3 Ways Worship Leaders Should Engage With the Word

Jesus said that “one thing is necessary,” and that is to spend time with Him, sitting at His feet, choosing Him as our “good portion” (Luke 10:42). When Jesus walked the earth, this command could be taken literally by His followers. Mary and Martha could physically sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him speak the truth. For the rest of us, there is coming a day when Christ will return and all of God’s children will once again be able to sit at the feet of our Creator. Praise God!

In the meantime, God has given us the ability to sit at His feet and hear Him speak through His Word. It is imperative that every believer obey this command on a daily basis. Follow a Bible reading plan, listen to an audio Bible, highlight a physical copy of the Word, use a Bible reading app on your phone, or purchase a Bible commentary software. Spend time every day doing the one thing that is necessary. This is a command for every child of God. But how should worship leaders, specifically, engage with God’s Word?

1. Pray God’s Word over your people:

Private prayer is the fuel for public prayer. In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon says, “Private prayer is the drill ground for our more public exercises, neither can we long neglect it without being out of order when before the people.” In other words, the primary way that we prepare to pray in public is by praying in secret. This means that we must set aside time every day for private prayer. Make a prayer list, have someone hold you accountable, put a daily reminder in your iCal if you must. Spend time on the “drill ground” of private prayer every day.

Once we have set aside time to pray, we must learn how to pray in accordance with God’s Word. This means we must meditate on the prayers of the Bible. We must look to the prayers of Jesus. We must pour over the Psalms. We must commit passages to memory! In the same lecture, Spurgeon goes on to say, “We counsel, therefore, the committing to memory of the inspired devotional exercises of the word of truth, and then your continued reading of the scriptures will keep you always furnished with fresh supplications, which will be as ointment poured forth, filling the whole house of God with its fragrance, when you present your petitions in public before the Lord.”

Here are a few ways that Scripture memory could be incorporated into a worship leader’s prayers on a Sunday morning:

  • At the beginning of the service (or after the first song), pray that God would draw near to your people as your people draw near to Him (James 4:8).
  • Before the sermon, ask that God would make your people more Christlike as they listen to the Word preached. In John 17:17, Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
  • When someone comes up after the service and confesses their lust, pray that God would keep them in the Scriptures each day and that God would guard their heart and keep their way pure (Psalm 119:9).

Keep in mind that we don’t need to rattle off a list of Scripture references in our prayers. That would not be indicative of a genuine conversation with a living God. Instead, we should pray for the truth naturally. We can pray Psalm 119:9 over someone without sounding like we are reading from a textbook. When a verse is so ingrained in our hearts that we could use it naturally in conversation, it’s likely that it will flow naturally during a prayer.

2. Teach God’s Word during your call to worship:

When giving a call to worship, there are times when it’s appropriate to tell a personal story, share a quote from a theologian, or lead the congregation in a “call and response” reading. It’s important to be creative and avoid falling into a rut with spoken leadership, but as we innovate, we must keep God’s Word central. If we are going to share a personal story, we should have a biblical point to that story. If we are going to read a quote from a book, that quote must be in line with God’s Word. As worship leaders, we are called to share God’s truth, not our opinions.

Here are some ways a worship leader could teach God’s Word during the call to worship:

  • Read the sermon passage and explain how the next song connects with that passage. Make sure you are on the same page with the teaching pastor about the passage and interpretation.
  • Teach about singing from the Word. The command to sing is the most reiterated command in the Bible. God tells us 50 times in His Word to sing to Him. In Psalm 47:6, it is repeated four times, “Sing praises to our God, sing praises. Sing praises to our King, sing praises.” As song leaders, we get to share this truth and encourage a culture of participation among our people. If you are a believer and God has given you a voice, singing is not optional. Singing is not a warm-up for the rest of the service. Singing is not only for the musically inclined. Singing is a biblical command for every believer! After we teach this truth, it is wise to lead a familiar song that will encourage every man and woman in the congregation to open their mouths and sing.
  • Teach about posture from the Word. Lamentations 3:41 says, “Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven … ” The lifting of hands is a physical posture that is meant to express our heart for God. Psalm 63:4 says, “So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name, I will lift up my hands.” In other words, lifting our hands is one way of blessing God, and it should be done in Jesus’s name. We get to explain this truth to our people, then we get to lead them in a song that encourages physical expression. A song that uses posture language would be preferable, but it’s most important to choose a song that is familiar, connects with the congregation, and allows many to worship without reading lyrics from a screen. We can also assure our people that lifting our hands is not a requirement for genuine worship, but it is one of the many ways God gives us to bless Him.
  • Introduce a new song and explain where that song is rooted in Scripture, or explain why it is biblical to “sing a new song.” Psalm 33:3 says, “Sing to him a new song … with loud shouts.” So not only are we commanded to sing new songs, but we are commanded to sing these new songs loudly. After encouraging our people with this truth, it’s a good idea to teach them a chorus of the new song so they have something to which they can latch on and sing loudly. Here, it’s important to make sure the media team changes the slides quickly when running lyrics for a new song. People can read ahead, but they cannot predict what’s coming on the next slide.
  • Reference 1 John 1:9, lead your people in a time of confession, then sing a song that uses confession language (“How Deep the Father’s Love,” “Man of Sorrows,” “Lord I Need You,” etc.).

3. Sing God’s Word throughout your worship set:

Yes, there are songs that put word-for-word Scripture to melody. If these songs are helpful for your congregation, use them! From my experience, “Scripture songs” have been more useful for private times of worship and meditation than for multi-generational corporate worship. Why? Because I lead people in singing English language songs, and the Bible was not written as English language poetry, so in my opinion, “Scripture songs” rarely sound natural when sung in a corporate setting. However, this does not excuse me from singing the Word during my worship sets. In fact, it is my responsibility as a worship pastor to know that every lyric I sing is biblical. Think about a simple line, such as, “Jesus loves me—this I know, for the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong—they are weak, but He is strong.” This is a not a word-for-word “Scripture song,” but we know these words are true. We may not have every reference memorized, but we know Jesus loves us (Romans 8:38-39), we know that we must receive the kingdom of God like a child (Mark 10:15), and we know that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Here are a few examples of how some common worship songs are supported by Scripture: 

  • Our God is the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5) / Our God is the Lamb that was slain (John 1:29) / And every knee will bow before Him (Romans 14:11)
  • In Christ alone my hope is found (Colossians 1:27) / He is my light (John 8:12), my strength, my song (Psalm 118:14)
  • He shall return in robes of white (Revelation 19:14) / The blazing sun shall pierce the night (Revelation 21:23) / And I will rise among the saints (1 Corinthians 15:52) / My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ face (1 Corinthians 13:12)

No, I don’t have all of these verses memorized. I had to look them up! The point is not to spend all day every day making a list of every Scripture reference for every song. We could spend eternity meditating on this one line, “Jesus loves me,” and praise God that we will have the opportunity to do that! But for now, it’s our responsibility to simply know that every line we are singing is biblical. What an honor! What a joy!

Let us be worship leaders who read the Scriptures, but let us do more than that. Let us be shepherds who pray the Word, teach the Word, and sing the Word. “… So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 ESV).

Logan Walter

About Logan Walter

Logan Walter serves as a worship leader at the Downtown and North Campuses. As an extension of his ministry at the Austin Stone, Logan also travels to lead worship, teach and learn from other churches. He lives in north central Austin with his wife, Maddie.