Written by Andrew Waugh
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
Before we talk about what we do when we worship God in homegroups, it’s worth reflecting on the meanings of the word ‘worship’.It means giving God his worth; putting him in his proper place in our lives; serving him in everything we do (Rom 12:1).The NT Greek word can convey the meaning ‘to draw near to kiss’.
The place of small group worship in church life
This sits in the gap between individual worship (worship as a way of life, including personal devotions), and congregational worship (all together on Sundays). `Cell church` writers have reminded us in recent years that those who experience the presence of Christ in the small group will then be better prepared to celebrate him and minister to others when they come together in larger groups, and indeed vice versa. This, they rightly say, should be the rhythm of worship between cell and celebration. (It's certainly a burden on congregational worship-leaders when they feel like they're trying to lead people into the presence of God but most of them have had little or no experience of worship since the previous congregational meeting!)
Cell church philosophy can sometimes come with a very stylised, prefabricated template for how to run a group meeting; but they do make the valid point that to miss out on worship, or to plan it badly, has a negative effects on the dynamic of the whole meeting. I reckon an investment of (say) ten minutes at the start of an evening will repay itself in terms of more fruitful Bible study and deeper sharing.
Cell meetings (within one branch of cell church philosophy) do these four W’s in this order:
Resources for homegroup worship
We don’t have to sing to be worshipping, and worship is more than praise!
Your first resource for worship is the Holy Spirit himself.Behind him, and biblical truth (John 4:24), I reckon your most important resource is a gifted worship leader. He/she doesn’t have to be a musician, nor must he/she be the homegroup leader. But discerning this gift is vital for the group life, and indeed for the life of the church as a whole. Other resources include:
- Bible readings
- Music resources - song/hymn books, especially scripture and subject indexes; live musician (don’t have one? Pray and/or ask for one; a melody-only instrument can work fine, eg violin, flute); worship tapes/CDs, including instrumentals - good for reflection and setting atmosphere
- Prayer – worship, intercession, formal
- Communion – I think groups with a shared life ought to be taking bread and wine together in a meaningful, joyful, non-trivial way.
- Liturgy - Anglican prayer book, Northumbrian or Celtic materials
- Visuals - DVD/video/computer graphics; the Jesus film, The Miracle Maker, Ben Hur...,; worship song set to pictures from YouTube…; drawings
- Poetry - for reflection or for group reading
- Scent (smells do communicate something...! With a Bible context we can show this was biblical, way before it was new-age)
- What everybody brings - ...from their personal worship, see 1 Cor 14:26, Col 3:16; thankful hearts
- Exercise of spiritual gifts - tongues, prophecy, wisdom...
- Silence - not the ‘what are we doing next’ silence, but the silence of reflection on something meaty that’s gone before, or simply because of the realisation that we’re meeting with God
Strengths of small group worship
- Easier for shy ones to make a contribution
- Making mistakes isn’t the end of the world! (Specially good for encouraging prophecy etc)
... and weaknesses
- Fewer resource-people
- Discomfort - everyone’s voice is audible including the off-key singers; fear of being ‘picked on’ to share; fear of emotional display (one’s own or someone else’s); sitting in a circle and so looking at the rest of the group...
(But imagine if most of us could get used to this, what it would do to our meeting on Sundays....!)
- Pray, pray, pray
- Pick a worship theme that relates to the study theme or Bible passage
- Make a note of what works - what songs go well together, psalm selections etc - and use it again and/or share it with another housegroup
- Take into account the different learning styles and temperaments of the group members. Even in a group of ten you can’t please everyone all the time, but everyone should be accommodated some of the time
Some worship-leading do's and don'ts
- Have a theme and a direction. Typical themes: God’s greatness in himself; his goodness toward us; his justice; his return; his faithfulness; creation...Direction: Worship needs to go somewhere. I like to move from big to small, mighty to intimate, transcendent to immanent...
- Start with objective truth - that anyone can affirm no matter how cruddy their day has been
- Give the kind of lead that ensures people feel secure - you don’t want to be a control freak but you do want to give the impression you’re confident, knowing roughly what you’re doing and where this session is going
- Make any instructions concise and clear
- If you’re asking the group to do something unusual, give them time to take it in
- Switch off phone ringers, answering machine loudspeakers, mobile phones
- Ensure any song words can be seen - buy a set of songbooks, or make use of the Songs of Fellowship disc of lyrics (or Soul Survivor) and make your own sheet (but check your church’s CCL licence to make sure you’re allowed to do this). Or use YouTube videos with subtitles.
- Have some songs familiar to the group
- Have unfamiliar songs well led
- Pick songs according to musical sense as well as the meaning of the words - and ask your musician beforehand what’s going to work and what will make for an awkward musical gear-change. Maybe the muso him/herself can be trusted to pick songs which are appropriate...
- For open prayer, give guidelines for length and don’t be afraid to repeat them - so if you ask for short prayers of thanks and Fred goes on for a few minutes, keep your head down and say ‘thanks for that Fred - folks, let’s keep these prayers short’
- Listen for what the Holy Spirit is saying - as he has the right to redirect anything we do; not the same as letting the strongest personality set the agenda or abandoning responsibility for actually leading
- Have a varied diet of praise, confession, intercession, communion.... you don’t have to do it all every time, but it should all appear, say, in a month
- Use inclusive language(`Let’s do this`,`I think we should stay on that theme for a while`… NOT `I want you to do this…`)
- Keep track of time
- Go for it - people want and need to be led! Some ‘leaders’ imagine that simply asking ‘What would we like to sing now?’ is going to produce something more spiritual than spending time prayerfully preparing. But that’s a faulty understanding of what inspiration is about. By all means ask for ‘requests’ but there are no guarantees that this will produce a coherent worship time. However it’s a different matter if many of the group members have a personal habit of worshipping and seeking the Lord on their own during the rest of the week (great!- can I come to your group?)
- Use the same pattern every time
- Make it the same length every time... however a worshipping group will develop some patterns which are born of the group’s own identity and character and that’s ok
- Turn it into a ritual
- Allow one person to dominate... as with group Bible study, sometimes we need to take someone aside.The classic approach is to say you need their help...‘Look Kevin, you may have noticed that Kim never says anything... I need your help in drawing her out - can you help me in that? It’ll mean you’ll be saying less yourself...`
- Start with lots of feeling-related content... most people need to ‘approach’ God, rather than jump straight into whispers of intimate love
- Neglect the feelings aspects
- Talk too much as leader... as with leading a group Bible study, the skilled leader actually talks less than the average group member. If the resources are well-chosen, their content and flow won’t need too much of arunning commentary; if a song needs a full explanation, it might not be the right song…
- Waste time and lose ‘flow’ through not having resources ready... There are minute-long gaps which ruin continuity but are avoidable. Bookmark your Bible passages. Have the felt-tip pens and paper to hand. Tell the musician what we’re probably going to sing. Check they’re fairly confident in playing it, have the music bookmarked, have the keyboard (eg) plugged in, the guitar tuned...
- Try anything technological without a run-through beforehand. You KNOW what I mean.
- Sing songs that go too high. Sitting down, we can’t sing nearly as high as when we stand up. Someone could get hurt. Get a musician to advise. Many keyboards have a ‘transpose’ button...
- Panic... The Lord is more concerned than we are that these things go well and build us up in our relationship with him, so go forward in faith that he’s helping!
These notes by Andrew Waugh with big thanks to the homegroup leaders’ meeting who took his draft notes, made major additions, and turned a mere skeleton outline into something useful!