Leading worship effectively is simple but not easy.
The worship team must remain simultaneously cognizant to the reception and aloof to what the congregation is doing. While having a game plan that includes a list of songs and a message they’re trying to convey, they must also be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, God’s agenda, and the message He’s trying to convey. The goal is to usher people into the presence of God, and sometimes, prep the ground for the ministration of the Word. An effective worship session has the right mix of songs with the worship team yielding to the Holy Spirit at the right time and ushering in the presence of God. A lot can happen during worship; healing, breakthrough, deliverance, salvation, clarity, joy, expressions of emotion, release, answers to questions, so much can happen when the right songs are used to honor God. An effective team understands this power and harnesses it deftly. To be effective, the first step is really to be spiritual and spiritually sensitive, you’ll know how to adjust and connect in ways beyond your ability. A personal, spiritual preparation through personal worship, prayer, word study, fasting, and quite frankly spiritual exercises carries a worship session so much further. An effective worship session will yield feedback like, “you shared my heart in worship today”, “I felt the presence of God today”, “I felt a breakthrough in worship today”. Effective worship articulates what the congregation feels, but aren’t saying. Below are key points of consideration to effectively leading worship.
- Focus on God. This has a lot to do with song selection and the order of the songs. The songs should primarily be about God. A few songs that don’t focus solely on God but are apt for the session is ok, but most or all the songs can’t be inspirational. The focus should continue to steer towards The Great I AM. This is where the order of songs are important. Some worship leaders put all the good stuff upfront, and then crash towards the end. A good worship leader will know how to order the song selection so the worship builds to a strong crescendo.
- Ignore the congregation….sort of. As a worship team, don’t perform for the congregation. Don’t pander to them and grieve the Holy Spirit. You should be sensitive to the effect of the worship session on them, and know how to ride out the session, but don’t mistake appreciation for musical prowess for effective worship. Know when it feels like they’re enjoying a performance and when they’re active in worship with you. But you still have to listen to your congregation. If they’re crying for more, don’t hold back. If they’re not connecting, don’t punish them. More on this later.
- Don’t have a formula or a go-to mix of songs… again, sort of. Be sensitive to the moment. If a mix of songs worked last week, don’t expect them to work with a different audience, different circumstances or a different week.
- Don’t be tied to your song list. If you notice that a chorus or line of a song is taking the congregation deeper in worship, ride it out. There’s nothing more grating than a Worship Leader ignoring the flow and sticking to the structure of a song or going to the second verse when the congregation is still stuck on the bridge or chorus. It’s ok to go off script when the situation calls for it. If the song list is not appropriate for the congregation, know how to adjust in a way that’s manageable for your worship team and instrumentalists. Start with a song or two based on the lines of your current song or ad lib the congregation is responding to.
- Know when to move on. Don’t dwell too long on a powerful chorus or line. You can tell the line is fading in effectiveness because less people as singing along. In other words, it’s time to switch it up when the congregation go from participants to audience.
- Listen to your backup team and instrumentalists. Sometimes the flow of anointing bounces off you to the members of your worship team or instrumentalists. As long as they don’t try to upset the order and upstage the crew, allow the flow to ride out.
- Conversely, make sure there’re no star seekers in both your backup and instrumentalists. There’s nothing worse than a member of your worship team going off script and breaking out into a solo in the middle of a worship set that’s still building
- Build when the moment is right. There’s a right moment to build the worship with hi-hats, solos and riffs. That moment changes from session to session, but it’s rarely at the beginning. Experience teaches how to get the timing right.
- Don’t build too soon. Some worship leaders build off the first or second songs because the congregation is receptive to the songs, and it’s too soon. So very early on, the worship wanes because there’s nowhere to go but down since they’re out of energy.
- Don’t wait on the right song to build. Conversely, don’t hold out until you’ve hit the ‘perfect’ song to build. Respond to the impact the worship is making on the congregation. If the atmosphere of worship is ripe, pluck it even if you have several songs left on your list. Allow people to bask and worship in the presence of God when a song or moment permits.
- You don’t have to finish your song list. You really don’t have to sing every song on your list. Some effective worship sessions go through 3-4 songs in a 30 minute span; All the songs are interconnected and build to a worship crescendo. The worship team is also able to effectively lead with the songs and adjust to the reception of the congregation.
- Make sure your team is equipped to go off script. If you’re inspired to sing a song that’s appropriate for the moment but not on the list, go for it, but make sure your team is prepared for the transition. Even if the song isn’t on the list, they should be prepared and should have practiced the song. You singing the song without your team being prepared would not be effective worship.
- Practice, practice, practice. There’s a saying that goes, when you miss a day of practice, you can tell when you perform, when you miss a week of practice, your band can tell when you perform and when you miss a month of practice, the audience can tell. Adequate practice always yields its benefits during a worship session.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Make sure your technical is sound. A good technical engineer will be fluid with the dials from song to song.
In conclusion, every point point wasn’t designed to contradict the previous, it just turned out that way. The point of this list is to understand the dichotomy of leading worship, the technical/musical (people-based) and the spiritual (spirit-based). Effective worship requires the right mix of both.
- Pick easy to sing songs
- Pick theologically rich songs
- Know the lyrics and chords of your songs
- Make yourself invisible, you’re not a rock star