Think back to a time in worship where just as you were connecting with a certain song it suddenly came to a close. Bummer right? But now think back to a time where you sang a song to death and the worship leader or team continued to repeat the song in its entirety or just a single chorus over and over while your singing became less enthusiastic and your thumb twiddling and fidgeting became more aggressive. Which is worse? As worship pastors and team members we walk a fine line between “not enough” and “way too much.”
As a worship pastor it can be hard to be “in the moment” but yet remain conscious of what we are doing and our purposes or motives behind our actions. We must surrender ourselves to the Lord and the guidance of the Spirit in our leading, but remain vigilant and discerning of what is happening around us. To whom much is given much can certainly be expected.
In what ways can we as leaders equip ourselves to follow the Spirit where it leads in worship and prevent the common “overplayed” chorus. Below I will provide a few ideas, this list definitely isn’t exhaustive but I have found these particular methods to be effective.
- Be open to be flexible.
As lead worshippers we sculpt a service by what we say and do. We must be open to be flexible and be prepared to pursue the Lord where He leads us. In the end, worship isn’t about us anyways. Being flexible may mean cutting a particular song last minute that we rehearsed perfectly, or that fits our particular voice wonderfully. We may not get to play that killer lick that we worked so diligently to learn. It’ okay. Be faithful to follow… although we are labeled as leaders we are really just the lead followers in God’s eyes, shepherds to His sheep.
- Change it up.
Sure, we can repeat choruses! I have done it many times myself actually, but we need to be able to allow our congregations time to think about what they are singing and not just give them amble opportunity to learn a particular melody or a few lines to a song with little or no thought. The same chorus doesn’t have to always be played or repeated in the same way. A few good ways of repeating a chorus or section of a song without it becoming monotonous is to change the way we are playing it. Build a “soundscape” or provide variety through the way you play. Get comfortable with your team and be easy to follow. Possibly, go a cappella for a time or allow the instruments to slow or decrease in volume until a time comes to build back up. Create a “moment” as a dear seminary professor of mine would say.
- Be prepared for the unexpected.
You may ask… how does this even make sense? I can’t be prepared for something that I am unaware of or not expecting. In this case I think you can be. Know more songs than just what you are playing in a particular week. I prefer to memorize songs for my services so that I can come back to them as needed without rummaging through a binder, music stand, or filing cabinet. We also need to prepare ourselves and our teams to follow the Spirit by making song keys well known before each service so that everyone is on the same page if a sudden change is made, or a song needs to be added to a service. Having backup or “pocket” songs or choruses in each key is also not a bad idea so in most cases our team members can have an idea of where we are going before we even go there. Remember to equip your media and technical teams for these situations as well.
- Use Scripture.
This may seem extremely obvious, and I hope that it does, but too often we lace our statements made in transition or throughout our worship services with “nifty” little sayings or “church talk” that literally means nothing to most people. Beautiful speech without the Gospel does nothing to affect lives. Use the Word of God to bring to light the Gospel found throughout the songs that we sing and the Words that we say. The Bible can speak for itself if we would only make room and let it. The practical side of this is something that scares most people, but we need to learn and memorize the Word of God. We must “store up the Word in our hearts” as the Psalmist says in 119. The use of Scripture in our worship services and structures creates an opportunity to plan scripture guided worship services instead of “trendy” or culturally relevant ones. Seek to lead out songs that portray and shape the Gospel correctly for your congregation week in and week out and use the Gospel throughout to bring to light the messages in the songs that we sing and how they point us to Christ.
- Be discerning.
With the job of leading worship comes many responsibilities. We must be aware of the Spirit while remaining aware of our environment. We can tell when our congregations have just had “enough” of a song or chorus and when they are truly connecting. We must worship God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24) and lead others in that type of worship. We must be discerning of what is happening around us. We can plan all we want, but this is where the rubber meets the road. Seek God diligently in your personal worship time and in your planning time for services. Ask God to invade every aspect of your worship and be faithful to follow Him. When we seek the Lord and truthfully desire His guidance we can lead with the confidence that He will lead and guide us according to His will.
Ultimately, God’s desire is to use us according to His purposes, and we must be willing, available, and faithful to follow Him wherever He leads. Let’s commit ourselves to being uncomfortable for His name’s sake and not just settling for another chorus. Let’s not take the easy way out by thoughtlessly playing the same thing in the same way time after time. Let’s also commit ourselves to placing the needs and preferences of our congregations above our own, and to challenging them through the Gospel and the songs that we sing.