C.S. Lewis said that "it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men." As Worship Leaders and planners, we have an incredibly unique opportunity to facilitate experiences where others can encounter God - where they acknowledge, listen to, praise, and respond to him. If the Westminster Confession is correct that "the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever," then we play a critical part in connecting people with the very meaning of life! Obviously, this is no small thing. We should only presume to plan and lead as we do with a sense of reverence, and of the weightiness of what we strive for. As the proverb says, "Only fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
I have compiled below a comprehensive set of guidelines for worship set planning, to ensure that week-to-week and season-to-season, the leaders and bands of LPOT are working towards the same goals - chiefly, facilitating encounters with God. These guidelines are bound to evolve over time, but hopefully we can journey together from this common ground.
- The Worship Leader's primary responsibility is to guide people on a journey of engagement with God; that is, acknowledging, listening to, praising, and responding to Him - our worship sets should reflect and facilitate that
- Keep adjacent songs in the same key, or in complementary keys whenever possible (separated by a 4th [e.g. G to C, E to A, etc])
- Big Idea-centric songs should be favored whenever possible. Songs that were brainstormed in the Big Idea Factory will be on Planning Center in the "Possible Songs" category.
- Don't be afraid of repetition - it's one of the best ways to help people engage; repeat sections of songs within a set, and repeat songs from week to week to keep them fresh.
- WLers are trying to strike a balance between planning & spontaneity, so song sets should be well conceived and thoughtful, but with space and flexibility built in to allow for on-the-fly changes, repetitions, listening, etc.
- Choose songs with your ensemble in mind. Some songs just don't work very well in acoustic instrumentation, at least not without a thoughtful, creative re-imagining. Don't count on it just "working" when your instrumentation widely varies from the original arrangement or recording.
- "Roots & wings" – balance songs and lyrics that root us in our historic faith tradition (Psalm texts, older hymns) with songs reflective of God making all things new - new songs from new contexts expressing timeless truths in new ways.
- Ideally, every week there would be at least one guy-led song, and at least one girl-led song; the closer we can get to 50/50, the better.
- Avoid the Song→PAUSE→Song→PAUSE→Song dynamic by making use of well-thought-out transitions, including any of the following:
- Prayer that riffs on a theme from the previous song and/or following song (pre-planned prayers are USUALLY better, especially for those prone to being long-winded, or those not particularly comfortable speaking/praying off-the-cuff!)
- Short scripture reading, followed by a brief prayer
- Synth Pad in the key of the next song
- Seamless move from one song to the next (cut Outros/Intros)
- Responsive prayer/reading
- Repetition of a section from a song at a lower energy (slower tempo, lower dynamics) as a transition to a lower energy song
- 3-4 songs – think of these 25 minutes or so as a single, cohesive unit; like different threads being woven together into a tapestry
- Opening with a 3-4 minute fun, instrumental Jam/Prelude is never out of place, and can help keep the 1st worship tune from being a throw-away. It can often help get the room "warmed up", and provide the time needed to get more of a critical mass of people in the room before we [attempt to] lead the church in focused, participatory worship. However, this will never substitute for discipling our people to show up on-time, already worshipping God.
- Consider the overall spiritual/thematic progression of the set, and plan to move from:
- Songs ABOUT God→Songs TO God
- Psalms→hymns→spiritual songs
- Tabernacle model: Praise→Thanksgiving→Sacrifice→Prayer→Awestruck Worship
- The categories on Songs for LPOT ("Opener," "2nd/3rd Song," "Moment Song") generally conform to these progressions
- Communion is an ideal spot to introduce new songs
- Because we are trying to make Prayer Team more of a thing, we need to plan music that facilitates (or at least that doesn't distract from) prayer happening during Communion
- As such, let's plan on the new default mode for Communion being minimalist/acoustic, perhaps even just a single voice and instrument (make use of viola whenever possible - who doesn't feel compelled to pray when they hear the viola??); let's work hard to keep this from becoming either a throw-away moment, or musically sappy or cheeseball - well executed vocals are KEY
- For a closer, any of the following are workable:
- Reprise an earlier song, especially one that's Big Idea-centric, still in minimalist/acoustic mode
- Bring the band back up for a response song (songs from the "Closer/Response" bucket on Songs for LPOT are well-suited) - though beware the transition!
- Should be singable and familiar (no new songs in the Closer slot)
It would be easy to reduce all of this to a set of rules, or to a formula, and to negate the thoughtful, sensitive PRAYER that is absolutely necessary if we are to lead and plan well. These guidelines can and should work hand-in-hand with that which only comes when we submit ourselves to the Lord. Let me be very clear: at SOME point early on in your planning for any given week, you should get on your knees, worship Jesus, and ask him what he wants you to do. If you get clear, specific guidance - great! If not, carry on with a measured, thoughtful approach to the plan, but always with an openness, and an open-handedness to the Spirit's leading.
Leave your comments and thoughts below!