A couple of months ago, I was having a night of worship at my house. Before everyone arrived, I asked God to show me what He would like to say that evening.
As a person who earnestly makes an effort to recognize God at the center of everything, whether it is in my music or just life in general, I continued to pray the words, “Take over.” But then I felt impressed in my spirit that I shouldn’t be praying that—not so much that it was bad or wrong, but rather inaccurate. I felt like the Holy Spirit said to me, “Bethany, I am a leader; I am not a manager.”
In that moment, all I could think was, What in the world? Why would You say that to me two minutes before people start arriving? Then it hit me, as all of the leadership articles, blogs, emails, books, and discussions I’d previously absorbed began to connect.
There are some primary differences between a leader and a manager (borrowed from Kris Vallotton). Managers create safe environments by building systems that promote uniformity and predictability. On the other hand, leaders are always trying to reproduce what they see inside of them. They are constantly redefining reality with new revelation.
Have you ever seen or even experienced a moment where one of the bosses comes into the office and the entire team dynamic changes? But when a true leader walks into the room, the flow of what is happening does not stop; it progresses! In fact, a place that does not progress when leadership presents itself is unhealthy.
The healthy response to a true leader will never be, “Shhh, quiet! They’re here.” It will always be, “You’re here!”
With this in mind, I want to take a look at how we respond to the Holy Spirit’s leadership.
I’ve noticed a pattern in our prayers—the ones where we ask God to move by “invading” our worship services. It might be considered an invasion if the worship leader starts singing a spontaneous, or prophetic, song over the congregation and a few people get touched. Or if the entire order of service is thrown out the window, and we’re all dancing like there’s no tomorrow (which, by the way, I have no problem with. I welcome these experiences with open arms). But in any case, this is usually what I’ve come to expect about a Holy Spirit invasion.
The word invade means “to enter forcefully as an enemy; go into with hostile intent; to enter like an enemy; to enter as if to take possession; to enter and affect injuriously or destructively, as disease.”
I realize that we use words in our prayers to show our heart’s desperation to God, but it doesn’t take words like these to get His attention. We already have 100% of His attention. He gives us the honor of carrying His presence with us daily. More importantly, God isn’t a manager looking to invade or control you; He is a leader looking to partner with a willing heart.
I can’t recall one time in the Bible where God forced people to do things. In fact, in gracious ways, He allowed Moses to argue with Him about his “inabilities.” He allowed Jacob to wrestle Him. He allowed David to question Him.
Good leadership is servanthood and partnership, not control. We read in the Bible that the crowds following Jesus always increased—because He was a good leader.
Even when a leader leaves the room, the vision still resides with the team. We usually say, “They’re with us in spirit,” because a true leader imparts vision so well that it just sticks. When the Holy Spirit comes upon people in a worship service, it is not an invasion; it is an invitation to partnership. He is with us in spirit to redefine our reality and impart His vision into us.
Somewhere in our theology, we’ve believed a myth that the Holy Spirit is here to take over and control, and we just need to surrender. If that were the case, then why would He create us with free will? To simply give up and let Him do the rest? (Of course, there are times to simply “stand and see the salvation of the Lord.”)
What if surrender on our part actually looks like aligning with what He has already done? What if He is looking for willing hearts to partner with His vision, to run with it, own it, and steward it well?
In John 4:23, Jesus says, “But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way” (NLT). Notice that He specifically says, “The Father is looking...” He is searching for true, devoted worshipers that will worship Him daily, in spirit and in truth.
The Holy Spirit isn't in the business of shutting down authenticity, but enabling it by being the perfect example of it Himself. This welcomes every type of expression He has given to the body of Christ, and I am in full belief that there is more to come. I personally love the Message translation of Romans 12:1:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life— your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. (emphasis added)
Even as I’m writing this, I’m challenging myself with this question, “How am I embracing what God has already done?”
Worship is a lifestyle, not a service. If we can’t learn to follow and partner with His vision every day of our lives, if we can’t “embrace what God has already done”, then a worship service where we completely throw out a set list isn’t going to mean much. It will just be another thing that we can talk about on Monday morning.
Here is my heart—I don’t want to just talk about this; I want to live it. I want His vision, as His DNA resides in my bones. I am passionate about seeing the Holy Spirit move in every aspect of my life. But I have too often confined myself to what I thought was God, out of my own humanity, and have pursued a hype or feeling because it felt right. I am done with all that.
I am keen to see God truly move in my life and in the lives of others, and I want to be a partner and good steward of what He is doing. And if I’m not seeing His movement in my day to day life, then being a worship leader means absolutely nothing.
Maybe, instead of praying for God to “invade” our worship services, we could pray for our hearts to be aligned and positioned with His heart. Maybe, instead of praying our normal prayer of surrender, we could pray that we would embrace more of what He has already accomplished. And just maybe, instead of praying for God to control us and move us, we could learn what it looks like to lead and move with Him.