Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit

Listening in Two Directions: Preparation
Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

I began my series on Listening in Two Directions a couple of weeks ago, with a post about the importance of preparation, and how preparation enables attentiveness during delivery. This week I want to begin talking about the sound toward which our right ear should swivel. If we think about leading worship as serving our two-fold “audience,” God being one part of that audience, what does it look like to serve the Spirit, to listen to the Spirit, through the whole process of worship leading – and what are we missing when we fail to be attentive in this way? Before we dive into the three parts of worship leading – planning, practice, and delivery – I want to offer two caveats and give a general picture of why it is important to listen to the Spirit in every stage of our preparation and delivery.

First caveat: there are no hard and fast rules regarding how the Spirit speaks. In fact, as with all conversations, we each interact with the Spirit differently. So please don’t take the examples I lay out in my next few posts as the one way in which to hear God’s voice while planning and implementing a worship service. The corpus of Scripture shows us, intentionally, a variety of individuals and groups who hear from God in a variety of ways. We should never foist the ways and means of our own relationship with God on someone else.

Second caveat: my underlying assumption in this series is that the Holy Spirit always points beyond Himself. My husband calls the Spirit the shy member of the Trinity – because the Spirit always points to Christ. So, to phrase a complex concept simplistically, we know that we have heard from the Spirit when we are pointed toward Jesus. And we serve the Spirit best by doing the same – by pointing beyond ourselves to Christ.

To some extent, then, the reasons we listen to the Spirit as we lead worship are obvious and hardly need to be stated. Of course we need to pay attention to God – the whole point of worship is to pay attention to God. In fact, everyone should be listening for the voice of the Spirit, not just worship leaders. Worship leaders (and pastors, for that matter) are not super-hero Christians who take people and bring them to God. God always reaches toward us – every one of us – first. Every single one of us needs to be attentive to this reaching. To learn to hear the Spirit’s voice, to see the Spirit pointing toward Jesus as we enter in to gathered worship, and as we worship during the week through our work, in our homes, and through our relationships.

As worship leaders, however, we do have a sacred task to perform. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are invited into the process of God’s constant calling; God’s constant drawing of his people toward himself. If we don’t actively listen for the Spirit’s direction and respond in service to the Spirit we will miss this invitation. Worse, we may become an obstacle to others hearing and responding to that invitation.

The tendency of worship leaders is to drift toward one of our two audiences: God or the congregation. If we fail to listen for the Spirit, we will forget who we worship and our gathered worship will no longer be spiritually formative. If we fail to be attentive to the Spirit then we are leading nowhere and to no one – we will simply follow our own preferences and thoughts and hope that the Spirit will use them. And he very well may use them – but how much deeper, how much richer would the worship of the Church be if worship leaders actively listened for the Spirit’s voice, and joyfully accepted the Spirit’s invitation to join God’s work in his congregation?


    1. Thank you Paul. I’m following up with specific guidance re: listening to the Spirit during planning, practice, and delivery. I’d appreciate your wisdom in those areas, specifically how the Spirit speaks to you during those moments – and what you feel is gained from those encounters.


      1. Anticipate reading what you have to share. Sensitivity to the Spirit is obviously key to all planning, practice, and delivery of worship guidance. Challenging venture to articulate such. Biblical saturation and understanding are obvious underpinnings, but likewise is a pastoral sensitivity to the people of the congregation. That sensitivity is crucial at each phase as well: when planning – knowing and prayerfully considering the needs of the people and their point in discipleship journey as community, practice – visioning what will be, practicing the Presence in spiritual preparation paired with artistic expression and leadership guidance, finally delivery – perhaps the most challenging in the sense of discerning spiritual response from distraction, whether that distraction were to be through over-enthusiastic response or what appears as lack of participation. Neither one truly reveals the heart. As you previously so well noted, the Spirit points us to Jesus, and in Christ we are led to the Father. Trinitarian worship that loves us so much that we are invited in. Astounding! Awe-some! Fostering deepest humility.

        Thanks for continued help toward “thinking worship” So glad to have partners in the journey.


        1. See, I knew you’d have good things to say! I’ll look forward to your input as the series rolls out. This first chunk has three more posts and then I’ll start on the second direction of listening, which is – as you have noted – the necessity of listening to your congregation at every point in the process. What an amazing thing to be invited into God’s process of constant calling to his children! Thank you for being such a valuable conversation partner in the task.

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