Fighting off formula

One of the things I find myself regularly struggling with as a worship leader is how to avoid settling into a formula when it comes to planning worship. Honestly, it’s far too easy to do. And there are good reasons for having methods for planning – there are a host of things to consider each week as I plot out a service. For example, here’s a sample of the grid I tend to work from each week:

  • Consider the topic – are there songs that tie in well with the biblical themes being preached on, or that compliment them in some way?
  • Flow – how do we want the service to move along?
  • How do we want the service to “sound?”  What range should the songs be in, and what voices/instruments should be most dominant?
  • Transitions – this takes into account keys, tempos, what instruments start/stop each song, thematic shifts, etc.  How can we minimize “downtime?”
  • At the same time, are we leaving space to allow for the unexpected, i.e. to give the Holy Spirit room to direct with spontaneity?
  • Is the basic truth of the Gospel being preached or sung some at some point in each and every service? Are we including songs that contain the Gospel?
  • Are we doing a good blend of songs that encourage people to worship in spirit as well as in truth?
  • Who is on my team?  What songs work with the style or vibe of music that this team is best at?  Are there certain songs that I should or should not try to pull off with this team?
  • Are there any unusual elements in this week’s service?  Baptisms, announcements, etc.? How will they affect/fit into the flow?

Clearly there are many elements that play a vital role in meaningful service planning.  Yet if I get so focused on my grid and settle into “planning by formula” I have crossed over into dangerous territory where I can very easily miss out on the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Now, of course the Spirit can and does work through the very use of planning to accomplish His work, but there is certainly a line between relying solely on my own devices and operating in obedient submission to His guidance.

I read a great interview/article yesterday from a few Acts 29 worship pastors that contains helpful thoughts on being led by the Spirit in our worship gatherings.  I’ll post a link to the article in its entirety below, but here were some of the main things that I found helpful from their various insights.

1. Know the Spirit

The ability to hear the Holy Spirit comes from knowing Him.  How much time this week have I spent in the Word?  On my knees?  Listening?  Repenting?  Growing?  Rejoicing?  This is my job, after all – I’ve been tasked by my church to cultivate my relationship with God to the point of being able to effectively shepherd our church in the direction of His leading.

2. Listen to the Spirit

Be prepared to go into each gathering listening for the Spirit.  As worship leaders we are often listening for a lot of things while we are leading – tempos, blend, intonation, etc.  Are we just as attentive to where the Spirit may be leading, and ready to respond accordingly?

3. Expect the Spirit

In Acts 4:31, we read how a worship gathering was literally shaken following a time of prayer and worship.  If something like that were to happen in our churches today, would it surprise us?  Most likely. I want to be continually raising the bar of expectation when it comes to seeing the Holy Spirit move in tangible and powerful ways in the worship gatherings I help lead and plan, so that rather than being surprised when the Spirit moves, it’s expected.

The full Acts 29 interview from The Resurgence can be found here.


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