Leading praise and worship usually requires a play list is the list of songs that you work off on any given morning. It is different for every church, and every worship leader, and it is acceptable to have your own style when it comes to worship. So, while I recognize that my opinion is not necessarily gospel, here’s some suggestions based on my experience leading worship. Feel free to agree, disagree, throw tomatoes or ignore my advice, but ask the Lord to show you the way He wants to see the service run.
Leading Praise and Worship in an Orderly Way…
a. Decide how long your worship is to run: Obviously, this will have a major bearing on the number of songs that you can choose. So, it is quite useless to select 15 songs for a 15 minute worship time. Consult the pastor as to how long he wants you to be, and then STICK TO YOUR TIME! In general, charismatic churches will sing for longer, say 30-40 minutes, while some churches may only sing for 15-20 minutes (for example, if the entire service is one hour or less in length).
For the record, when leading praise and worship I generally budget on 5 minutes per song, and then my times are pretty close.
b. Avoid breaking up the songs with other items: The way you structure the worship service indicates your attitude to worship. If you consider worship to be simply singing, then by all means break it up with whatever you want. Sing a song, have a welcome. Sing a song, have announcements. Sing a song, have an item. Sing a song, have a missionary spot. Sing a song, have an offering. Sing a song, have communion, etc. etc.
Obviously with this set up, there is zero chance of you relaxing and pressing into worship, because you never do it long enough without a distraction.
So, my suggestion is put all the extraneous stuff in one spot. Why not start with a couple of songs, then break for all the announcements, items, offerings, etc., all on the one break and follow that up with a good, solid 3 or 4 songs of worship. Then the people have a great chance to enter into the presence of God.
1. Praise: Most often I will do 1-3 praise songs. These tend to be lively, up tempo, rocky songs designed to be fun, full on expressions of love towards the Lord. They also help people to leave behind the cares of getting to church, the screaming kids, the cranky spouse, the overnight football scores or the mortgage payments, and focus their attention on the Lord. Most people cannot dive straight in and worship the Lord intimately, so these songs give them a chance to just relax, enjoy and, hopefully, praise God with real joy and gusto.
Now, if your church is a screaming, chandelier swinging, Holy Ghost Revival Pentecostal church, full of deaf young rockers who love loud, screaming music, you may want to do a lot more loud praise songs. Then again, your church could be quiet, stayed and full of over 80 year olds, in which case you may want to do one moderate song and move straight into worship. Sound out your pastor; think about it, and above all, PRAY ABOUT WHICH SONGS GOD WANTS YOU TO DO!
I am definitely against formulas in worship (3 fast, 2 slow, etc.), and we humans are really good at providing the formula for success, often at the expense of whatever the Lord is doing. Do not be frightened to completely dispense with the fast, boppy section, and move straight into the next section.
2. Worship: My favourite part of worship is the deep stuff, the quiet stuff, the times of intimacy with God. And as the song says, let’s get back to the heart of worship: it’s all about You, Jesus! Concerning worship I would make the following suggestions:
a) It doesn’t have to be soft: It may be quiet and intimate, or a power ballad! Sometimes you can build to a crescendo, while at other times you can be gentle and intimate. For suggestions of how to do this, see the chapters on style and modulation. Think about the flow of the Spirit, feel it and follow the leading of the Spirit. That way you will truly have an anointed worship time.
b) Let the songs progress: Personal song: starting with personal songs (those which use the pronouns I, me) and leading to songs that focus solely on the Lord. Songs with I/Me in them are not only personal but allow the people to respond to the Lord and open their hearts to Him. This should lead on to the ultimate goal of worship. You should be aiming to flow from one song to the next seamlessly, as you gently lead people into a deep experience with the Lord.
c) Let the songs progress: High Worship or Praise: These are songs that forget about you, the person, or I/Me, and turn towards or concentrate solely on the Lord. Many hymns are fantastic for this. Unfortunately, there are few modern worship songs that are like this. Some older ones which illustrate the sort of song I am talking about are “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, “Holy Ground”, “Hallelujah” and “He is Lord”. Michael W. Smith’s beautiful worship hymn “Agnus Dei” is a great song for high praise.
d) Open or Free Worship: For some this is very scary, while for others completely natural. This occurs when people begin to praise God in their own way, without structure or (and note this) direction from the front. God, being a creative God, loves it when we present to Him a spontaneous song from the heart, just as we parents love to hear the songs our kids make up.
This is not everyone’s cup of tea, and neither is it for every church, but the Lord may just do this one day and surprise you! Let’s be open, but not force it. Through the years I have seen some sensational examples of Open worship, and some phenomenal abuses of it. I have devoted a whole chapter to this area later in the book.
When leading Praise and Worship, AVOID SPEAKING!!!
Worship leaders, if you get nothing else from this book, then get this: don’t talk too much! Your job is to lead worship, not preach, so please spare the congregation and do what you are appointed and anointed to do. When leading worship, I like to think of John 3:30. I try to become less and let Him become more. My experience is that, if we panic at any point, or are uncomfortable, or if things are not quite right, our first tendency is to start speaking. Please, please, please avoid this!
This is especially true for those of you who lead without playing an instrument, because the voice is the only thing you have! If you lead without playing, then you must have a close relationship with your musicians, especially the piano and/or the guitar. Speak to them, direct them, but I still caution you about filling every gap with your words, your opinions, your experiences and your voice.
It is tempting to read a long passage of Scripture, say a long prayer or have a long chat about how we should all be worshiping the Lord, but again I beg you, please avoid this. D.L. Moody once said, very appropriately, “most prayers should be cut short at either end and set on fire in the middle!” SO, I am not saying you can never pray, share a verse, etc., but please only share what you know the Lord wants you to share, and avoid long speeches. Better to sing, have passages of music or even silence. I believe that any speaking tends to distract from focusing on the Lord, and I have witnessed on countless occasions a lovely spirit of worship extinguished by a well meaning worship leader who breaks people’s concentration by talking too often.
Recently one of my worship leaders complained that I had basically demoted him from a worship leader to a song leader, because I won’t let him talk incessantly through his leading of the service. I told him I strongly disagree, and that he is confusing what he has to say with worship. I had received numerous complaints about his excessive talking during worship, and many, indeed most people believe that the best worship times are when the leader says nothing and GOD MAKES IT HAPPEN! I don’t believe throwing your 2 cents in is worship. You are far better to stand back and let God have his way!
Choosing Song Keys
When choosing a song list, I never simply base my choice on song titles or words, but always take into consideration the keys of the songs. I always like to be able to flow from one song to the next easily, and having appropriate key helps immensely!
A favourite of mine is to start with songs in F, then go to songs in G, and then A. If a song is written in F, then I might do a repeat of the chorus modulating to G, so that I am in the key of G for the next song. Wise use of song keys enables you to flow the entire worship time into one, continuous flow of music, and people can easily be caught up in and lost in the worship of the Lord. It is wonderful to see your people do this!
So if you are leading praise and worship, think about these things and make sure you are leading with purpose!