A few months ago I was planning a worship set when I was immediately hit with a huge reality check. The pastor who was to be preaching that Sunday had given me the passage he would be preaching from, and he had even laid out a roadmap of the service order for me. My job, like most worship leaders, was to come up with the liturgy, or service, for that day including songs, flow, and a call to worship; all with the purpose of pointing the congregation to the glory of Christ.
To be completely honest though, as I sat there I had this huge temptation to just throw songs together flippantly. I would say to myself, “ah this song works really well up front because of the tempo,” or “these two songs go great together because of the keys… they’re kind of unrelated topically, but it will work,” or “let’s just sing “Man of Sorrows,” - our people go crazy with that one!”
In that moment I believe the Spirit brought huge conviction over me, not only because I felt my time of worship planning was done in vain, but because the reality hit me once again that the worship of God is a serious thing.
How Do We Plan?
This brought up a huge question, which I think is very important for worship leaders to ponder and that is: how do we effectively plan worship sets and services for our people? Is our planning done with purpose, care and intentionality? If we’re honest, many of us can throw songs together for a service, with no problem. Even more profound is that most of us can pull off a great set on the spot, complete with seamless transitions and excellent leadership.
But, are we missing something when we don’t labor each week over the liturgy that our people sing and respond with in worship? As worship leaders we have the tremendous responsibility to not only sing the praises of God but to shepherd our people to behold the glory of God by reminding them of the Gospel over and over. Our reminding should encompass the entire story of salvation, from who God is, to who we are and to who Christ is. Our goal as worship leaders should be to take our people on a road of celebration, a liturgical journey that reminds the saints of who Christ is and what He’s done for us.
We must continue to preach the Gospel through song to those who already know it and rest in it.
So what are some practical ways we can accomplish this so that our weekly worship planning is not mundane but done with intentionality and excellence? As I have prayed through and experienced these things myself through the years, I believe there are 3 specific rhythms we should have in order to create services that remind and saturate our people’s hearts with the Gospel as they worship.
The biggest and most crucial part to our worship planning has to be prayer. In Ephesians 1:13 Paul reminds the churches in Ephesus that “In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the one who brings to mind the Gospel of your salvation. He is the seal of redemption working to glorify the Son in all things. If we are to lead our people to worship Christ then it is absolutely crucial to pray that the Holy Spirit would lead us as we come up with songs, scriptures and calls to worship. Praying for direction each week is by far the best way for us to properly posture ourselves in order for the Lord to impress upon our hearts what He wants and not necessarily what we think would work best.
Often times the pastor who is preaching will give a specific scripture passage he will be preaching out of. We should then thoroughly read through and meditate on the passage, as well as conduct some theological research of our own. Labor to find parallel scripture verses that relate to the passage, look at commentaries, and try to gather as much context as you can. Then as you set out to plan songs and flow, challenge yourself to think about how you can best tell the Gospel story in that context.
I experienced this recently as I was preparing to lead at a church in College Station, TX. The pastor told me he was going to be preaching on prayer from Luke 11:5-13. As I was reading, verse 9 really stood out to me which says, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Certain songs and scriptures came to mind that had to deal with seeking the Lord, resting in Him, and trusting in Him. Specific lyrics from songs like “Cornerstone - my hope is built on nothing less…I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name” as well as “Jesus is Better - in all my sorrows, Jesus is Better, make my heart believe” are great examples. These songs would fit perfectly in helping to not only support the passage he was preaching, but also to remind the worshiper of God’s unfailing love, and that we can seek and trust Him because He first loved us.
The point here is to really labor through the passage by asking yourself, “what is this passage saying, what is the Lord speaking to me, what does He want to say to His people?”
The last part is the preparation of the set. Now that you’ve compiled all your songs and scripture passages, it is time to combine them together in a way which flows with excellence and a sense of intentionality. Having a “Call to Worship” at the beginning of a set or perhaps after the first song is a great way to point the congregation to look to Jesus. Psalm 100 for example is a great passage to help set the tone for what the saints are there for, to lift up the name of Jesus through song.
It’s also helpful to go ahead and think through transitions, even before Sunday morning rehearsal! One of the best ways to keep people engaged and focused on Christ is to have seamless transitions between songs. Think creatively through each transition so that the flow between songs is non-distracting and done with intentionality and excellence. Labor (there's that word again!) to think through the best ways to communicate all of this to your band members when it’s time to rehearse. Your preparation beforehand will prove to be extremely beneficial in creating a service that points people to Jesus.
In all of these things, our end goal is to clearly preach the Gospel through the services we create. Our calling as worship leaders is to shepherd the people of God by consistently preaching the Gospel through song, even to those who already know it. Teach your people and be intentional with creating sets and liturgies that not only remind them of the hope of the Gospel, but also point people’s affections to respond to the magnificence of Christ.