Is the heart all that matters? Re-connecting our worship

Is the heart all that matters? Re-connecting our worship

“Don’t worry about the music, the theology, the pastoral issues… as long as your heart is right before God, then your worship is okay.” How often have you heard that? Is it entirely true?  It’s quite easy to say, and it is right that God, in his grace and through what Christ has done for us, receives our imperfect offerings and uses us in our weakness. We should never lose sight of the fact that our heart attitudes and motivations are more important than getting every note right. BUT (and that’s a big but!) does that give us the excuse not to care about the music, the theology, the pastoral issues…? I’m not sure it does.

I wrote an article recently about the range of skills we see in Bezalel (Ex 35:30-35) when God sets him apart to construct the Tabernacle. Or you can read of King David in Psalm 78 that he “shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”  The context may not be musical worship, but I think the principles are the same – integrity of heart is intrinsically connected with skillful hands. Or to put it the other way around – good intentions are easily thwarted by careless actions.

So for example – you may aim to lift people into celebration praise, but if you are playing all the right chords in the wrong order (or vice-versa!) you’re going to be more of a distraction than an encouragement to worship. Or maybe you are looking to write a song that engages people with our Trinitarian God, yet you’ve done no reading on the subject and so your words end up confusing or misleading. Or perhaps you want to lead a response time after a sermon, but your pastoral skills are under-developed and so people are hesitant to open up.

What is the answer – do you have to be perfect before you can step up to lead worship?  Not at all!  Everyone has to start somewhere and, as we’ve already said, God is gracious.  But I also believe he gives us opportunities to grow in our skills, understanding and leadership. The question is; are you intentionally identifying the areas you need to grow in, and taking steps to develop in those areas? Imagine you decided to work on one area each six-month period; over five years you would grow in ten areas. Below are some ways, without much cost except a bit of effort, that you can grow in the skills you need to be an effective worship leader:

Mentoring – find someone who is good at an area you want to grow in, and ask if you can meet up with them once a fortnight for six months to get their input. Get them to feedback on the way you currently lead worship, with both encouragement and ways to grow.

Reading – find three books on the area you want to grow in, and read them over the six-month period. Keep a journal or blog as you read, asking yourself questions and noting down things that you need to remember or put into practice.

DVD or online lessons – learn musical or other skills at your own pace. These kind of resources structure your practice, so you’re not just playing what you always fall into playing. Choose musical styles outside your natural favourites to stretch your playing.

Start a project – my friend recently wanted push his music writing skills, so he set himself the challenge of writing one piece each day for Lent, and posting it on his blog. The deadlines forced him to get down to the task, and he grew with each piece he completed.

Conferences and courses – look out for events in your area, especially ones outside your comfort zone or that focus on skills you know you are lacking. Reflect on what you learn and write down specific action points from the experience.


Sam Hargreaves teaches part time in the Music & Worship Department at London School of Theology. He and his wife Sara co-lead – resources & training for innovative, creative & world-changing worship.  He also co-leads, a new worship songs website.