Three Rhythms in Planning Worship
A few months ago while planning a worship set, I was immediately hit with a huge reality check. The pastor who was preaching that Sunday gave me the passage he was preaching from laid out a roadmap of the service order for me. My job, like most worship leaders, was to come up with the liturgy, or service, for that day including songs, flow, and a call to worship, all with the purpose of pointing the congregation to the glory of Christ.
To be completely honest though, as I sat there I was tempted to throw songs together flippantly. I thought to myself, “This song works really well up front because of the tempo,” or “These two songs go great together because of the keys… they’re kind of unrelated topically, but it will work,” or “Let’s just sing ‘Man of Sorrows’—our people go crazy with that one!”
In that moment the Spirit convicted me, not only because I felt my time of worship planning was done in vain, but because the reality hit me once again—the worship of God is a serious thing.
This brought up a huge question which is important for worship leaders to consider. How do we effectively plan worship sets and services for our people? Is our planning done with purpose, care, and intentionality? If we’re honest, many of us can easily throw songs together for a service. Even more profound is that most of us can pull off a great set on the spot, complete with seamless transitions and excellent leadership.
But are we missing something when we don’t labor each week over the liturgy that our people sing and respond with in worship? As worship leaders we have the tremendous responsibility to not only sing the praises of God but to shepherd our people to behold the glory of God by reminding them of the Gospel over and over. Our reminding should encompass the entire story of salvation, from who God is, to who we are, and to who Christ is. Our goal as worship leaders should be to take our people on a road of celebration, a liturgical journey that reminds the saints of who Christ is and what He’s done for us.
We must continue to preach the Gospel through song to those who already know it and rest in it.
So what are some practical ways we can accomplish this as worship leaders so that our weekly planning is not mundane but done with intentionality and excellence? As I have prayed through and experienced these things myself through the years, there are three specific rhythms we should have in order to create services that remind and saturate our people’s hearts with the gospel as they worship.
- Pray. The biggest and most crucial part to our worship planning has to be prayer. In Ephesians 1:13, Paul reminds the churches in Ephesus that “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the one who reminds us the gospel of our salvation. He is the seal of redemption working to glorify the Son in all things. If we aim to lead our people to worship Christ then it is crucial to pray that the Holy Spirit would lead us as we come up with songs, scriptures, and calls to worship. Praying for direction each week is by far the best way for us to properly posture ourselves in order for the Lord to impress upon our hearts what he wants and not necessarily what we think would work best.
- Study Scripture. Often the pastor who is preaching will give a specific scripture passage he will be preaching from. We should thoroughly read and meditate on the passage, as well as conduct some theological research of our own. Labor to find parallel verses that relate to the passage, look at commentaries, and try to gather as much context as you can. Then as you set out to plan songs and flow, challenge yourself to think about how you can best tell the gospel story in that context.
A few weeks ago I was preparing to lead at a church, and the pastor told me he was going to be preaching on prayer from Luke 11:5-13. As I was reading, verse 9 really stood out to me which says, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Certain songs and scriptures came to mind that had to deal with seeking the Lord, resting in Him, and trusting in Him. I thought of specific lyrics from songs like “Cornerstone,” in which we sing, “My hope is built on nothing less… I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name,” as well as “Jesus Is Better,” which includes, “In all my sorrows, Jesus is better, make my heart believe.” These songs fit perfectly in helping to not only support the passage he was preaching, but also to remind the worshiper of God’s unfailing love, and that we can seek and trust Him because He first loved us.
The point here is not just to compile a list of songs but to really labor through the passage by asking ourselves, “What is this passage saying? What is the Lord speaking to me? What does He want to say to His people?”
- Prepare. The last part is the preparation of the set. Now that you’ve compiled all your songs and scripture passages, it’s time to combine them together in a way which flows with excellence and intentionality. Having a call to worship at the beginning of a set or perhaps after the first song is a great way to point the congregation to look to Jesus. Psalm 100 is a great passage to help set the tone for what the saints are there for: to lift up the name of Jesus through song.
It’s also helpful to think through transitions, even before Sunday morning rehearsal. One of the best ways to keep people engaged and focused on Christ is to have seamless transitions between songs. If you have two songs in totally unrelated keys (E to Bb for example), think creatively through how you might transition between the two (would a certain scripture reading work well here, or perhaps a prayer of confession/repentance?). These transitions need to be non-distracting and done with intentionality and excellence.
Also consider how you would like to end certain songs (singing a down chorus, tag the bridge, etc.), and then determine how the next song will start (does the drummer click off, or does the placement of the song in the set call for a chorus at the beginning?). Think through the best ways to communicate all of this to your band members when it’s time to rehearse. These suggestions are helpful when it comes to creating a set that not only flows seamlessly but isn’t distracting and is done with purpose.
In all of these things, our end goal is to clearly preach the gospel through the services we create. Our calling as worship leaders is to shepherd the people of God by consistently preaching the gospel through song, even to those who already know it. Teach your people and be intentional with creating sets and liturgies that not only remind them of the hope of the gospel, but also point people’s affections to respond to the magnificence of Christ.
Jarryd Foreman is a worship leader and pastor who has been leading worship for over 9 years. From student camps, conferences to ministry in the local church, Jarryd's passion is to bring honor and glory to Christ through a life consumed in worship and to passionately lead others to have that same yearning. His current position as a Worship Resident at the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, TX, has given him the tremendous platform to declare the saving message of the Gospel through song.