Sight-Reading the Congregation

By John A. White
Contributing Writer
November 23, 2022

Read more from John A. White

I tip my hat to those who can lead worship sight-reading from a lead sheet. While I can figure out the notes and play a crude melody on my guitar, I cannot sight-read music. Sight-reading seems to be one of those skills that many worship leaders what to improve. In fact, I have a friend who played lead guitar for a famous 60ís rock star and holds two PhDs in music and now conducts an orchestra. Even he admits his weakness in performing is sight-reading. But, while being able to sight-read music would be a valuable tool for performing music, worship leaders have a primary need to sharpen our skills at sight-reading the congregation. Letís discuss how we can sight-read the congregation.

The first step to sight-reading the congregation is to KNOW the congregation. Knowing faces and names is not what I am talking about. I am talking about having intimate knowledge not with the individual people but the congregation as a whole. The congregation is more than the sum of its individuals and its communication is mostly non-verbal. Knowing what kind of music people enjoy at home, what songs were significant when the church started, through its history and especially during revivals are all important but these wonít help us understand the congregationís communication. Christís body communicates through ďbodyĒ language. Are there more people in the front? What does that mean to your local setting? Are there a lot of distractions? Is the congregation fidgety? Is the congregation mature in worship? Is the congregation happy, sad, excited, bored, delighted or melancholy? Learning the congregationís body language will help us clothe the bodies we serve with the ďgarment of praiseĒ (Is. 61:3).

The second step in sight-reading the congregation is to know Godís plan for them. I presume every time you lead, you have confidence of Godís grace on your leadership by spending adequate time in preparation. But this is a different issue. Most of us realize the mess weíve made of our lives without God when God lays his plans over our failures. We easily perceive the discontinuities between our lives and His plan because the resulting colors, hues and textures that give meaning and purpose to our lives turn cloudy and murky; they interfere with each other when they should present the most vivid and deep spectrum of colors. What do you see when you look at the congregation through the lens of Godís plans. Do you see continuity or cloudiness? Is there resistance or excitement for change? Is there continuity between what is being said and want is being done? The worship leader must see the congregation through the lens of Godís plan so they can create an atmosphere that will become the seedbed of birthing and maturing the body into its destined plan.

Last and most important, a worship leader needs to be actively discerning. If you donít think you have the gift of discernment, pray for it (1 Cor. 12:31, 14:1) and pray for eyes that can see the Holy Spiritís work manifested in the congregation (1 Ki. 6:17, Jn. 4:35). It is not enough to know you are leading good people and you have a good plan; you must discern the work of the Spirit and the heart of the congregation as a whole. Jesus said, ď[the Son] can do only what He sees His Father doingĒ (NIV, Jn. 5:19). Doing Godís will is committing to do what He does. Therefore, like Jesus, we need to see what the Father is doing. How do we do this? Watch the congregation and get familiar with how the congregationís physical manifestations to the Spiritís ministry and touch. Next, when you see the Spirit at work, partner with Him. Make the necessary adjustments in your worship set and style to emphasize and reinforce Godís ministry and touch points. You might prepare a longer set by a couple of songs with the anticipation that God might uniquely touch someone. However, also be sensitive to knowing when to move on and when you are finished. Remember our ministry is an active partnership with God and He gets to call the shots.

Can a worship leader have this much discernment every week? The answer is only when God reveals it by His grace. However, when I commit myself to this grace, I find these spiritual insights into the congregationís spirit and heart fairly regularly. It is not so much that I am particularly gifted, but continually ask for eyes to see the Spirit working, I work hard to understand the language of the congregation and my ministry team works hard to understand Godís plan for the congregation. These graces are possible and every worship leader should seek them.

ďNow to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all the ages, world with end. AmenĒ (NKJV, Eph. 4:20-21).

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