Transformational Worship Living

Blog graphic about spiritual development that results in effective worship leadership

by John Chisum, Nashville Christian Songwriters

The goal of every song, every sermon, every choir anthem and offertory solo is that we will be transformed by our worship. Many churches in America have a culture of relevancy that is set in concrete but lack the rebar of historical authenticity and transcendence.

God’s purpose for worship has not changed. His goal is that we are changed by His presence. If we sell out a sense of His presence for cultural relevancy, we have lost everything.

Don Saliers talks about the difference between primary and secondary theology in his great book, Worship as Theology (1994, p. 16). He says that secondary theology is reading about God, studying, hearing sermons, and listening to teaching. Primary theology is worshiping God, an activity that involves spirit, soul, and body. It is dynamic, not static.

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Dr. Robert Webber wrote a book called Worship Is a Verb. Authentic worship is an active response to God’s initiative toward us in Christ by the Spirit.

Evelyn Underhill once said “Worship is the one, total adoring response of man to the one Eternal God, self-revealed in time” (Worship, 1991, p. 48). God does the revealing; we do the responding.

Worship and singing are not synonyms. Worship includes singing, but singing is not always worshiping. Singing a song in church doesn’t make me a worshiper any more than sitting in a garage makes me a Corvette or climbing a tree makes me a squirrel. Worship is an active force of the heart that must be directed to the right place: to God. If not, I will worship everything else, including myself. The end of our singing is that we encounter grace, see ourselves as we truly are, and be as He is.

Transformed worship is a life lived in Christ and for Christ. It is not life on our own, abandoned to our own spiritual devices and a doing-the-best-I-can piety. It is a deliberate abandonment of all that we are to the Spirit of God, choosing to let Him live the love and life of Christ in and through us. Worship is His way of drawing us ever closer to the heart of God. It is a relinquishing of our agendas and ambitions to don the sandals and robe of a servant, as Christ did, to wash the feet of sinners. It is a sense of brokenness that reduces us to complete dependency on Him in every moment for every breath. It is the only way to true joy and transformed leadership.

The end of all worship leading is worship living. We must live our worship if we expect others to live their own worship. We model praise and worship actions on our church platforms, but they are, in the end, symbols of an inner life devoted wholly to God. Lifting our hands tells others we lift our hearts. Bowing our knees tells others we humble ourselves to the sovereignty of God. Dancing for joy tells others that the joy of God’s Spirit has filled our hearts and forgiven our sins. Opening our mouths and singing joyful songs and hymns tells people we join in the community of worship. But all these are worthless, futile exercises without a life lived in worship the other six days of the week.

If you are to lead engaging worship, you must first recognize your own need for Christ and His Spirit to live in you. You will not depend on the newest songs or the latest technology to convince the congregation that they should be singing along. You will never reduce worship to a transaction. You will always search for the leading of the Spirit. You will be an educator of worship, a pastor of worship, an encourager of worship, and a student of worship. You will see that music is a tool for worship and not worship in itself. You will not be fooled by anyone trying to sell you a substitute for an authentic life of worship.

As a worship leader, you stand at the intersection of two worlds: the physical and the spiritual. You have coming into one ear the preferences and direction of your pastor, praise team, and congregation, and into the other ear, you’re hearing the preferences of the Holy Spirit. Hopefully, these two are close. Worship leading isn’t easy. Performing music is easier than real worship leading because it’s just music. Worship is more involved because you are leading the way for people to experience the knowledge of His presence in the church.

Download 5 of Our Best Songs FREE:  Includes demos, piano and vocal charts, and much more!

This short excerpt is from John Chisum’s practical e-book, Five Keys to Engaging Worship, which is also available in paperback at along with John's most recent e-book, Seven Proven Strategies to Write Better Songs. Check out for more information and special offers.

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Posted in: Encouragement, Leadership, Spiritual Development

John Chisum

John Chisum

John Chisum is the former Vice-President of Publishing for Star Song Media (Nashville) and the former Director of Song Development and Copyright for Integrity Media (Colorado Springs, CO), and is now Managing Partner for Nashville Christian Songwriters

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