SINGING AS DISCIPLESHIP GLUE: THE SURPRISING BENEFIT OF GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS

 

By Mike O’Brien

Many churches and parachurches create discipleship pathways for members of their organization.Plans typically start with babies and end with senior citizens. There are steps along that pathway to equip that person to become like Christ in a variety of ways. It is rare that you will find singing, reciting creeds, sacrament, or other activities related to gathered worship as a part of these discipleship systems. Worship or music are rarely thought of as a means to an end in discipleship.

A church service rooted in a Christocentric, Trinitarian and unified retelling of God’s grand story can do much of the “work” of discipleship. Since singing takes up a majority of what we literally all do together, I believe the lyric of our songs is the most crucial component of what we are saying about who our God is and what he does.

You might have seen the popular sign “now entering the mission field” as you exit a church parking lot. I have never truly grasped that notion because I was literally saved and discipled on a church campus in my early teens. The music minister of my PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) church plant made space for me to play the saxophone with the hymns, then taught me the bass guitar, then gave me a job for $25/wk stacking the chairs. I was literally mentored and saved on Sunday.

We often think of discipleship happening ‘in addition to’ the church service in Bible studies, one-on-one mentoring or small groups. As members of the body of Christ, simply showing up and singing can be transformational and we must not discount its effect and impact on the life of a believer. Additionally, in this space of the church service, as leaders, we can look at this time as a mission field as we invite others to participate.

Just Showing Up 

After leading worship for twenty-five years in the contemporary/modern church, I unexpectedly found a 6-month assignment subbing in an Anglican church. I was accustomed to a “5 songs and a sermon” model of church and this new form of worship required stepping into some uncomfortable spaces for me. In my mind, the contemporary worship expression was the remedy to a tired, dead liturgy. But the Lord was gracious to teach me. I wrestled with these judgments as I was now no longer “leading” worship, but the liturgy was guiding me, ever so gently to Jesus. I was now the one being shaped; this experience taught me a valuable lesson.

As I learned the structure and order of service I realized that the creeds, assigned scripture readings, prayers, and songs, were sticking to me. I would recall and long for them throughout the week. I certainly missed the spontaneity and joy of sitting in an uninterrupted time of singing, but surprisingly, going through the motions of church was not as unwelcome by me as I had imagined.

What seemed like just a checklist of righteous “to-do’s” transformed into a list of “get-to-do’s” each week. It was nice being able to identify “success” not merely by a collective feeling of spiritual momentum, but rather a robust and faithful reenactment of the prescribed meeting. What if just showing up counts for something in our souls? What if the act of simply being present to God and others meant I was being transformed without striving?

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

Singing into Shape 

As I led worship in this new space, I discovered just how much I had forgotten about the power of the song can be in shaping and forming our belief. In the liturgical tradition, the song lyric closely follows the church calendar and order of service. I began to connect lyric with scripture and to my surprise creating a “setlist” became much more invigorating and challenging.

Music, on its own,  is simply instrumental in nature, but lyrics are what makes a song. Lyrics tell a story. Lyrics carried by a strong melody are like a sticky glue attaching to our souls. They are powerful. They help shape our belief. A well-crafted song is perhaps the greatest discipleship tool devised for our time.

“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:18b NIV

In 2016, Billboard estimates there were 250 billion audio streams played. That’s an increase of 82.6% compared with 2015. Billboard reports that in 2017 there was a 53% increase in music streaming. Of all art forms right now, songcraft is the most prevalent and readily consumed. At best, the narratives pumping through people’s earbuds and car speakers are spiritually benign. At worst, they are acting counter to the gospel. When people sing the few songs we choose to lead at church, it will more than likely be just a fraction of what they have consumed all week long. It is an honor and joy to choose and write the songs that accurately direct people’s worship to the one true God. As we create setlists of 2 or 3 or 5 songs we are literally creating the narrative that will shape the thoughts and beliefs of the congregants.

Saved on Sunday 

Worship ministry, more than any other team in the church, is a breeding ground for deep discipleship and mentoring. Because of the time commitment required and amount of moving parts, there is so much good that can be done.  In my previous church of only 200, we had over 35 people involved in worship ministry. Each position (drummer, media tech, green room host etc.) served once a month and there were entry points for over 15 different positions. The church technically only needs one drummer, but why can’t we have 4 with 2 more in the pipeline?

 “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher.” Luke 6:40 NET Bible

My friend Leo Morales, a sound director at the Vineyard Church in Columbus, Ohio shared with me a beautiful picture of discipleship in his world. Leo runs sound each week. He decided to give a volunteer in training just 2 of the 48 soundboard faders to manage. Slowly the sound tech in training would take over the whole board. Because the volunteer needed to be at rehearsal and multiple services, a natural and organic “one on one” interaction emerged that could easily last up to 5 or 6 hours each Sunday. This allowed for lots of time for modeling, mentoring, equipping, and shepherding of a soul.

Multiply the one position mentioned above with the countless others in our worship ministries (worship leader, bass, percussion, communion set up etc.) and we literally find ourselves training up dozens of people in the work of corporate worship.

The Fruit of Our Gathering 

Although not it’s prime objective, the gathering of the church is a functional place to intentionally make disciples and develop leaders. Just about any worship band with a GREAT drummer can have a not so great drummer playing along on hand percussion. In most rooms with “in-ear” monitors, you can train up just about anyone willing to learn. As the church gathers once a week to worship, there are countless opportunities for discipleship to occur if we seek it out.

Conclusion 

My unexpected assignment leading worship in a style not familiar to me unexpectedly taught me the inescapable formation that happens by just “showing up.” Being in the room does some work. Leaning in more to the “liturgy” will invite even more transformation. In our current contemporary church expression, the songs we sing are a large piece of this transformational work. We should commit ourselves to labor carefully over the songs we choose to sing and write.

There are few other systems on earth that happen 52 times a year and then repeat, over and over again. As worship leaders, we fashion and lead a beautiful rhythm enacted by Christ which continually calls us together.Whatever the style of worship your tradition engages in, be encouraged that the habit of meeting together forms and shapes us. Our gathering forms us into the very likeness of our Lord.

COMMUNAL PONDERING AS WORSHIP

By David Bunker 

Death and life are in the power of the toungue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21 NKJ 

The Shared Experience of Listening Together

I grew up a preacher’s kid in the holiness movement. Church was our life and by the age of ten, I had attended more services than most adults would in their lifetime. In fact, our home had an actual tunnel going from our house directly to the church basement. Needless to say, our family and especially my father were attached to the church both figuratively and literally. We were church saturated people.

As a youngster, adapting to the sheer volume of services and their format was challenging. While I was the typical fidgety child growing up, it was clearly evident I had a precocious and highly inquisitive nature. Early on I began to listen, really listen, to what was being said and enacted from week to week.

From the vibrant full-throated Gospel singing to the Sunday night testimony time often followed by altar calls and late night fervent prayer meetings, I soon discovered that our gatherings were simultaneously full of exuberant praise, and as John Wesley said, our hearts “strangely warmed.”

The Power of Testimony 

Memories are often cryptic messages from the past that something full of meaning may be circling our present state. When I fondly look back at my early years in the body of Christ I distinctly am drawn to the power of personal testimonies. Over the years, I have attended countless meetings where it was appropriate and encouraged to stand before the congregation and “bear witness” to the hand of God in one’s life.

However, it was not until my men’s retreat experience did I grasp the powerfully formative nature of someone sharing their story in public. What was profoundly revealing about the retreats was the highly public nature of the storytelling or testimony and the impact it had on those listening. I was always amazed at how enraptured men became while attending to the story of another.

Because the weekend is focused on discovering and articulating one’s narrative with as much clarity and truthfulness as they can offer, there is a commensurate commitment from the other men to truly listen, to completely offer themselves over to the presence of another and regard their voice and story as a gift to the community. For many of the men, this honoring posture from other men is emotionally overwhelming. During the retreat, they discover, often for the first time, that the body of Christ and the Father care deeply about them. Indeed, they discover they are actually the “beloved” of the Father and He longs to hear their heart’s desires as well wipe away the tears that accompanying their life and its brokenness.

Testimonies Revisited 

After experiencing countless weekends where men stood before others and offered up their testimony with power and vulnerability, I wondered why so little of that same honest and open disclosure was taking place in the larger congregation. As I continually longed for some degree of this experience to spill and manifest itself in the larger congregation I was drawn by memory to my early years with my a small holiness church and the ever unpredictable and meaningful “testimony time.”

As I intentionally pondered the past and that experience, many amazing memories flooded back. At nearly all of our Sunday night gatherings, testimony time would offer the body an opportunity to speak out and speak to their personal stories of faith. It was a time to publicly offer up a reckoning of sorts. Inevitably, like clockwork, Sister Beulah would stand and offer her declaration of God’s sovereignty in her life. An elderly single woman, Sister Beulah would weekly visit prisons and report back to the congregation the hand and heart of God as it related to these incarcerated men and women. Her testimony was always full of the broken and beautiful, the sad and sanctified. I was always captured by her storytelling and her utter zeal about incarcerated men and women who truly could not be more “unlike” Sister Beulah. But each week she told us of God’s care and presence in the lives of these prisoners. I was amazed and captured by the incongruity of it all.

Prodigal Professions of Faith

On other Sunday nights, a man or women who only came to church occasionally would stand and pour out their sense of reconciliation with the Father. They would openly put on the status of the returning prodigal and tell the body of their journey back to the Father. Tears would flow as they openly revealed the painful details of their rebellion and the miraculous restoration. As a small boy, I was listening and learning. I was hearing another sermon but not from my pastor father. This one came from someone, who years later, I would identify with more than I would have imagined.

Unbeknownst to me, I was collecting countless stories that would re-emerge years later as the voice of the saints bearing witness. I was being formed to believe and receive this same reconciliation and restoration. The Father knew that someday my prodigal heart would manifest itself but I would have stories in my soul’s archive that I could bring to remembrance. I was being formed for the future by these narratives called testimonies.

The Power of Story to Form Christlike Character

It was partially through this early childhood experiential lens that I began to observe and identify with the power of one’s personal narrative when shared publicly. It was in these early childhood years that the story and testimony of these saints became my story. I was being formed in the listening, transformed in the proclamation, made a part of something much bigger than my own personal story. It was the story of a people.

Where do we anchor our sense of meaning?  What if our worship was attached to our ability to listen, really listen?  What is the vocabulary of listening as worship? Is this honoring a primary posture for the radical presence of our Savior to reveal Himself, for the Spirit to lavishly pour Himself out to our hungry hearts? I had discovered through my men’s retreat weekends that this kind of listening was distinctly different from the kind of listening we do one-on-one. When a man who was not diligently attending to his own heart observed a group of men clearly submitted to the act of deep listening, his voice grows in its innate resonance.  Intention and articulation now merge and what is said has a power to which the entire group bears witness.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21 NKJ

What if we listened to one another more diligently in our gatherings? What if testimony time was considered as sacred and formative as the sharing of the word or the taking of the body and the blood of Christ? Might this kind of “holy listening” involve a significantly different posture than is often encouraged in the church? Protocol on the men’s weekends helped in the development of a deeper corporate listening posture. We discovered early on that being attentive involved a silencing of the inquisitive and questioning mind. Knowing this was a sacred time of honoring this man’s story allowed us as co-sojourners to listen to another deeply possibly for the first time.  By taking ourselves and our reactions completely out of the equation, a kind of freedom opened up. It turns out we are better listeners when we set aside our response or reaction.

On the weekend retreats, we were asked to withhold our judgments and questions when a man was entering this often unvisited location of the soul where his true voice resided. We knew that the entering in was usually accompanied by a degree of fear and even shame. Sharing one’s story unabashedly with deep emotion and tears can for many men be outside their comfort zone. It is territory they often ignored or pushed up into their head. They were unable to share their testimony out of their deepest presence because they had left their true story years ago.

When we yearn to listen, we lose the posture of knowing and fixing. We now listen, not to speak into another’s life but as an act of worship. We are joining in the very presence of the Holy Spirit that emerges when fellow believers lean into the heart of God and do so emptied of presumption and self-consciousness.

Listening is a spiritual muscle that is often neglected and weak in our fellowships. And when we listen communally as a living breathing entity beyond our personal selves we become present and radically progenerative to the body. We birth together with the voice of the Spirit as it is articulated in the family of God.

Re-Introducing Testimony Time

Speaking aloud to others regarding our sojourn with Christ is more than perfunctory and routine. It is sacred and life-changing. It is a public display of faith that is profoundly formative and necessary.  And as I ponder and bring to remembrance the testimonies of the saints in my holiness church in Ohio, it is evident that these stories and their proclamation were truly empowered to change not only the ones telling the stories but the ones listening as well.

What we say often becomes who we are. We articulate our deepest identity through the stories we tell others and ourselves. There is something profound that happens when we offer our testimony in public. Our culture has possibly given way too much of the soul’s activity to the privacy of therapy (as good and efficacious as that can be). Have we lost the role the church gathering as a place of healing and restoration of its people? I discovered in my men’s retreat experience that mere proximity to the spoken word of testimony ushered in the providence of God. Often the embodied presence of the Spirit is visibly observed in the one offering up their testimony. You see it in their face and read it in their bodies. But these testimonies are for more than the individuals speaking aloud.

The public nature of these vocalizations has the ability to impact greatly the faith and character of the entire congregation.

Faithful Words Prompt Faithful Reality

I just recently witnessed in Nashville the power of story and song at our National Worship Leader Conference (NWLC). It is so evident that much of our telling and sharing is done through song. The last night of the conference, a group of songwriters gathered in the round and shared a song and then passed the mic to another. It was moving and transformative. What struck me, however, was the testimonial nature of the artist’s presentation. Rather than a performance with a concrete setlist, this musical experience was accompanied with a much more profound testimonial nature to its representation. Songs were set up with a level of honesty and vulnerability that I had not seen in a long time especially in CCM circles. It seems we may have taken the human out of the presentation. By that I mean we have neglected to actually share our truest testimony.  The attendees were certainly caught up in rapt attention. I wonder if that powerful listening posture was made evident to the artist and that is what indeed allowed and precipitated the deeper vulnerability.

I am so thankful for Sister Beulah in my early years and equally, as grateful for the group of songwriters gathered that last night at NWLC–Audrey Assad, Sandra McCracken, Andrew Peterson, Alisa Turner, Phil Joel, and Stu G. They offered up their testimony in song and I was deeply moved and changed in the telling and the listening.

Effective Communication

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ll leaders, whether corporate or nonprofit, have to learn to overcome the hurdle of ineffective communication with their teams. And although we worship leaders desire to connect with people, serve needs, and exchange ideas and emotions with people and with the Lord, too often we struggle with communicating successfully within our team.

What are some practical ways we can improve our communication in our worship ministry?

You Gotta Have a Plan
First, we need to create a communications plan. What are our goals for communications within the ministry? We need to figure out what we want to achieve, how we can accomplish those objectives, and how often we will communicate them. Instead of firing off random emails, updating websites whenever we think of it, or texting people when we’re in a jam, we need to sit down and look at the 5 W’s of communication—who, what, when, where, why (and how). We’re communicating with multiple people on different levels representing many agendas, and on top of that it’s often within a volunteer environment. But if we take time to build a plan, then we can connect with everyone and meet their needs and set them up for success. Of course, don’t make your plan in a vacuum disregarding input from your team; bring them in and understand their needs. But once a team-sensitive plan is in place, we will build a healthier team, experience less volunteer burnout, see more unity within the ministry, and all that will translate in the way we live out our calling as worshipers.

The Web Is Your Friend
Once we create a plan, we need to make sure we’re handling the basics. I’ve worked in ministry long enough to remember the days when the only communication tools we had were letters and phone calls. We thought we were stepping it up when we graduated to spreadsheets and email lists. But it’s a new era. If you aren’t already using one, take advantage of a worship planning website. These handle everything from setlist planning to volunteer scheduling to file storage and links to volunteer emailing and more. Once you move your ministry planning to a central website, you’ll cut down on many nagging communications issues that pop up. Search the Web for “worship planning” to explore the options. Many sites offer free trials or affordable, entry-level subscriptions.

Keep It Fresh & Meaningful
Another thing we should ask is whether our communication leads and inspires our team. If all they get from us is a request for availability, a setlist, or a reminder to prepare for Sunday, we aren’t communicating like we could. A communications consultant shared with our staff that for regular volunteer meetings, plan to alternate between communicating vision, community, and skill. So for example, one meeting would include a Bible study about God’s heart for worship ministry, the next would include a time of celebrating what God is doing in our ministry and within our relationships, and the next meeting would highlight a musical skill. When we plan our meetings that way, we make a dynamic impact on our team every time we gather.

Communicate Christ
The last thing to keep in mind is communicating the love of Christ. Too often our communication is less of a service to people, and more of a way to make sure our task list is checked off. I’ve had to learn the hard way that the bottom line is if I don’t communicate the love of Christ in everything I say and do, I don’t make a kingdom impact. I “Get ‘er done!” but I don’t inspire anyone the way Jesus encourages me. Spend the time it takes to double-check emails and texts before they’re sent, or call if a personal touch is the right thing to do. If we communicate the love of Jesus, the beauty of that unity will spill out into everything our ministry does.

Jason joined the staff of Bellevue Alliance Church in 1991 and later became part of the pastoral staff at Crossroads Community Church in the summer of 1992. Jason leads the music and worship ministry, and oversees the creative team including live sound, lighting, video, radio, recording studio, and communications. He serves on the board of Crossroads Community Church, and provides insight and direction to their church ministries as part of the managing team of pastors.

The Big 5

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen leading worship you deal with a lot of things, not just music, such as people. With people comes all sorts of other things. Great things, little things, bad things, touchy subjects, attitudes (good and bad), sickness, death, families, opinions … you name it, they’ll bring it at one point or another. Being a worship leader is like being a boss or an owner. You essentially have employees, yet, you absolutely cannot treat them as such. Most churches work with volunteers for their worship team.

PLEASE NOTE: these are guidelines that I have come up with and use for myself. A checklist if you will, anytime I need them. I have come up with these because I have failed as a worship leader/pastor so many times, but I choose to learn from it and move forward. 

The Worship Leader’s Big 5 (in my words)

1. Heart – You gotta love the people
In all the places I’ve been I have seen a lot of “problems” within the confines of a worship team, or the church itself for that matter, that can be solved by adhering to this first “rule” of being a worship leader or any leader for that matter. If you don’t love your team members, then I am quite uncertain just exactly why you are a worship leader. Sounds rough, but honestly.

Several points can be attributed to this matter. Things that a worship leader goes through that come back to this basic point. Little things that can become huge when not dealt with properly because they don’t “love” the team. A team member can be late to rehearsal, not agree with a song or how the song is played. They can use the wrong equipment; they can talk about you behind your back, and so on. like I said, there are a lot of things that can happen to a worship leader that will come directly from your team, but how to you deal with it? Do you punish them with a time-out? Do you scold them in front of the team? Do you just “stop scheduling” them for a while to make your point? Or … do you love them? Do you dismiss the behavior for the moment, take them aside later for coffee, or in my case Red Bull, and chat with them about where they’re at with life? How’s home life? How’s church? How’s work? I have found more times than not, that a poor attitude or disrespect from a worship team member is an awesome opportunity to speak into a volunteer’s life and minister to them and lead them, or rather… love them.

I have seen worship leaders in the past that have come up with a list of rules and guidelines that worship team members have to sign in order to be on the team. This way, the worship leader feels “covered” by that document, so in the case a rule is broken, the worship leader has the “right” to bring that document out and show them that they broke a rule and now have to sit out of the worship team for a couple weeks, or a month or whatever. I’ll be the first one to say it, “I have done this!” And let me tell you, this does not work. This is damaging to the relationship you build with your team. A relationship, which is built on love first, trust second, and chemistry (musically & friendship) third, is not built on contract. When you put a contract in their face the first thing, you have destroyed the chance to build a strong relationship with the person that you’re bringing on the team. 

The point? When you lead a worship team, you have to love them first. This will solve a lot of problems in the future and prevent issues from ever happening in the first place. If you want more examples of how to approach your team with this kind of love, just look at how Jesus approached everyone He met.

2. Passion
I went to a concert a while back, it was one of those big name bands that are topping the charts. I was pretty pumped to see the show. I am one of those who doesn’t get all hyped though during the show. You’ll find me paying for the tickets closest to the front because i like music gear and i like to watch the band really close. I won’t be the one jumping around and all that. Even though every once in a while i jiggy a little. The show begins, lights down, big booming noise and bam, the lights, the smoke, the band, the curtain falls and we’re off! I have a huge smile and i’m loving it! The lead singer is belting out his lyrics and playing his guitar… but… he’s just, well, there was something odd. Something was missing. Passion. He didn’t look like he wanted to be there, he looked as if he’d sang these songs a thousand times, which, he most certainly has. It was quite disappointing to say the least. It was as if he didn’t believe a word he was singing, like it was a hastle to even be there. I was ticked off about it because i came to support his music and be entertained. I paid quite a bit for these tickets too, but his attitude completely ruined the experience for me.

I hope by now, you can see where I’m going with this… As worship leaders, we must have passion every single time we play. “But ben, it’s monotonous, I’ve sang these songs so many times and rehearsed them a thousand times more!” True. At least I hope you’ve rehearsed haha… But, of course, it does get old. To us! What about the guy that just sat down in the back row. First time ever being to church, searching for something because he just lost everything this week and needs to know someone is there for him. When he watches you lead these songs of hope, faith, trust, love, guidance, acceptance, forgiveness etc… but you have a scowl on your face because this song is old and you aren’t really in the mood to play it, but pastor asked you to so you’re just “doing your job.” Well, I’m here to tell you, you’ve just completely lost this guy in the back row. He is watching you sing these songs but can tell that you honestly don’t even want to be there. Which leads him to think, Well if the guy singing the songs doesn’t even care, then why should I? This story is true. it’s happened before and can happen again to you. You were not passionate about what you were singing, which led him right back out the door.

Passion goes beyond the songs and music—passion, in this instance, is knowing that what you’re doing is part of something bigger. A worship leader needs to be passionate about the big picture. Lives saved, people being healed, the church movement. If you’re passionate about the church’s vision and mission, then, when the pastor asks you to sing “As the Deer” (which if you aren’t familiar, is a very old, not very catchy tune that we used to sing in church years and years ago) on Sunday, you’re going to play the living daylights out of that song! Do I pray that pastor never asks me to play “As the Deer”? You bet I do! But if he does, I’m sure there’s a good reason for it; therefore, I will play that song and play it with excellence. Maybe the pastor wants you to play it because he knows a certain person is coming that week, and that’s their favorite worship song, and they haven’t been to church in a long time, and just maybe that song will trigger something in their heart to come back to Christ again.

When a worship leader is not passionate in what they do, it shows. You can read them like a book. A worship leader’s attitude can influence the way the congregation receives the lyrics of the songs being played and there are two reasons you exist on that stage. One is to lead the congregation into the throne room of God if only for a short time via the avenue of music. And two, is to prepare the congregation’s hearts for the message. If you, as a worship leader, are not prepared for that, and are not going to be passionate in the words you say whether in prayer or lyrically, then check yourself before you address your congregation again. Speak with the pastor and let him or her know that you’ve lost the passion you once had; work together to restore that passion, or maybe it’s appropriate that you step back for a while and let someone take the lead, so you can pull yourself back together. This is healthy. It’s not a punishment. Every worship leader needs a break.

Pastors … It’s a good idea to give your worship leaders a break every three months. Let them breathe. If the worship leader position in your church is a revolving door, you may want to look into this. I have seen and been a part of churches that hire someone to be a worship pastor and then later down the road they become the youth director and the maintenance coordinator, the small group leader, the tech director, the creative arts director, all while still holding the worship leader’s position. This can be harmful and could really damage what once was a good marriage or good home life; not to mention, it really hurts their efforts in being a good worship leader too. They aren’t able to give each position 100 percent. 

3. Patience
Being a musician on a worship team can sometimes be stressful. It depends on the person. There are some worship team members that are single and don’t have much going on and just love to play and sing and help out, because they have the time to do so. And a lot of them have full-time jobs, kids, extra jobs, crazy bosses, crazy kids, a demanding home life etc. Be patient with these people; they are extremely valuable and need to be taken care of just as much as the 20-year-old guitar player with a part time job who basically lives in your office because he wants to be the next in line to lead worship at your church.

The people that have a lot going on outside of church, sometimes they’re late, sometimes they don’t rehearse on their own and come unprepared. How do we deal with those that just can’t seem to check “planning center” to see what songs we’re playing or listen to them and practice their parts? Well, that’s a tricky question, but, there is an answer. Patience. “But for how long? I mean, they never practice!” I hear ya. Boy do i hear ya. I have all but slammed my head against a wall at some rehearsals because an amazing guitar part got ignored. Did they even listen to the new song with the killer guitar part? Nope. In fact, they were late to rehearsal too. How do you deal with that? Patience.

This ties right in with “heart.” I love my guitar players. Sometimes I want to kick them, but I love them. Why were they unprepared and late? This is where I start. Does the song have to have that killer guitar part? Yes and no. I would love for it to be there. Can another guitar player cover it? maybe. Could I somehow cover it? Maybe. Or, between now and Sunday maybe they could get it learned. Sure! But, we don’t just let this go, we talk with them later. Not at rehearsal. There’s no need for it. They’re already (or should be) a little embarrassed that they’ve just let the team down. But, with love and patience, we cover the mistake and learn from it and move on. This is where a deeper bond and a deeper respect and love for that team member comes into play. If you do this, I promise you, they’ll begin to understand and respect you, the team, and respect everyone else’s time for that matter as well.

“What if my team member is constantly late or constantly not prepared?” First off, patience. Practice that first, then, if they just can’t seem to get it, or they are great musicians or great singers, and we just have to have them on the team even if they never practice or are unprepared or are constantly late to events and rehearsals, then it’s time to have a private, more in depth conversation.

Key questions:
How’s life going?
How’s your family?
How’s your spiritual life doing?
How’s work?

Get them talking; maybe you’ll find your answer before they even know they’ve answered it. If a team member is having these problems of being late and unprepared, it really damages the whole team. It looks bad for them, burns time during rehearsal, and could cause issues with the overall sound. I can’t imagine a team member purposely trying to sabatoge the team and their efforts towards musical excellence. If they are, then they shouldn’t be on the team for obvious reasons. In this case though, while talking with this person, show love and patience and wisdom. Show love by digging into their heart and finding out where they’re at; show patience by giving them a second chance, and show wisdom by discerning whether or not being a part of the team is a good thing for them and the team right now. If they’re just way too busy and can’t seem to pull their weight, then maybe right now they need to focus on other things at home or work or themselves for that matter, and let the team move forward until the time is right for this person to come back.

But don’t ever close the door. No one is beyond restoration. Jesus never gave up on us, nor should we give up on someone serving him with their talents. If they aren’t meant to be on the team, and you’ve followed these steps properly, then things will work themselves out.  At the same time, be sure to inform your pastor of this change. You never know if maybe the pastor or their small group leader can step in after the fact and help with the restoration process. This leads back to the passion and heart points—we are here to lead people to Christ and show them the love of Christ. If something is going on with the team member that is causing these issues, then informing their current small group leader or the pastor is taking care of that person. You don’t just let them walk out the door. We are in the people business, and in that comes the responsibility to take care of the “flock” if you will.

Patience also comes in handy with the staff and other workers outside of the worship team such as:

  • The Pastor (who asks you to play a song you don’t like).
  • The kids director (who let the kids out 2 minutes too early because they were tired of keeping them past the regular time, but you’re having an amazing worship moment when all the sudden 40 kids come barging through the back door yelling for mommy and daddy)
  • The finance manager (who tells you that your budget is smaller this year and you can’t purchase those new in ear monitors you wanted).

These are all real examples I have heard and seen. You have to check yourself, be patient, don’t fly off the handle. The people are the important thing here.

What I have come to find is patience with other staff members can really help you in ways you never thought possible. Staff members can throw some pretty crazy curve balls into your set list, into your daily routine, into your plans. But when they come, just take a deep breath, realize that what you had planned really isn’t that important, and that you can accommodate most things. You and the rest of the staff are a team. Always, always, always be thinking of the bigger picture. It really helps reign in that urge to go crazy when those curve balls come at you.

4. Humbleness
I am going to make this short and sweet because, if you’re a worship leader, this is just basic stuff. If you’re a Christian this is basic stuff. Stay humble. You are part of a bigger plan, a bigger picture, a bigger team. You are part of something. You are not “the” something. If you’re a worship leader, or any leader for that matter, leadership starts with humility. You must serve in order to lead. Leadership in and of itself is servanthood. Jesus was the greatest example of this, he served everyone. He showed love and compassion and is the greatest leader that ever walked this little speck of dirt we call earth.

This is not about you. Of course you’re center stage, you’re singing your heart out, everyone is looking at you, and the lights and the yada, yada, yada. Something I have always said to worship teams that I’ve led and been a part of in the past is this: we rehearse and put in the hours and play with excellence and want to sound the best for 2 reasons.

1. We are playing for the King of Kings. Why wouldn’t we want to sound the absolute best we can possibly sound? He’s the greatest audience we’ll ever have. Plus, he gave you the gift of music and singing, why not return it to him 10-fold (parable of the talents)?

2. We play with excellence and sound the best we can sound, in order to become invisible. 

Be Invisible – In order to make this happen, the team must rehearse, sound the best they can sound, play with excellence, be in tune, follow the leader, know when to play and when not to play, have a good attitude, show up on time, show up early, be prepared. Invisibility, in my opinion, is a must. What does it mean? When the congregation looks to the worship team, their focus is immediately pointed straight to the throne room of God. It’s not about us. It’s about him. We have good attitudes and are passionate about what we’re playing so that no one is looking at us wondering why we’re bored or upset or distracted. We play with excellence so that the congregation isn’t distracted by wrong chords or missed parts or a badly tuned guitar, or a singer who is off key or messed up the words. We are visible long enough to lead the congregation into worship, then we step out of the way and play our hearts out with passion, and we play with excellence so as to not distract them from the environment we’ve helped create for them, to enter in to his presence with song as one body of Christ.

5. Focused
A worship leader needs to be focused. Focused during the week and focused during rehearsals and Sunday mornings. “Well what should I be focused on?” Be focused on Jesus first and foremost. Then, be focused on your team, the pastor, the staff, your duties, the mission and vision of the church. Always be aware of what’s going on with your team, with the staff, with the church. Don’t fly in and fly out and think that that’s ok. It’s not. Be aware. Be focused.

Focus on Prayer
Be ever fervent in prayer for your team, the staff, the church. Pray over your congregation during the week that these songs will move them closer to God. Pray over your setlist; ask God to help you pick the right set. Pray over your pastor, and pray with your pastor. Be aware of the staff and pray over them and with them when appropriate.

Focus on Your Duties
Are you planned ahead? Is planning Center (or whatever you use) ready to go for the next two weeks at least? Are people scheduled? Do you need to make phone calls and send texts out to let people know the setlists are ready? have you done your part in letting everyone know that a song changed? Have you connected with the pastor on all topics that need covered before this weekend hits? Is the tech team prepared? Do they have all the starts and stops and videos and transitions of songs and lyrics ready to go? have you even sent your sound notes to them yet?

Set reminders on your phone for times you know you’ll be near a computer or tablet, and remind yourself to send emails, texts, make calls, check in with the tech team, the pastor, your assistants if you have them, update planning center etc.

Example
Monday is your scheduling and set list day
Tuesday is your alert day—send out reminders for song changes, check in with people
Wednesday is your day to work one-on-one with musicians or singers who struggle with their parts.
Thursday before rehearsals is your time to run through all the songs again and make notes for the team that you missed during the week.

Make sure you are always prepared. The team’s attitude and passion and patience will reflect yours. So make sure you’re always on your game.

I believe that if we (including myself) as worship leaders carry these points with us and actively practice them, we can acheive great things for the kingdom of God. They’re not hard and are very rewarding. I know because I have used them and they work. I have also fallen short of them many times, but that’s when God shows up and shows off in my life. I love him for that.

We’re all in this together.

Ben Yarger is 29 years old; he lives in the northern part of Indiana with his lovely wife Kilee. He’s been a worship leader/pastor for going on 15 years. He has a passion for people and a passion for music and what it can do in the lives of people. He hopes this article will help you in your journey as a worship leader/pastor and your journey in leadership. He wrote it as a guideline for himself  and hopes it can help you as well. 

Setlist or Hymnal?

In August of 2012, 3,000 people filled the Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa sanctuary to experience an evening of worship featuring the original Praise songs. The songs that were to be sung were exclusively chosen from the first seven Praise albums produced by Calvary Chapel between 1974 and 1980.The first Praise album, the granddaddy so to speak of this new folk hymn movement, was conceived and executed by Mike MacIntosh, Tommy Coomes, and Pastor Chuck Smith. The fact that these records have been in the marketplace nonstop for nearly 40 years gives weight to their venerability. Pastor Chuck established this “sung prayer” genre in a style that would likely be called “contemplative” today. This was not “tippy toe” music or its opposite—what could be tagged “triumphalisitic” emotionalism/arena rock—but rather very melodic, tight harmonies congregationally friendly, and reflective. I call it “iconophonic.”

After an introduction from Chuck Smith, Tommy Coomes, the Praise series producer and pioneer worship leader, stepped out with his band to lead the 21st century congregation in hymnody over three decades old. It was like striking a match to a barrel full of lighter fluid. The songs ignited hearts as they stirred the imagination with remembering mixed with new prayers to God.

Adding To
Now these praise songs were not the only songs in the Calvary Chapel hymnal of the ’70s.Their pew racks also contained the standard print book hymnal containing a treasury of Christian Evangelical music spanning several centuries. This printed “Gutenberg” hymnal served (and serves) many functions. For example, just like the biblical pre-Incarnation Psalms, which were collected over a millennium in five separate books, the printed hymnal collects the best of the best over centuries. It also provides an education. A glance of the topical index of a printed hymnal gains you suggestions on the ways each hymn can be used in the service of worship, thematic information, and Scripture references. (This is why each song on a Song DISCovery CD has the same information; we were imitating what has been time-tested.)

But in the ’70s, individual churches began to sing in a language and a way that told not only the universal Church’s story with God, but also our own individual community’s faith journey. And we added our own songs of praise to the exhaustive collection of hymns.

Our new hymns were born in a new era of communications (FM radio/multi-track recording/cassette-tape duplicator). And the songs themselves (“Father I Adore You,” “Glorify Thy Name,” “Seek Ye First,” “In Moments Like These,” “Spirit Song,”etc.) first made their way around the globe in sound form … not print. It was the post-Gutenberg, pre-Google world of the cassette tape duplicator. The Calvary Chapel Hymnal grew12-14 songs at a time with each new Praise album release.

The addition of songs to the great living hymnody is just as alive and well in Christian communities today. But who is managing the hymnal? From the Psalms to the first collection of Christian hymns entitled The Odes of Solomon (first century AD), the tradition of Christian curation of hymns has been the bedrock for nurturing faith and sustaining community.

Who’s on Watch?
This brings up a couple of questions:

  • What is the hymnal of your Church?
  • Are you collecting the best of the best in terms of heart poetry to God?
  • Are your hymns representative of historical Christianity as well as modern?
  • Are the songs you sing representative of the multicultural, multiethnic, multigenerational nature of the kingdom of heaven?
  • Do the hymns carry deep theological truth as well as beautiful metaphoric imagery?

Recently a history of worship music scholar studied the top 100 CCLI songs and reported that there was not one song in that repertoire which represented God as a Trinity. Interesting. I wonder what other gaps may exist in our own “folk supplements” to our hymnals.

All of this is to say that the worship leader is more than the creator of a setlist. Worship leaders carry the pastoral responsibility to steward the community’s hymnal—both Gutenberg and Google—and to curate songs that not only soar musically but resonate truthfully with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a high calling. May God grant you the wisdom and grace for the task as you continually sift through the new song offerings and continue to build the hymnal of faith together.

Chuck Fromm is the founder of Worship Leader Media which includes Worship Leader magazine, Song Discovery, and the National Worship Leader Conference. 

Look What the Lord Has Done!

AT&T Stadium’s capacity was maxed out this weekend for Greg Laurie’s Harvest America in Dallas, Texas. The fire marshal closed the doors, causing overflow audiences in the outer venues. All said, 82,000 were in attendance at the stadium. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With the overflow viewing the screens outside the venue and more than 7,000 host venues with congregations joining via simulcast, the nationwide attendance can only be guessed. What we can be sure of is that God worked powerfully—from coast to coast. From the reports so far, we know over 6500 people registered their decision to follow Jesus Christ!

The evening is now available to watch in the Harvest America event archives. Feel free to share it with a friend. Watch now.

Here are the setlists of the evening (in order of appearance):

Switchfoot:
“Love Alone Is Worth the Fight”
“Meant to Live”
“When We Come Alive”
“Dare You to Move”

[divider]

MercyMe
“Beautiful”
“His Eye is On the Sparrow/Greater”
“Move/Amazing grace”
“Flawless”

[divider]

Lecrae
“Nuthin/Turnt”
“Manolo / Tell the World”
“Say I Won’t”

[divider]

Chris Tomlin
“Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)”
“At the Cross” with choir
“Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” with choir

[divider]

Message: Greg Laurie
Watch Greg Laurie’s Harvest America message “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
Here.

Response (led by Chris Tomlin)
“Good, Good Father”
“Lord I Need You”
“Jesus Loves Me (How Can It Be)”
“How Great Is Our God”
“Our God”
“God’s Great Dance Floor”

The Bin System for Your Setlist

By Chris Paavola

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]hoosing songs can become a paralyzing and polarizing task for any church because people have a hundred excitable reasons why they like a song: The life-long member loves the hymn from 1904, the pastor loves the anthem from 1994 and the band loves the new song with the 5/4  groove.  Each week, the person in charge of choosing music tries to balance these opinions as they sift through a song catalog spanning centuries.

At my congregation, anytime we tried to develop rules about song choices we found ourselves either making constant exceptions or arguing over nuances like musical legalists.  But once we ran a report and discovered we had sung over 100 unique songs in a year, we knew we needed to find a system for choosing songs. If for no other reason than we were inadvertently reminding people new to the church they were still outsiders because they didn’t recognize a song everyone else seemed to know.

Then we stumbled across a story about Disc Jockeys in the 1970’s.

Disc Jockeys
There once was a time when radio stations didn’t have computers tracking song downloads and people could actually call in song requests. During this magical era, some radio stations started putting three bins and a trash can next to the DJ: The “New” bin held new records, the “Regular” bin held regular records, the “Classic” bin held those beloved oldies, and the trash bin was self-explanatory.

Programmers then told DJs they could choose any song as long as their playlist went: New, Regular, Classic. Repeat. New, Regular, Classic. Repeat.  Programmers loved the system because they could control song usage to better sell air time.  DJs loved the system because they had the freedom to choose the eclectic music they enjoyed.

But the genius of the system was, any time a new song was introduced, a record from the New Bin would either go in the trash bin or in the Regular Bin. Which meant one of the records in the Regular Bin was moved to the Classic Bin.

This sparked an idea for us as a Worship Team to come up with a “Bin System” to maintain a fresh and flexible inventory of songs for our worship sets.  The Bin System systematized what we tried to do intuitively, but defining and following a system liberated us to work faster and with less frustration.  Feel free to customize the Bin System for your setting, but I’m confident it will help you as well.

The Bins
Instead of a physical bin, we label our songs using Custom Properties in Planning Center Online.  A simple spreadsheet would be just as fine, however. In each bin songs are broken down into fast, medium or slow tempos.  The size of your bins depends on the number of songs you sing in a service.  In our setting, we sing about 3 or 4 songs per service.

New Bin: 9 songs
In our New Bin we have 3 fast, 3 medium and 3 slow songs.  When we introduce a song to the New Bin, it bumps the oldest song in that tempo out of the New Bin and into either the Trash Bin or Regular Bin.

Regular Bin: 36 songs
In our Regular Bin we have 12 fast, 12 medium and 12 slow songs. When we introduce a song to the Regular Bin, it bumps the oldest song in that tempo out of the Regular Bin and into the Classic Bin.

Classic Bin: Unlimited Songs
Finally, our Classic Bin holds an endless supply of songs.  We decided hymns, regardless of new arrangements, would fall into this category by virtue of their age.  Songs in the Classic Bin have no set shelf life, but may retire to the Trash Bin at any time.

The Bin Rules
At first glance, the number of songs in the Song Bins may seem small, but it’s surprising how difficult it is to overplay these songs once we came up with three simple Bin Rules to plan our services:

Rule 1 – No more than one new song in a service.

Rule 2 – No more than one classic song in a service.

Rule 3 – Christmas doesn’t count.

Benefits of the Bin System
Immediately, the Bin System speeds up the process of choosing songs. For instance, if we’re looking for a slow song for a service and we’ve already got 1 new song and 1 classic song chosen, we look at the 12 slow songs in the Regular Bin instead of an endless alphabetical list of songs.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Bin System also minimizes arguments about song selection because it considers everyone involved in the worship service regardless of their tenure in the faith.  If a pastor, team member or volunteer objects to a chosen song, the discussion is channeled from a confrontation of opinion into a discussion of the Bin System.  “Sorry, we’ve already done a Classic Song” is easier to say and hear than, “I don’t like the song you like”.

If you’re still hesitant to try the Song Bin system, consider this- when you make a worship set, you use a system.  It may not be defined, but if the process is cumbersome and quarrelsome, you need a better process.  Efficiency in planning isn’t just a good system, it’s good stewardship.

Chris Paavola is the Director of Worship Production at St. John church (www.stjstl.net) near St. Louis, MO.  You can follow him on Twitter at @chris_paavola.

Timeless Songs

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s constructing a sermon is to a pastor, so constructing a worship set is to a worship leader. You want to have solid content and memorable hooks that will stick with your church as they walk away.

For a worship leader, song selection is a very important and delicate, weekly task.

I don’t view myself as an entertainer, therefore I want my church to be able to easily engage, participate and sing the songs every week. That being said, I try to select SINGABLE songs! Novel idea, right? It doesn’t sound very profound, but it seems to be somewhat of a lost art.

What I’ve found is that the songs that seem to be the most accessible for the church are those songs that are timeless. They are those new or old songs that have that timeless, ageless quality. Timeless songs are songs that could have been written this week or 300 years ago. If we as worship leaders embrace them, I believe we can more effectively help our churches embrace God in corporate worship.

Here’s some qualities I look for in a timeless song:

1. SIMPLE MELODY
Think of the most popular songs that have been passed down from generation to generation. Most of them have a memorable, simple melody line. The melody is the key to a great song. The more complicated the melody, the harder it is to sing. I’m not saying that every great song has a simple melody, but if you want most of the people in your church to sing a song, a simple melody will enable that greatly. I was in a work shop at the National Worship Leader Conference one year, when I heard Nathan Nockels critiquing a song. He talked about keeping the melody simple, which means to limit the fluctuation in the notes of the melody line. I think the reason the Beatles’ songs have stood the test of time so well is because of their gift for writing memorable, yet simple melodies. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be great and when it’s simple, more people will be able to sing it. Keep it simple!

2. AGE ADAPTABILITY
A timeless song is an ageless song. It’s melody is simple enough to be adapted to any generation. A timeless song can be sung by my 7 year old daughter or my 81 year old grandpa. When you look at your setlist, is it geared for just one age group or can it be embraced by multiple generations? The church is a multi-generational organism and a healthy church accurately represents that. I am, in no way, suggesting a blended style worship set. That can sometimes be more confusing than constructive. I’m simply challenging that we use songs that are simple and accessible to the past generations all the way to the next generation. One of the timeless songs I use is “10,000 Reasons”. That’s a great example of a song that’s embraced by every generation in my church. I expect my generation and younger to like most of the songs I use, but there’s nothing sweeter to me than when I hear a compliment from someone who’s 30 to 50 years older than me. It tells me that most everyone was able to engage in worship in the same hour. That means I’m serving the whole church and not just one demographic of it.

3. STYLE VERSATILITY
A song that stands the test of time is largely preserved by it’s versatility. When you strip all of the instrumentation away, do you still have a great song? When a song is too dependent on the accompaniment, it’s versatility is extremely limited. The obvious examples of versatile songs are the revised hymns that we’ve all heard in the past decade. A timeless song can be played by a rock band, acoustic set or an old-school piano and organ. When you have style versatility in a song, it’s life-span is drastically increased. I think one of the greatest examples of this is “All Creatures of our God and King”. It was written in the 1600’s, yet it is easily translated to today’s popular style. Why? Because of it’s versatility. When you’re looking for a timeless song, test it with different styles.

The goal of this post is not to promote old hymns. God does not care about the date of a song, as long as the heart is right behind it. This post is about helping our people engage in corporate worship. Singing a song can be one of the most unifying elements for a group of people to do. A worship setlist that does not accomplish that is an oxymoron.

Psalm 100:2 says, “Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.”

This is not a suggestion. This is a command.

As worship leaders, let’s have a heart for God, His commands and His church, no matter what demographic they belong to. Let’s give them songs they can sing. Timeless songs can be a very effective tool in this mission.

Here’s some timeless songs (new and old) that I’ve used in corporate worship:
“How Great Thou Art”
“How Great Is Our God”
“All Creatures of Our God and King”
“10,000 Reasons”
“Amazing Grace”
“Lord, I Need You”
“I Surrender All”
“Here I Am to Worship”
“It Is Well”
“Because He Lives (Amen)”

…to name a few.

What are some other songs that you think are timeless?

Gary is the worship arts director at Orchard Church in Denver, Colorado. He is also a blogger and a songwriter and is passionate about serving the local church. He has released two full length albums in the last several years and two EP’s in the last few years with songs that are completely geared for corporate worship – “Kingdom EP” (2010) & “Jesus EP” (2012). Gary has had his songs recognized by Myrrh Records, WorshipSource.com, the Purpose Driven Worship Conference, TheWorshipCommunity.com, CCLITV and SongDiscovery. 

Matching Your Setlist to the Word

By Jordan Cox

Picking songs for your worship service week after week is a daunting task. For many worship leaders, song selection comes down to preference or choosing the latest tune. But careful song selection can make the difference between holding two separate worship services and creating one cohesive experience that serves the Word. While it may take some getting used to (and the occasional sacrifice to your personal preference), following some of these guidelines will keep the congregation focused and you certain that you’re directing attention to Him instead of the music.

1. Read the Scripture. This, of course, assumes that communication is taking place between you and the pastor. But remember that you are a team and your responsibility is to serve the message.

2. Study the Scripture. As soon as you know the Scripture for that service, meditate on it and pull out the main themes. If possible, have the pastor share his outline so you know the main points to be shared. When in doubt, focus on the revealed character of God.

3. Pick Songs that Sing the Scripture. Once you know the main ideas to be shared, find songs that give the congregation words to sing about these themes. For instance, if the sermon is about Jesus as King, consider “Crown Him (Majesty)” by Chris Tomlin. This step must be done carefully. Going too far with this can sometimes be “cheesy.” If the message is about Jesus being the Light of the World, don’t pick five songs that use the word ‘light.’ That is too specific. You can also look for songs that directly quote the discussed Scripture, or related Scripture. If the message has an aspect of dwelling in God’s presence, consider “Better Is One Day” which quotes Psalm 84.

4. Give it time. Sometimes this process can take a few days. It is not imperative that the songs be selected immediately. Reflect on the lyrics. Use search engines on websites like Song Select and worshiptogether.com which will often link songs with their Scripture references.

5. When they just don’t fit. Every once in a while there comes a passage in which it is just difficult to pair up the songs. Consider two things: First, take another approach and consider, “What does the congregation need to know or understand before this message?” For instance, if the message is on trusting The Lord, consider choosing songs that will let the congregation sing about why they should trust Him. If they just got done singing about how God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and faithful, then when they are faced with the challenge to trust, their hearts will be softened to digest the Word. Another option is singing songs reflecting the previous week’s message as a transition to the next message. This not only reminds the congregation of last week’s message, but ties it together with what is currently being discussed.

6. Invitation. If your pastor ends the service with an invitation or a time of reflection, try to find out ahead of time how he is ending the service. Sometimes your study of Scripture will lead you to a different emphasis than your pastor. Keep the communication lines open and support the message that God has given him by keeping the focus all the way through the service.

7. Pray. Most importantly, pray over your song set. A worship leader’s job is not to provide musical entertainment, but to create an atmosphere conducive to meeting with God through the power of the Holy Spirit, directing attention and focus on Him. Let the Holy Spirit work and lead you to certain songs.

Obviously there are other considerations in song selection, i.e. special holidays, an ongoing series, leading in times of crisis, etc. Also, these steps work well when you have already weeded through many songs to find quality songs for your congregation. Don’t ever feel like you have to incorporate every song from the radio, even if it is the latest hit. You will probably find yourself adding lots of new songs to your repertoire, but when you get a good library of quality, Scripture-filled songs, you will find yourself reusing them as your pastor leads you through the Word.

 

Jordan Cox is the Worship Pastor at Fruitland Community Church in Jackson, MO and the Director of Choirs at Cape Central High School in Cape Girardeau, MO.  Cox holds degrees in Music Education from Missouri Baptist University (BME) and Worship Studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (MAR).

Matching Your Setlist to the Word

By Jordan Cox

Picking songs for your worship service week after week is a daunting task. For many worship leaders, song selection comes down to preference or choosing the latest tune. But careful song selection can make the difference between holding two separate worship services and creating one cohesive experience that serves the Word. While it may take some getting used to (and the occasional sacrifice to your personal preference), following some of these guidelines will keep the congregation focused and you certain that you’re directing attention to Him instead of the music.

1. Read the Scripture. This, of course, assumes that communication is taking place between you and the pastor. But remember that you are a team and your responsibility is to serve the message.

2. Study the Scripture. As soon as you know the Scripture for that service, meditate on it and pull out the main themes. If possible, have the pastor share his outline so you know the main points to be shared. When in doubt, focus on the revealed character of God.

3. Pick Songs that Sing the Scripture. Once you know the main ideas to be shared, find songs that give the congregation words to sing about these themes. For instance, if the sermon is about Jesus as King, consider “Crown Him (Majesty)” by Chris Tomlin. This step must be done carefully. Going too far with this can sometimes be “cheesy.” If the message is about Jesus being the Light of the World, don’t pick five songs that use the word ‘light.’ That is too specific. You can also look for songs that directly quote the discussed Scripture, or related Scripture. If the message has an aspect of dwelling in God’s presence, consider “Better Is One Day” which quotes Psalm 84.

4. Give it time. Sometimes this process can take a few days. It is not imperative that the songs be selected immediately. Reflect on the lyrics. Use search engines on websites like Song Select and worshiptogether.com which will often link songs with their Scripture references.

5. When they just don’t fit. Every once in a while there comes a passage in which it is just difficult to pair up the songs. Consider two things: First, take another approach and consider, “What does the congregation need to know or understand before this message?” For instance, if the message is on trusting The Lord, consider choosing songs that will let the congregation sing about why they should trust Him. If they just got done singing about how God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and faithful, then when they are faced with the challenge to trust, their hearts will be softened to digest the Word. Another option is singing songs reflecting the previous week’s message as a transition to the next message. This not only reminds the congregation of last week’s message, but ties it together with what is currently being discussed.

6. Invitation. If your pastor ends the service with an invitation or a time of reflection, try to find out ahead of time how he is ending the service. Sometimes your study of Scripture will lead you to a different emphasis than your pastor. Keep the communication lines open and support the message that God has given him by keeping the focus all the way through the service.

7. Pray. Most importantly, pray over your song set. A worship leader’s job is not to provide musical entertainment, but to create an atmosphere conducive to meeting with God through the power of the Holy Spirit, directing attention and focus on Him. Let the Holy Spirit work and lead you to certain songs.

Obviously there are other considerations in song selection, i.e. special holidays, an ongoing series, leading in times of crisis, etc. Also, these steps work well when you have already weeded through many songs to find quality songs for your congregation. Don’t ever feel like you have to incorporate every song from the radio, even if it is the latest hit. You will probably find yourself adding lots of new songs to your repertoire, but when you get a good library of quality, Scripture-filled songs, you will find yourself reusing them as your pastor leads you through the Word.

 

Jordan Cox is the Worship Pastor at Fruitland Community Church in Jackson, MO and the Director of Choirs at Cape Central High School in Cape Girardeau, MO.  Cox holds degrees in Music Education from Missouri Baptist University (BME) and Worship Studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (MAR).

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