Personal Worship Planning Methods
The term worship leader was fresh and new in the region of Appalachia, where I grew up. For most of my formative years in the church, men and women called song leaders led the service’s musical portion. Congregants often requested songs from the pews, and everyone turned those blue tattered hymnals’ pages to sing refrains echoed out for years before us. As the call of God to lead worship became evident, I didn’t even know where to begin in planning. I learned how to open a hymnal and sing, but I knew nothing about creating a space for people to encounter the fullness of God.
Being inquisitive, I wanted to find out all that I could about leading worship. Since I was musically well-versed (at least I was in my mind), I decided to focus on reading and learning more about the world of worship leading. I read every biography imaginable on worship leaders and texts surrounding the subject. I read scripture and poetry and then happened to a book by Walter Brueggemann that shifted my entire opinion; the book was Finally Comes The Poet. In this book, he says, “The deep places in our lives — places of resistance and embrace — are reached only by stories, by images, metaphors, and phrases that line out the world differently, apart from our fear and hurt.” This text brought to memory Psalm 95:4. “In one hand, he holds the mysteries of the earth, and in the other, he holds the highest mountain peaks.” I began to see that by leading worship, I held the responsibility of bringing people into the awareness that God is the owner of our lives’ deep places. Worship illuminates who God is and what He has done, bringing clarity to what we embrace and giving us the courage to lean into the parts of him that we resist.
“The deep places in our lives — places of resistance and embrace — are reached only by stories, by images, metaphors, and phrases that line out the world differently, apart from our fear and hurt.”
All of this searching brought me the awareness of three phrases: Pray to God, Read the Bible, and Prepare the Way. These three healthy steps (cue the Special Agent Oso music from Disney Jr.) can easily keep one inspired and connected to God and the congregations we serve. I utilize these steps, partnered with a good cup of coffee, consistently as I plan worship times.
Step 1: Pray to God.
I strive to begin every service planning in prayer, asking God to prepare my heart to hear His Spirit. I ask specific questions surrounding the service: What is the map for the weekend? God, where (or what) are you asking me to lead the people into greater awareness? How am I being commissioned to illuminate your name? Who are the right people to bring together to accomplish this goal?
I schedule this time in my calendar, being attentive to the priority of this time. I also look to the Bible for prayers to pray, taking cues from Psalms, Paul (the apostle), and The Lord’s Prayer as examples. In addition to the Bible, there are additional books that the church has used throughout the ages. One of my favorite preparatory prayers is in the Book Of Common Prayer. It reads: “May the Holy Spirit guide and strengthens you that in this, and in all things you may do God’s will in the service of the kingdom of his Christ. Amen.”¹
Step 2: Read the Bible.
While hearing or sensing direction through prayer, I read. I researched multiple passages on the concept that I feel God is asking to be illuminated. I also prioritize the Scripture passages the sermon centers on over the weekend and note attributes highlighted in the text. Connectivity in our worship services can be a great benefit to our people. Another purpose of this reading is to evaluate our worship gatherings against God’s word surrounding Biblical worship. It seemed that in-depth study of the Bible in preparation for our services was at odds with my position for many years. But let me encourage you, to lead people, we must know the way. We are a shepherd and must maintain Biblical authority in the words we give our people to sing, pray, and read.²
Step 3: Prepare the way.
Lastly, we prepare the way. This step is where we mold the service into both personal and corporate elements. This step encompasses the creativity needed to keep our artistic minds thriving. It’s important to remember that our corporate gathering serves as a time for God’s people to express their love for God and each other (Corinthians is a great place to learn more about this.) Great corporate worship should lead to growth in personal worship.
As we prepare, we should ask questions: What do we want people to do, and how do they participate? What are the means (the songs, prayers, and scripture)? What is the takeaway (what should people learn about God during our worship time.)?
A great place to dig in musically, specifically surrounding themes or attributes of God, is SongSelect.
As you prepare the way, remember that silence, visual art, responsive readings, spontaneous singing, spoken word, prayers (corporate and personal), communion, baptism, and many other elements and art forms are all tools that can bring glory to God.
¹ If you are unfamiliar with this book, you can access its contents here: https://www.bcponline.org
² As I began embracing this theological facet to worship leading, a great encouragement to me was Doxology and Theology by Matt Boswell.