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.
Different 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.