What's one thing every great worship leader has in common? I'm not talking about the building block devotional habits of Scripture reading or prayer (believe it or not, many worship leaders struggle with these two things; hence, the Soul Care month...). I'm referring to something else.
Every great worship leader from Casey Corum to Matt Turrigiano to Anabeth Morgan to Marie Barnett to Cindy Rethmeier to Brian Doerksen honed their worship leading skills in a SMALL GROUP. In fact, Brian called small groups "my favorite place to lead." There is a relentless weekly rhythm to small group. Just when you think you can rest easy, the day your group meets looms. And you're utterly exposed - no band to steady your shaky groove, no one you can lean on to carry you through that difficult bridge section, and no one who can sing the octave low part of basically every worship song written by a guy in the last 10 years.
In Charles Duhigg's excellent book, "The Power of Habit," Duhigg introduces the concept of "keystone habits." These habits are the kinds of habits that "trigger" other habits; they have a cascading effect on other GOOD actions (and I suppose, BAD as well). For example, when you have dinner together as a family, you trigger better nutrition, better study habits, better relational rhythms. Family dinner is a keystone habit.
In the same way, worship leading in a small group is a keystone habit. It also triggers all sorts of other good habits that directly relate to worship leading with more sensitivity and facility.
What are those habits? Here are some:
1) You learn to nurture a group of people in worship. The stage is a confusing thing; it obfuscates the goal of worship leading and layers on it our cultural assumptions about being elevated in front of people. The small group strips that away. If you really pursue leading worship in this venue and really give yourself to it as a practice and not just for a season, you will learn to love the people in your group and prefer their choices. In a kind of self-preferential way, this also benefits you! You will shy away from songs and approaches that don't "work" because on a small group level, when something doesn't advance engagement, it's painfully obvious.
2) You learn to read the room. When a song goes well, it's easy to tell. When a song doesn't, it's not that easy to discern from the stage. After all, people have come to church in all sorts of different emotional states--from a sleepy torpor to downright anger. And their lack of engagement is not necessarily a sign that things aren't working. Guess what? You can't hide behind the lights in a small group. When a song isn't working, it's painfully obvious. You learn how to shift gears. You learn how to pick songs that strum the heartstrings of your people. And you also learn that on some songs, if the song is really working, you should stick with it longer than you planned.
3) You learn how to follow the Holy Spirit's lead. This isn't necessarily a given, but if you really are intentional about listening, I can guarantee that the Holy Spirit WILL speak to you as you are leading. And you can begin to test out those subtle nudges by following his lead; when you do, and you see that it works, you tune your ears. That nudge can be anything from, "Do the chorus again" to "Sing 'Breathe.'" As you follow his lead, you quickly see the fruit in people's level of engagement.
4) You memorize your songs. This is the happy byproduct of following the Spirit's lead. If you feel nudged to do a song that you haven't planned on doing, and you don't have it memorized, guess what happens? You'll make sure you'll have it memorized next time!
If you want to grow in your worship leading, I cannot encourage you enough to lead worship in your small group! If you are afraid of playing your instrument in public, maybe the stakes are too high? Try it in your small group. If you hunger to hear God's voice in worship, there is no better way to satisfy that desire than to lead in a small group!
Are you leading worship in a small group right now? What have you learned from doing it?