Although our friend Laura has been leading worship for a relatively short time, she comes to this from a background in choral music in a more liturgical setting, so many of the modern worship songs and gospel hymns that are familiar to Evangelicals have been to new to her. With that perspective, her approach to leading in our home church is always marked by a careful choosing of songs, crafting original readings, and a most-evident continuity of theme.
She was asked recently to write about the song selection process — the always challenging and even mysterious part of worship leading to those who have never done it — and we got her permission to use this here at Thinking Out Loud. I really appreciated how she was able to cut to the core issues; the things that matter. I hope you’ll copy the link for this and send it to anyone who chooses the music for any sized event at your church.
Planning A Worship Set
by Laura Steen
In scripture, we are instructed to teach “using psalms, hymns and songs from the spirit, and to sing with gratitude in our hearts” (Colossians 3:16). How, then, do we plan a worship set that will set the spirit free, and make hearts thankful and ready to receive God’s word? How do we become organized, yet flow in the spirit? How do we work within the tension of careful preparation and spontaneity?
Prayer – the most important planning element. We enter into prayer as we think about the needs within the congregation and songs that may speak to those needs. We ask ourselves … is there a theme we need to work with, is there something in the message that needs to be reinforced through the music, do people just need to know God’s heart? It is amazing where answers come from … other people, scripture, books we are reading, or messages we have heard. We pray for preparation in our own hearts so that we can enter into worship and connect the hearts of God’s people with Him.
Song Selection – easier said than done. There are so many songs to choose from! Once prayer has given us a clear focus for the set, this process unfolds. We keep in mind several other items; are the words meaningful and scripturally based, are they right for the voices and instruments we have to work with, do they move us from praise to worship of our God?
Transitions – important smaller details. These create a natural flow through the worship set, often assisting in freeing the spirit. Scriptures, prayers, readings, heartfelt words or images are used to offer encouragement. Sometimes, a planned pause can speak volumes! Images, too, can speak a thousand words.
Practice – it isn’t about perfection, but rather to prepare the leader and team to work together and to create an arrangement that works for the songs. It isn’t just about technicalities, it’s a process that frees us to discover what works best for the song – voices, harmonies, instruments. Practice roots us in the purpose of our leadership and prepares us for the unexpected. We want people to feel freed to worship as the spirit moves them.<
And finally, Gratitude – we are grateful to be able to be used by God for the purpose of preparing hearts, freeing the spirit and encouraging others … and, while the planning takes time, there is so much joy in making music for God and his people!