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The Art of Worship Leading – Part One

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Believe it or not, the art of worship leading is a thing. By art, I mean certain disciplines that we should practice that will make us more effective and efficient as we lead our people. How we engage people and how we relate to them plays an important role in how they respond to our leadership. We must not fall into the trap of believing that people will trust and follow us just because of our title or position. They trust and follow us because they know us and are known by us. As we strive for excellence in our services each week we must remember that excellence doesn’t just happen. Excellence is the result or product of something intentional. As we continue to grow and mature as leaders, we must understand that it is our responsibility to set the example of excellence and excellence doesn’t just happen… it is found in the details. Here are some practical ways we can be more effective worship leaders to our teams and to our congregations. First, here are some ways we can lead our teams better.

Planning

Planning is one of the most practical things a worship leader will do and definitely the least exciting. Many worship leaders are by nature very creative and free spirited and the idea of planning can seem to cause friction with our spontaneous side. We feel like planning may take the heart and life out of our worship leading. It’s true, in some cases, too much planning can confine everyone including the Holy Spirit and quench any idea of spontaneity in our services. However, not enough planning will most likely lead to confusion, mediocrity, a frustrated team, and an unresponsive congregation. Planning isn’t a struggle for us because we are lazy, in fact when inspiration is present, musicians can be some of the most dedicated and hardest workers on the planet. We will do whatever it takes to see that inspiration become creation. However, when the inspiration isn’t there, we still must plan. This is where discipline must take over. The same can be said for our personal lives with the Lord. Spending time with God is vital to our spiritual health and vitality so we must discipline ourselves to fellowship with Him through prayer and His word when we feel like it and even when we don’t. Here are some tips for planning a good set well.

Don’t plan songs your team can’t play. It is very important for the worship leader to know the capabilities of the musicians who are scheduled to play. If your team is like mine, there is a variety of abilities on your team. You must know and understand your team and the specific musical demands each song is calling for. Make sure each song is within the reach of your team. It is more important to play an older, simpler song well than play a newer, cooler song mediocre. An attitude of humility is essential here as we my have to lay down our desires for the sake of setting our team up for success. Understanding the demands of a song and your band’s capabilities plays a huge role in maintaining excellence and consistency in our worship sets.
Each song has a specific place in the set. One of the jobs of a worship leader is to identify why a certain song needs to be sung at a certain time. A helpful philosophy that will prevent us from randomly choosing songs and placing them in the set can be summed up with this statement: Our songs are our sermons. Or our sets are our sermons. Much like the pastor preaches his sermon, we are preaching with our songs. Look at it this way… we are taking our people on a journey each week starting with the first song all the way through the last. It is our job to walk them through every step of the way. We must communicate where we have been and where we are going. This is why it is very important for us to know what our pastor is speaking on so we can help him lead our people with our songs. I call this connecting the dots. Our songs are the dots: the moments of corporate connection and response the center the congregation on a central theme. Connecting these dots means using the songs and the set as a platform to present the Gospel and not as a curtain to hide behind. Get out from behind the songs and communicate the journey.
The songs must speak to us first. If we are hoping the songs we choose will speak to our people, then they must speak to us first. If not, how else will we know what to communicate? We have to be willing to pray over our songs and see how they lead us in worship first. It will be difficult to lead our congregation to a place of worship if we have not been there first. In addition to this, we must consider the demographics of our congregation and put their needs above our own desires when choosing songs. For instance, the coolest song might not be the best for your people. We are there to serve and minister to our people, even if that means playing songs we don’t really like. So getting creative and intentionally looking for ways each song can minister to your heart is important if you want to be an effective and versatile worship leader.

Preparing

Planning is essential for setting the stage and preparing picks up where planning leaves off. After we have planned a set and taken time to worship to it ourselves, the next thing we need to do is prepare. The worship leader must take time and mentally walk through each song and map out the chords and the dynamics and decide on the arrangement and the key. We must make sure that every musician has everything they need. Each musician should know and understand their specific role in the band and the role of the worship leader is not only to communicate this, but to bring it all together. It is tempting to adopt a mindset of just throwing it all together and hoping everything works out. This is not honoring God and it is not honoring your position as worship leader. God desires and expects our best; the first fruits of our gifts (Prov. 3:9) and not just the left overs.

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Preparing our teams

We must know our team and prepare them accordingly. Some may be fine with a couple days, the chord charts, and the arrangements. However, others may need more time or one on one meetings to practice their parts before they are ready for rehearsal with the band. Either way, we must do everything in our power to prepare our teams. Give them plenty of time with the material. Give them the right material. And give them specific instructions so they know what you want them to do. All of this will set the stage for a very smooth and efficient rehearsal that leaves your team ready to worship.

Preparing our hearts

If we were to only focus on preparing our songs and teams each week, we would be missing the point of what lies at the foundation of our worship… our hearts. Therefore, we must make sure we lead the way in all of this by preparing our hearts. It is the most important instrument that we have as worship leaders but, sadly it is the most neglected. When a worship leader has been filled and refreshed in God’s presence each week, it is a beautiful thing… and it’s contagious! The heart of a worship leader can impact the congregation more than any other instrument on stage. When we are spending time with Him during the week we are less likely to “go through the motions” and more likely to be consumed with thankfulness and gratefulness to Him (Psalm 100:4). We are more likely to make the most of every opportunity we have to serve Him and find our greatest delight in it. Some of the most impactful moments in worship are when the worship shares what God has been teaching him through His word. It is in these moments that worship is overflowing instead of being put on.

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