I don’t know how many times I have been asked this question. For any Worship Leader, this is can easily become the most stressful part of the week…it can even lead to sleepless nights, I can promise you I have had a good share of my own sleepless nights tossing and turning and second guessing the chosen set. So here is my “two cents”…I’ve broken it down into two ways of picking a set:
Beginner: We all have to start somewhere. I remember back when I first started leading worship…I was 18 and only had a general idea of what I was doing, but not nearly enough to know—that I had no idea what I was doing. So as a beginner I started by…
- Waiting until the title of the sermon is released, which is usually on a Thursday night, then read the passage and pray to God that the pastor isn’t using the message version…or else you will have to go find a real Bible to read the passage over.
- Then you take time to decipher the topic, and hopefully it is a very easy topic like grace, or Jesus’ love, or trusting God.
- Then as a beginner I would hit up Google or iwillworship.com or www.songselect.com and type in the topic and see what songs popped up that had those key words in it.
- Then I would chose 3-5 songs that I was familiar with and organize them from “soft” to “loud” or vice versa…and then BAM there was my set!
Now there is no shame in using option #1 if you are starting out as a worship leader, but the problem is if you stay there week after week, year after year. As a worship leader we need to continually grow and push ourselves out of our comfort zones. And what I am really saying when I say that is;
“We need to learn to rely less and less on ourselves and rely more and more on the Holy Spirit in every aspect of our worship preparation.”
As we mature as worship leaders our worship preparation should look more like this…
- Start the week by spending time in prayer and seeking direction from the Holy Spirit. If in fact the Holy Spirit is leading the pastor who is preaching, the Spirit will be leading you as well toward the same goal that he has for the coming week.
- Since it is not about us and what we can do, we start the week by surrendering our control to the Spirit to do what HE wants. This is a huge step of faith because we have to trust that HE will be leading all elements of the service towards what HE wants to say through us. As we take this posture of surrender and trust, the Holy Spirit will come through and reveal to you what songs and in what way HE wants you to do them. If you are sincere in seeking this out, your job as a worship leader becomes much easier. After He reveals to you what songs and theme He wants you to do, you are ready for the next step…
- MORE PRAYER! No joke, more prayer is needed. This time you should be praying…”How should I do these songs?” Maybe the Spirit wants you to do the whole set acapella or acoustic rather than with a whole band. I don’t know and neither should you decide until the Spirit directs you. Again keep pressing into what the Spirit is revealing to you. However, you need to be prepared with a pencil and a notepad. Jot down what the Spirit is speaking to you. Soon enough, you will have both songs and arrangement down. The first time doing this will be nerve racking…and maybe a little scary.
The first few times I did this, I couldn’t eat all week. My stomach was in knots and I couldn’t do anything except keep praying that I was getting everything the Spirit wanted, right, and I wasn’t missing anything. The last thing I wanted to do was to get something wrong or leave something out.
- After you have everything down, you start working on how to include the worship band into what the Spirit has directed you to do. Maybe for that week you have the whole band scheduled to play but the Spirit has been impressing upon you to do a two acoustic set with only two vocals…you need to communicate to the rest of the band that they are not needed to play that week. Say what? Yeah…that’s not easy to do, but if your band members are seeking God like you have been they will not only agree to it but they will expect it…why? Because the Spirit was revealing that to them too. Amazing how that works! Now if your band is not at that level of spiritual maturity…things may get a bit complicated. But you as a leader are here to teach your band members along with the church body.
I remember leading worship at Fourth Memorial in Spokane, and when the band showed up for practice, they were ready and willing to do whatever the Spirit wanted. During that time we had an amazing drummer who loved to drum and he was good…like he could have been playing for any of the big named rock bands out there…like he was that good. So when he showed up and I was like “yo man I need you on the djembe tonight, instead of the full kit” or “we are going with a two guitar set tonight” he never protested and was excited to be contributing in that way or even sitting the week out to support by sitting with the church body. It was the same deal with the vocalist and other musicians as well. This took a lot of pressure off of me, its comforting to play with a group of people who not only trusted you but trusts that you are following what the Spirit has been leading you to do.
Now this doesn’t mean you are closed to input. Just as much as we as leaders, desire for our band to trust us, we need to trust that they are being lead by the Spirit too. So once you clearly explain where the set is going and what the Spirit has been impressing upon you, when they offer suggestions, take them into consideration and work with them. I am not a pianist, as much as I have tried in the past to learn to play the piano, it is beyond me…so when my pianist suggests an interlude with a specific progression that will allow for a break in the action, if you will, for the church body to have time to meditate on the words before we go back into the bridge, of course I will listen. Often times the Spirit will confirm that this is the way to go or not. Cool how that works huh?
From the couple years when I lead worship at Fourth Memorial, I can’t remember one time where the Spirit led me wrong. I always looked forward to connecting with the pastor minutes before we took the stage, about what he was preaching on that week…and guess what? The sermon and music set ALWAYS went hand in hand! So often was the case that they pastor and I would marvel at how perfect the set and message went together…and we never talked during the week! It was all the Spirit leading the both of us toward what HE wanted to accomplish during the time.
I would encourage every worship leader and worship teams to strive for this approach. Changing to this way of preparation will not happen over night though. It is as much as a mental and physical change as much as it is a heart change. It is about coming to terms with the willingness to surrender ALL to the Spirit to do what He wants to do with the time of music.
You will experience some push back from the less spiritual mature in your church but do not waiver, take this time to teach and challenge them. It is always going to make people uncomfortable when control is taken away. But remember just because you lead worship or play on the worship band…it doesn’t mean you have arrived spiritually. You still have ways to go in learning about our Triune God and how much we lack in truly trusting Him. (If this already is making you nervous, wait until I get to Spirit led worship in another blog).
I can tell you that when you prepare this way, when you walk off stage, the feeling you have is drastically different than when you prepared like option #1. There is such a freeing feeling that it wasn’t you, and you know it. You are just a follower and a vessel that the Spirit decided to use to accomplish his purpose. And nothing feels better than knowing that the God of the universe used you for his purpose! Of course, He could have done it all by himself, but HE received glory in how we trusted and surrendered to Him—wait…isn’t that the goal of worship that we talked about before? Exactly.