When you are leading praise and worship one of the key questions you face, indeed one of the greatest sources of criticism for worship leaders in general, is how long the worship time should go for? A second and related question is, “How long should you leave people standing?”, which will be deal with in another post.

leading praise and worshipDifferent Views of Leading Praise and Worship

The first thing to point out is that those of us who are leading praise and worship come from a different perspective to most of the congregation, and also the pastor. We love to worship, it is our passion and that’s why we became worship leaders in the first place, so as far as we are concerned, long worship times are just fine. However, not all the people in church share our enthusiasm or passion for leading praise and worship, so for many of them the worship time is the preliminary act to the main show, which is the preaching. Most pastors feel this way too, because to their perspective, the preaching is the main part of the service.

When you are called to leading praise and worship you may think that your most important role is to lead people into worship. That’s not strictly true: it is your main role, but it is not the most important role! The most important role is to serve, the Lord, the pastor and the congregation. So, as a general principle, if a large number of your congregation, and your pastor think the worship service was too long, then it probably was!

I have written hundreds of pages on leading praise and worship in my manual “Worship In A Nutshell,” to teach practical, useful and easy to apply techniques that will transform your worship leading starting the very next time you lead. I would now like to share an extract of that discussing this very issue…

Leading Praise and Worship Services of the Right Length

While we all want to be flexible enough to allow the Lord to work in our church service, we cannot escape the fact that everyone has an opinion as to how long a worship service should be. Be aware that those leading praise and worship and musicians will always think it needs to be longer, while many of the congregation believe it ought to be shorter. Most churches I visit have very long worship times, which resemble endurance tests or in some cases even torture as people are made to stand with their hands in the air for hours.

To sit during one of these sessions seems to convey either weakness of lack of spirituality! The reality is it probably conveys cramps and commonsense. Any fool could see that this is not appropriate, but apparently not some worship leaders, who continue to drag out worship times to the max.

I once ministered at Hills Christian Life Center, the Mecca for Aussie musicians (do we all face Hills when we pray?), and saw Darlene lead worship. It lasted 20-25 minutes. Shock, amazement! They were straight into the Lord’s presence from the first song, and they did not labor the worship as some do for over an hour. This should speak volumes to those of us who lead worship. Worship needs to be ENJOYED, not ENDURED!

So, in the name of time management and common sense, here are a few ideas on timing in worship:

Tips For Leading Praise and Worship Services that Are Not Too Long

1. Start on time when leading praise and worship:

Regardless of how many or how few are in the room, START ON TIME. This may not be applicable in some 3rd world situations when people travel hours on foot to be there, but for the rest of us, let’s get it right and start on time. It is not a performance, and you are doing this as unto the Lord, so it should make little difference how many are in the room. To start late and then encroach on the pastor’s sermon time is an affront to the pastor.

2. Be prepared to reduce the length of the worship time.

You are there to be a servant, not a star, so always be the first to volunteer to cut back. If something else goes overtime, you should volunteer to reduce what you are doing. When I lead worship at Bill Newman meetings, if time is tight I am always the first to volunteer to cut back, because that’s what real servants do! And, at least half the time, Bill kindly refuses the offer and asks me to sing my full quota of songs. You see, there is a blessing in serving a Man of God!

3. Have a couple of songs up your sleeve:

It is often a good idea to have a couple of songs in reserve, just in case you need them. So, when you choose the songs for the service, you don’t have to play them all!

4. Don’t get locked into a program when leading praise and worship

Be flexible enough to change songs, cut songs or even add songs if the Spirit permits. I am always wary of the printed orders of service. Sometimes they are timed, which is even scarier! Now, I know we need some sort of order of service, and that everything needs to be done in order, but let’s not sacrifice the move of the Spirit on the altar of an orderly programme! If something happens, we need to be free to change.

5. When do you stop the worship?

I always tell the pastor, “Please come up on to stage at any time for any reason and feel free to take over.” I am subject to the pastor, so whenever he is good and ready (or if he feels things have changed) he needs to feel free to stand up and join us in worship or take over. Again, it is all about being a servant, not having your own way!

6. Ask yourself, “How many times do we need to do this song?”

One of the most frequent criticisms of worship leaders is that they repeat songs or sections of songs to the point of frustration. It is a song of worship, guys, not a mantra!

So, when preparing for a service, consider these ideas and be sensitive both to the Spirit and also to those in the congregation. You are called to lead worship, not perform and not torture. In the end less is usually more when it comes to leading praise and worship.

When you are called to leading praise and worship, there is a huge amount of joy, but this can be counterbalanced by a certain degree of pain in getting your worship leading to the point that you want it to be.

leading praise and worshipWhat Leading Praise and Worship is About

Leading praise and worship is, in fact, about those two phrases; praise and worship and leading! Sure, it helps if you play an instrument or sing well, but this is not essential when it comes to leading praise and worship. The two main requirements are that you have a heart to worship (and many people can sing or play well, but do not really know the first thing about worship!), and that you are able to be a true leader to your band and your audience.

So, what does leading praise and worship actually mean in the context of worship? We know that the Biblical definition of leading involves serving (Mark 10:45), and I believe that this is an excellent frame of reference when you consider leading praise and worship and a team.

What to Do When Leading Praise and Worship

When leading praise and worship, you ought to be responsible for the overall direction and execution of the worship in your church on any given Sunday. Most often you should decide the songs, the order of the songs, the way these songs are linked together and the style of music used, as well as specialized areas of worship such as open worship or blending into communion, etc. This should be your domain, and that means that you need to take full responsibility for every decision you make, whether it works out well or poorly.

As praise and worship leaders, we all want to know that in the successful worship times, where you really sense the Lord’s presence and power, we had a huge part in it. But when things go wrong, when the worship is tough, when the band or singers miss the mark, or the audience is bored or lost, we too have to realize that, as Franklin D Roosevelt said, “the buck stops here!”

So, leading praise and worship involves you not only setting the direction and pace of worship, it also sees you bearing the responsibility for whatever goes right or wrong during worship. You cannot have one without the other.

Leading Praise and Worship Means Leading Your Team and the Congregation

Leading praise and worship also involves leading your band and singers, dealing with the difficulties they can present, which can sometimes draw more pain than tears. YOU have to decide who is on this week. YOU have to decide what part each will play, and YOU have to tell them when they are out of line, but do this always in love!

Yet throughout all of the worship leading trials and tribulations, ultimately you mus always remember that you are in this position of  leading praise and worship to serve; to serve the Lord, to serve the Pastor and to serve both the congregation and your fellow musicians and singers. A great leader leads by serving others. A great leader leads by inspiration, not by a climate of fear and intimidation, yet as I travel the world I see gain and again worship leaders who believe that they are dictators, ruling in a climate of fear.

Leading praise and worship is first and foremost about worship, and worship is about serving. Worship leaders, I beg you, please do not laud it over your troops with an iron fist. Be strong, but also be full of love, full of grace and full of a serving heart. Then you shall truly rise to be the worship leaders you long to be. If you want more teaching on leading praise and worship check out the full Worship Training package.

True confessions: I love praise and worship hymns!  I am a modern worship leader and I LOVE praise and worship hymns!  Hymns are great!  They are majestic, and many contain more theology than the average sermon these days!  Old folk love them, conservative folk love them, but many younger praise and worship leaders have thrown them out (along with everything before 2000) when they are leading. Gee, they even think the Beatles are uncool (such ignorance!).

praise and worship hymnsPraise and Worship Hymns Are Cool!

Somewhere in the middle cries the voice of reason. Now granted, some praise and worship hymns are funeral marches, long, slow, boring and brain-numbing. Some contain rubbish theology and some are just plain irrelevant in both use of language and subject matter. Some are practically unsingable, except to 13th century monks! However, in amongst these types of praise and worship hymns are some of the greatest songs ever written, and some of the most majestic songs you could ever sing when worship leading!

Praise and Worship Hymns Add to Your Worship

Now, if you are young, and don’t believe me, check a few of them out. Praise and worship hymns like, “And Can It Be,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “How Great Thou Art” are awesome. As worship leaders, we need to be considering these songs for inclusion in our worship services, because there is an amazing level of worship and teaching in the songs.

My preference, both personal and of my church, is that we sing at least one of our favorite praise and worship hymns every Sunday service. If you are creative and musical you can play it in such a way that it is exciting and awesome, and you can venture into the very presence of God using these old songs. On top of that, the old folk in the church will be thrilled. So you win either way. Trust me, guys; there are some great songs you cannot live without in the hymns section!

But if you are going to do a hymn, don’t make it into a funeral march! The older folks will love hymns done in a new and a fresh way, so pray and ask God for some innovative ideas to make the hymn into a modern masterpiece. Then watch God unite all ages as they worship Him using this old but new song!

A Word of Caution About Praise and Worship Hymns in the Service

One word of caution, especially to the conservative evangelical denominations. There is a huge tendency to have the worship songs, with the modern beat and instruments, and then insert the token hymn for the oldies, doing this with only an organ or a piano, played in a traditional yet boring style. I strongly caution you against this, because this only promotes the “us verses them” scenario, the “your music verses our music” polarizing we see in churches.

The best way is to just roll from the modern worship songs into the praise and worship hymns, seamlessly, and using a similar modern style. The majority of older folk will appreciate the fact that you are including their song preference, and making it your own, and trying as hard to make it special as if it were your own style of song. Thus, you can use well played hymns to join hearts in worship, rather than having the separate song for the oldies.

Praise and worship hymns should provide a wonderful theme to unite the old and the young in your church, but there are keys that will help you bring these grand old songs to your church in a new and fresh way. Our calling in worship leading is not to stay stuck in the past, but to draw the very best of the past into the present day and adapt the best of Christian heritage to today’s modern worship.

If you want to learn more about worship leading with praise and worship hymns, I am giving away a free report entitled, “Arranging Hymns For A Modern Church”.