“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Hebrews 12:22-24
CONSIDER FOR A MOMENT THE AWESOME RESPONSIBILITY OF PREPARING TO LEAD THE CHURCH INTO THE PRESENCE OF GOD, INTO THE VERY THRONE ROOM OF HEAVEN. Have you ever seen a song leader thumbing through the hymnal scribbling down numbers a few minutes before worship? Perhaps you’ve even done so yourself. Or maybe you do spend an hour or two of preparation Saturday night or Sunday morning. If your church requires the songs to be finalized for your bulletin or slide creation, you might get it done early in the week and even have time to go through the songs for a couple of practice rounds. But have you stopped to think about what you’re preparing to do? On Sunday morning, you will be leading God’s people into his awesome presence to offer worship. Wow! Worship leaders are blessed with a tremendous responsibility and opportunity to serve.
The Bible says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). But that’s just talking about preachers, right? Have you considered that worship leaders are responsible for preparing a spiritual message that will be spoken both to God and for the edification of his church? Worship leaders are responsible for vetting the lyrics of the songs we lead for biblical accuracy. We are also responsible for arranging the worship in a way that will effectively communicate. Just any random list of songs will not do much to praise or edify, if for no other reason than the human mind’s inability to stay intellectually and emotionally engaged without a focused theme. Studies have shown that in order for a message to be fully processed intellectually and emotionally, the human mind needs to stay focused for at least a few minutes. Otherwise, we find ourselves unable to remember what we have just finished singing. Our hearts are not changed by random worship, God is not glorified, and it’s questionable whether we’ve even worshiped at all. Conversely, a well planned worship service can aid the church in worshiping in spirit and in truth to the glory of God.
In this posting I am sharing a basic process for preparing to lead the church into God’s presence. You may decide to prepare differently based upon your church culture, format, and your own ability. Some people are able to memorize everything with no need to make notes or outlines. That’s fine for those who are so blessed. Find a system that works for you to enable you to lead the church in God glorifying, life changing worship. The end goal is to be so well prepared that you are able to put all the details on autopilot and focus on worshiping God yourself. It’s not about being as talented as someone else, but if you are one of the people in your local fellowship who is gifted in the area of worship leading, then you are accountable for being the best you can be. Note that some have decided to just not sweat the details believing God doesn’t care about the physical aspects of worship. My judgment is that God enjoys when we give our best as our sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). The heart is first, but I believe our creative God loves good music just as much as we do – he created singing and he commanded singing, after all. More importantly, when we fumble through the music or get the pitch too high or low, other people are distracted and hindered from worshiping by the worship leader’s lack of skill or preparation. No, it’s not a performance; worship is far more significant than a performance – it’s an offering to God.
Consider the following process for inspiration as you develop your own system for preparation that works best for you and your local church. Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments. I would love to hear what works for you where you worship! As a guideline, expect to invest 6-10 hours of preparation for a single service.
- Coordinate with preacher on sermon topic, text, and main points
- Determine a theme that relates to the sermon topic or alternate theme as appropriate
- Determine order of worship guidelines
- Select a list of all possible songs, don’t filter yet
- Study lyrics and music to determine best fit in worship, variety of pitch/tempo, verses, choruses, and medleys to use
- Prepare first draft of order of worship
- Prepare worship mood transition chart (example image below)
- Sing through once to determine feel and flow
- Provide to preacher to ensure congregation knows the songs and to get his input – you are a team
- Make adjustments as needed
- Prepare worship portfolio with all song scores in order
- Visualize and meditate upon each song and each phrase of each song to internalize the meaning and emotion, as well as validate theological and doctrinal accuracy
- Determine and mark interpretation and order of worship reminder notes on scores
- Sing through once more to finalize all aspects of worship
- Prepare slides including adding visual/text cues where helpful
- Sing through with just the slides to ensure they are all in order
- Provide slides to technology booth manager – if someone else builds your slides for you, you need to review every single slide
- Think about the small nuances for your local church such as accommodating those in nursery or training rooms
- Practice all aspects of leading including conducting, vocal production, memorization of music and lyrics, interpretation, and emoting including mirror practice time
- Increase hydration several days prior
- Stretch and do vocal warmups
The following is an example of a worship service I recently prepared for my local church on a Sunday morning.
Theme: Glorify the Lord with One Voice
Text: Romans 15:5-13
- Song – 578 We Will Glorify (E-3)(1, 2, 4)(Mic only) – Call to Worship
- Song – 75 I Sing The Mighty Power of God (Bb-4)(1, 2) – Praise
- Song – 238 You Are The Song That I Sing (F-4)(1) – Praise
- Song – 350 When My Love To Christ Grows Weak (C-3)(1, 2, 4, 5) – Lord’s Supper
- Song – 76 How Great Thou Art (Bb-4)(c, 3, c) – Lord’s Supper
- Lord’s Supper
- Song – 76 How Great Thou Art (Bb-4)(4, c) – Relief
- Song – Medley: 608 He Gave Me A Song (C-4)(1, c) / 747 Sing On, Ye Joyful Pilgrims (F-4)(1, c, 2, c) / 121 Come Let Us All Unite To Sing (D-4)(1, 3, c)(STAND) – Sermon Theme
- Scripture (STAND) – Romans 15:5-13
- Sermon – The Church – It’s Singing
- Song – 791 On Bended Knee (F-4)(1, 2) (STAND) – Call to Respond
- Song – 309 In My Life, Lord, Be Glorified (D-4)(1, 2, 3) – Song of Sending
- Closing Prayer
The Worship mood transition chart is a simple way of planning for smooth transitions from meditation and prayerful segments to praise and celebration. The goal is to avoid a flat or jerky service. Often, the order of worship is not ideal and not entirely within your control. For example, having a long meditative prayer right in the beginning of the worship interrupts an upbeat praise segment. You might work with your church leadership to vary the order of worship depending upon the purpose and goals of your particular service you are planning. There is no one correct order, flow, or mood. It should vary based upon the theme and the current mood of the local congregation.
God bless you as you lead his people in praise!
Lord, we come before Thee now;
At Thy feet we humbly bow.
O do not our suit disdain!
Shall we seek Thee, Lord, in vain?
Shall we seek thee, Lord, in vain?
WILLIAM HAMMOND (1745)