There I was, hanging from a cable hundreds of feet over the rocky ravine. Though zipping through the jungles of Mexico harnessed to a steel cable was an exhilarating experience, as subsequent lines got higher and longer, I did occasionally wonder if the ragtag group of tour guides I had entrusted my life to had been adequately thorough in their planning and preparation. When the stakes (and the altitude) are that high, you want to know the cables are strong and that you won’t smash into any trees.
When people come to church, they are trusting that you as the worship leader know where you are going, have been there before, and are ready to help them experience God. That responsibility requires us to give our best not only while leading worship, but in planning it as well. If we are trying to continually improve our skills as part of the “performance” of worship leading, we can use the following 5 guidelines to help us in that pursuit.
The best-laid plans often involve collaboration. You can spend a lot of time coming up with great plans on your own, but they have the opportunity to be much more powerful when they coincide with other elements in your service. The first step is to try to find out what the message will be about and see what kind of other elements you can add that will support that message. The second, less obvious step is to let your team help you. Even if you are the only person on staff, you can email key volunteers and ask them to contribute ideas. Not only will you come up with ideas that are much more diverse, your team will feel more connected and valued.
II Plan Early
The farther ahead you plan, the more time you have not only for you and your team to come up with great options and ideas, but also to let those ideas sink in. When I learn a new song, I like to have it weeks ahead of time, so I can play it repeatedly until it becomes second nature. If I have just learned a song, I am more concerned with remembering the song than focusing on the message. When you and your team are fully prepared, you are much less likely to make mistakes that redirect the focus from God back to you. The main reason “performance” has negative connotations for worship is that it implies the desired result is to focus on the worship leader. When done right, however, music that is rehearsed and performed well can provide an unobstructed pathway to give glory to God.
III Worship While Planning
There is a common misconception that too much planning hinders the movement of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, sufficient planning can give you the freedom to follow the Holy Spirit and know that your team is ready to follow. We teach the members of our churches that they should not relegate worship to an activity on Sundays, but rather live a life of worship. Correspondingly, as worship leaders, we should lead by example and not miss an opportunity to worship God through our planning. Worship planning does not have to be purely logical and systematic. We can invite the Holy Spirit to move even in our preparation.
IV It’s More than Music
The title “worship leader” can be synonymous with music leader, but there are many more worship pathways than just music. Not all are meant for corporate worship, but finding opportunities to appropriately use video, drama, visual art, and dance can allow other members of your church to worship in a way they connect with as much as you connect through music. Remember that whatever you add, whether it be a motion background video behind lyrics, or someone painting during a featured song, it should not be separated from the rest of the service elements, but be integrated into the overall plan of directing focus to God.
V Use Tools of the Trade
One of my friends who went to Mexico with me enjoys planning trips almost as much as going on them. Most of us don’t have that problem. Fortunately, there are an abundance of tools, many of them available online, solely created to help you plan and organize your worship services and communicate with your teams. Take advantage of those resources and let them do the heavy lifting for you.
The stakes don’t get much higher than leading people to worship the God of the universe. By honing all aspects of our skills, including the ones that are implemented before anyone steps foot in the sanctuary, we prepare ourselves and our congregations to experience a focused and direct line to God, no harness necessary