a close relationship with the Lord.

If I am not in constant pursuit of a close relationship with the Lord, if I am not continually allowing Him to fill this empty vessel, then I will have nothing to give. I may have some nifty tricks that will “pull me through a few services,” but beyond that, I’m empty. I need to be daily renewed and refreshed by Jesus, the living water. If I forego this ongoing relationship with Him, I have really missed the fullness of His calling on my life.

Anyone aspiring to be effective in the worship ministry must have as their main anchor point maintaining a relationship with the object of their worship, the almighty God. You would not expect to be a close friend of a person with whom you never spend time. Relationships take time, and lots of it, to develop. In the same way, it is essential to spend time with the Lord, just as you would spend time cultivating an earthly friendship. Nothing—absolutely nothing—is more important.

Adapted from the book, Keys to Becoming an Effective Worship Leader by Tom Kraeuter (Lynnwood, Washington: Emerald Books, 1991)