I see my role as a “Worship Pastor that uses music (art) as a tool to help others worship.” This is what I keep in mind from week to week as I prepare for each Sunday—aware that my preparation will greatly affect the participation of the congregation.
Including the word “performance” in any discussion on worship leading is controversial to some perhaps, but I think we have to acknowledge that leading worship has aspects of performance. It’s naive or dishonest to pretend there is no element of performance when we walk out onto a platform or stage in front of others. How this comes across depends a lot on our temperament, style, and tradition. Some will come across understated or unpretentious. However, that is a “style” of performance nonetheless (Think Bob Dylan or Bon Iver). The other side of the spectrum would be perhaps high energy, scripted, or “produced.”
One Heart, Many Styles
Take a moment and consider the diversity of worship expression from John Mark McMillan, Hillsong United, Gungor, Israel Houghton, Brooklyn Tabernacle, and so on. They are all expressions of worship that require an intentional choice or approach to their presentation and style. Our preparation involves so many aspects. From mentally rehearsing the opening moments to how the setlist might end. Let’s consider a few elements that I believe are critical to effective preparation.
Preparing to Host
Our role requires thought on “how to start the meeting.” Quite often this will set the tone for the rest of the service.
Similar to hosting a dinner party, I see myself as a chef, a waiter, or an “Italian uncle” who warmly greets family and guests entering my house, welcoming people of all ages and backgrounds. I ask myself, “What elements of this family meal do they need to partake of, or participate in?” and “How can we—as a unified team— create an environment that will make it easy for participants to let their guard down and reach out to the Lord with their heart, soul, mind, and actions?”
This environment is created through the prayerful and artful consideration of things like the color of the room, the lighting— which is so crucial to setting the mood or creating an atmosphere—the graphics, the fonts, the temperature of the room, and of course … the music.
Did you know our podcast recently covered this topic of performance versus worship?
I practice the songs myself before rehearsal, striving to memorize them so that I’m not just blazing through a setlist but I have taken the time to prayerfully digest the themes, lyrics, and technical aspects of playing with proficiency.
Musical preparation will help you stay tuned to the congregation from song to song, like a barometer, “taking the temperature” of the room and adjusting accordingly. “Anticipate” where you think things are heading. Depending on your tradition, it’s common to say “where the Sprit leads” or “following the Spirit.” For some, that language is foreign because they primarily are used to “leading songs”; however, there is without a doubt, a dynamic of learning to discern the moment or moments in the midst of a set.
Sometimes our plan or setlist looks good on paper, but as you’re standing there in the moment, you learn from experience to wait, linger, drop a song, or move into a song you hadn’t planned. This may cause quite a stir with your AV/Tech team, however in my opinion all the elements of the service should “serve” the moment. I believe that this intuitive sensitivity can be acquired over time as you memorize Scripture and prayerfully ponder the lyrics to worship songs as you practice worshiping the Lord in private.
As you can tell there is much spiritual groundwork going on as well as we prepare each week for our Sunday “performance.” Often those who lead worship share with me that they struggle with “worshiping God” as they lead others in worship because they are so preoccupied with all the mechanics of performing. This is very normal. It takes time, even years, to hone some of the skills that at some point in your journey will become second nature—allowing you to relax and become more aware of what is “happening” in the room at the moment.
Knowing the Time
When serving a table, it’s not the time for the waiter to sit, eat, and enjoy a meal. It is a time to serve. Likewise, we must take the time throughout the week to feed our own souls—feasting on Scripture, worship songs, reflection, prayerful planning, and so on. Then we come to our time of performing and out of the overflow of our time spent preparing, a sincere, authentic expression of love for our God and for the people he has called us to serve is shared.