This is nothing new as most worship leaders training will talk about having a theme in your worship set. Some view the praise and worship time during a service as singspiration, as a warm up to the service, or time to help us focus on God before the real teaching or preaching comes forth. To me, God speaks and ministers to us throughout the worship service, even at the point of entering the church and shaking someone’s hand with the almost cliche weekly blessing to giving our tithes and offering. What more during the time of praise and worship when all focus is on God? The worship leader and/or the band are faciliators of worship and not the centre of focus which makes us totally different from a performance band. I love hearing about how God spoke and ministered to people rather than how well the band or myself did musically. The gauge of the effectiveness in worship leading is when the work of God in people’s lives has outshine the excellency of craft or skill. This is when we fade away and all glory goes to Him.
Every week when I prepare the worship set for the Sunday service, I ask the Lord what is His message to us or where does He want to bring us before I put together the songs. The music and songs are not the main focus here but the desire of God for the time spent with Him as a corporate body. Sunday worship is a very precious time where the body of Christ comes together to worship while eveyrone goes on their daily business for the rest of the week. Thus every moment of the corporate worship is precious to spend time to listen to, receive from and bless God as a united body in Christ. In my church, the worship leader and team are not given the sermon message topic or scripture references in advance. So I have to make it a point to practice waiting upon God to listen and act. There are weeks whereby the worship set and the sermon message are knitted so tightly that all we know that it can only be God! There are weeks when it is crystal clear and some weeks, a fuzz in the direction where the worship set is heading. I have learnt that it is not about knowing exactly where I am, but it is about trusting, putting my heart in His so that He can direct and lead freely. There are times whereby there are songs that I know must in included in the set before I receive any revelation of where God is bringing us to. It is in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit as none of us can dictate how and when God shows us His plans.
On the practical side, to have a message in the worship set needs disciple in building up one’s spiritual depth and resources. In spiritual depth, I mean the meditation of God’s Word in daily life and living in obedience to it. As one who has finished my Masters in Theology and a worship leader for about 15 years, I personally find the preparation of preaching or teaching a message is easier than that of the preparation of a worship set if I believe that God speaks to us during the time of worship just as He does during the time of a sermon. This means that I need a good grasp of the message of each song that I am planning to put into the set list, getting deep into the song in both the lyrics and music as each song brings us to a certain place of focus. The ability to grasp the message of the song also means the need to check its alignment to the Word of God. One thing I know from the weeks of ploughing, the deeper I go in this, there’s greater ease for God to take us higher. The process of getting deeper is like the strengthening of my wings and when the moment comes to soar, the Holy Spirit as the wind beneath my wings gives the lift and push. Because of the stronger wings, the easier is the lift and the greater the potential of going higher! Preparing for a worship set has another element, the music, to consider as compared to giving a message in speech too.
The other challenge to having a worship set with a message is also the songs selection. One of the other reason why it is more challenging to me in doing a worship set is because I am working based on songs that are already written while a message in speech is my own words and thoughts. It is the pulling together different songs by different songwriters from different time period to say a similar message. It takes a longer time to do a collage using materials from all sources to form a picture than to take a pencil and some colours to paint it according to what is in my mind. Yet, this is also the beauty of it all. The Holy Spirit is able to take the initimate experiences of different songwriters in their songs to create new ones for the congregation that is multiplied many times over! It is not just my voice or the songwriters’ songs that is coming through, it is God speaking. My song sets are hardly the same for each week and the songs can range from good old hymns to the latest released worship songs. Songs are a channel for God and thus the songs should not dictate where the worship is heading but God should. This means that resources is one thing that the worship leader needs to build up. Access to a good song database is one, but it is for the worship leader to seek out and worship with songs of different focus and of different songwriters in our personal time. These songs become part of me, although I do try to memorize which is quite a challenge, but they are in my spiritual bank. The Holy Spirit can pull the songs out when needed, but I do need to refer to the lyrics quite often though. I do understand the struggle between singing new and unfamiliar songs in congregational worship, and it is tough but possible to strike a balance with this.
Hope this rambling post of my own worship leading preparation process helps some of you out there! =)