How to lead worship well

“When church leaders and pastors get together they know how to sing – boisterously!” writes Craig Bailey.

Bailey recounts standing at the back of one such gathering, next to his colleague and friend Don Purdey.

At this stage, a noticeable symptom of Purdey’s ongoing Motor Neurone Disease was his slurred speech … and slurred singing.

“Yet, despite his duress, the physical effort required to voice each word,” Bailey continues, “I will never forget the energy, passion and spirit with which he sang. There was no more fervent worshipper in the room.”

Purdey’s initial diagnosis necessitated his retirement as a pastor, musician and worship leader. His son Malcolm reflects that with the diagnosis “Dad suddenly had lots of time to reflect on a lifetime of leading God’s people in worship.” So Don set out to turn these reflections into a book that was quick and easy to read.

Don Purdey

Don Purdey Don't Fret

When Don died unexpectedly in July of 2014, his computer was open to the final page of this book. According to his wife Annette, Don had been making finishing touches on the day he died.

Many Eternity readers will be familiar with 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “I am already being poured out like a drink offering … I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.” It was this verse that Don’s family found open on his computer as the centrepiece of the final page of Don’t Fret: The Worship Leader’s Pocketbook.

Don Purdey noticed a “dramatic shift” in the nature and style of church worship during his lifetime.

A fervent worshipper

One of the greatest benefits of Purdey’s book is soaking up his passion for worshipping God. This immensely practical guide to worship leading begins with a reflection on ‘The What and Why of Worship’. Here, there are multiple points of interest.

First, Purdey notices a “dramatic shift” in the nature and style of church worship during his lifetime. He acknowledges that the world of hymns, choirs and formalities, with services constructed by robed clergymen, “has largely given way to amplified bands, casual dress, lay-led worship and conversational messages.” Firmly-established denominations are joined by many new – often unaffiliated – churches, where tradition is often stripped away.

As a consequence, many of the people shaping their congregation’s worship are not trained to recognise exactly what it is they are doing, with some thoughtlessly imitating familiar patterns of worship and others – sometimes with equal carelessness – racing to abandon them for current trends.

Another interesting note is how Purdey’s use of the word ‘worship’ contradicts the unfortunately (although perhaps naturally and predictably) common habit of using ‘worship’ to mean ‘singing’, without stopping to consider the implications. Throughout the first chapter Purdey progressively lays out a definition.

“Our heart’s desire in worship is to offer all that we are in honour of all who God is.” – Don Purdey

What worship is (and who it is for!)

Purdey notes almost immediately, “Too many people come to worship seeking an experience for themselves rather than seeking to glorify God.”

How much of your engagement with the worship service (perhaps especially the music and singing) at your church stems from your emotional experience of it, rather than from a desire to honour God?

“Worship is first a choice we make, and then an action we take,” Purdey writes. “We choose to recognize God – Father, Son and Spirit – and then we act on that choice by bending our knees to him in humility and reverence, and living through him and for him.

“It occupies our whole life. It is afterward, when we look back on living out our life of worship, that we realise the blessings we have received in return. So for me, our heart’s desire in worship is to offer all that we are in honour of all who God is.”

How much of your engagement with the worship service stems from your emotional experience of it, rather than from a desire to honour God?

If this is our desire in worship, then it will extend far beyond the fifteen minutes we spend singing in church on a Sunday. In fact, “worship can and should encompass every activity of our lives.”

That is the broadest focus for the word ‘worship’. Our weekly time singing in church is perhaps the narrowest. But, in between those extremes, ‘worship’ can also be used to indicate the range of activities undertaken during a church service – activities designed to promote thanksgiving, piety and praise.

It is this definition that frames Don’t Fret. As Purdey puts it, “What we do in a church service is, in a sense, an attempt to mimic in a corporate way the worship that we offer as individuals.”

In fact, the intent is the same – to glorify God – and the process is also the same – taking everything within and among us and offering it together to the Lord, applying our minds, creativity, skills, hearts, emotions, passions, bodies and wills in his honour. It is the task of the worship leader to promote this offering, and the right response of the congregation to be united in it.

The first step in leading the church in worship well is to recognise what worship is and who it is for.

“Worship can and should encompass every activity of our lives.” – Don Purdey

How to lead worship well

The question of how to lead worship well takes up the rest of Don’t Fret’s pages. Along the way, Purdey gives practical advice on all the tricky topics: communal Bible reading and prayer, communion and the offering, fellowship and music. There is advice on planning all kinds of services and on band/congregation leading, on playing music and singing, and on all the other worship ministries that often go unnoticed.

Purdey doesn’t shy away from any question, from big-picture issues like ‘What hinders worship?’ and ‘What does your service itself communicate?’ to choosing hymns, considering arrangements and presenting solo items.

In short, Purdey has succeeded in his goal to turn his hard-earned experience and wisdom into a short and accessible book. I’ll leave you with his exhortation, which this book will undoubtedly help you to enact:

“Now it is up to you, and others rising around you, to learn the skills and take your corner of the worshipping church on from here. Take your role seriously, fulfil it willingly, minister lovingly and worship humbly.”


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