So you’re a new worship leader. You’ve been in the wings, and you’ve seen others do it. You’ve stepped up to the mark, but maybe didn’t realise just how much preparation is required. I myself, only have limited experience, but there are a couple of tips I have picked up along the way.
The best thing you can do before doing anything else is pray. Before you choose songs; pray. Before you practise; pray. Before you play; pray. Without prayer, you’re not including God in the decision making of how the service flows. And without God, you’re just playing songs, not entering into worship.
2. Watch Other Leaders
Firstly have a look at Paul Baloche’s DVD, ‘Leading Worship: Creating Flow‘. In it, he goes through the basics of what you’re trying to create in a worship set, as well as some tools to help with this. One of the things he suggests, is to [pullquote]put together a song chart master, which categorises all the songs your worship team plays into keys and tempo[/pullquote]. I have done this, with all our up tempo songs in the different keys together , and all our slower songs in the different keys together. What this allows you to do is quickly see the songs that might fit around a song that is placed on your heart.
Secondly, have a look at some other church’s DVD’s or service footage, such as Hillsong, Planetshakers, or Jesus Culture. I’m not going to go into whether these guys are good or not, because what they do reaches a lot of people and they’re obviously doing something right somewhere along the line. Watch the worship leader and the different things they do, the connections they make with the other musicians, and how they engage with the people they are leading in worship.
3. Choose what is placed on your heart first, not your favourite song
The temptation is to choose songs that you like. This might because you like it, you are familiar with it, it brings some awesome worship, or many other things. In the first few weeks of worship leading, it is good to have these songs in there, to help you get though. But the first song you should write down is the song that has been placed on your heart. This song (or songs) may have come to you through prayer, or may have been going around in your head for the first part of the week. Once you have this song, you will want to refer to the list mentioned in step 2, to build some songs around it.
4. Begin with Energy
Just like athletes before a race, before they start running, they need to warm up. [pullquote]People, when coming in from their busy weeks, from their thoughts and feelings about life, need to make a transition.[/pullquote] This transition is best made with some more energetic songs at the top, to get the heart pumping, the feet tapping, leaving the worries of the week behind. These praise songs set their heart on God, so that when you hit the slower, more reflective, more worshipful songs, their hearts and minds would have made the switch to be in that better place that they would be able to truly worship.
5. Create More, Talk Less
The temptation can be to over talk through a worship set. Whilst this can sometimes give additional insight into songs which might be valuable, I have found that worship times can be a lot more powerful when space is created, allowing people to connect with their God in their own way, rather than having to listen to the worship leader talking about this and that. [pullquote]God can talk so much more in the still, quiet space[/pullquote] created by the worship team than he can by the few humble words you might be tempted to share.
6. Make it Flow
In Paul Baloche’s DVD, as mentioned, it talks about creating flow. Creating flow is to eliminate distractions that pull people out of the atmosphere of worship. Sudden changes in key, or stoppages between songs can do this with relative ease. By choosing songs in the same key, or at the very least, in the same family of keys (D,C,G and A,E,B), it allows the music to flow between songs easily, and create space between the songs. I firmly believe that this can make or break a worship set. It is the difference between a worship set that works, or songs that you struggle through. Often songs that are all in different keys have been chosen based on their popularity, or because you’ve tried to make them all fit into a theme.
7. Be Flexible
By far the hardest thing to do is to be flexible. Often songs are done in a certain way; the way they’ve always been done. But if you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got. Let your musicians know that you want to keep options open in a song or two, to either pull the song right back, add in some space, or head back into a verse or bridge. [pullquote]When you practise, rather than just running through the song, you should practise going to and from different parts of the song[/pullquote] (making sure you let the musicians where you’re going of course) and see how it goes. It can be daunting at first, especially if you don’t play an instrument yourself, but with practise, this can be invaluable in a worship set where God wants just a little bit more.
The other part of being flexible is that sometimes the songs just don’t work in the order you thought, or in fact, a song doesn’t work at all in the set and needs to be replaced. Don’t take it personally. And don’t be stubborn and try and hold onto it. Let it go and either find a replacement, or re-arrange the other songs. Even if it’s the song that was placed on your heart at the start of the week (See Step 3), don’t be afraid to cull it, because if it’s not working, maybe it was meant for another service – or maybe it was meant just for you.
Hopefully this article gives you a bit of a head start in your first few sets as a worship leader. At the end of the day, if God is involved, His hand will be on the service, and all will go well. Deep breaths. Quick Prayer. Amen.
You may also like to read this article by David Santistevan