In my last post on speaking tips for worship leaders and examining the questions of who, why, what, where and when shape our worship words, I want to dig into the practical ways we work those ideas into a worship service each week. It’s one thing to think about the trinity, horizontal and vertical audiences, teaching, pastoring, responding biblically to the gospel, but it’s another thing completely to figure out what that looks like. I’d like to take it out of the philosophical realm and put some rubber to the road.
I see two distinct phases to answering how to prepare to speak and lead others in worship. The first is pre-gathering worship word materials from resources and the second is saturating our hearts with them and personalizing them in individual times of worship.
PRE-GATHERING WORSHIP WORD MATERIALS
Depending on whether or not our sermon series is based on a specific book of the bible or is topical in nature will dictate how I go about gathering word resources for worship.
- Exegetical (book of bible or passage based)- If it is based on a particular book or passage I will usually buy a commentary to help me in my study. I highly recommend the NIV Life Application Commentaries. They do a great job of explaining the original context in which the passage would have been written and heard as well as bridging the concepts and truths to how they could be understood and lived out in our day and age. I then highlight things that stand out to me as well as things I think God wants me to understand and respond to in obedience. I typically buy my books in kindle format because my highlights show up in the kindle highlights page on amazon and I can copy and paste them into Evernote.
- Topical (concepts and themes)- I have to admit my bias towards exegetical series but acknowledge that there is an abundance of churches that use primarily topical sermons that each sermon is based on a couple of scriptures that relate to each other. In this case I will typically ask my senior minister what books he would recommend on the subjects he will be preaching on. For example, a series on prayer might lead you to read books on spiritual disciplines like Dallas Willard or Richard Foster. One way to dig for ideas is to go to amazon.com and search for books by the topic or theme and see what has the highest ratings and ask your senior minister if he knows anything about them. Remember, each book is written by someone who has a certain theological, social, personal bent that may or may not line up with your churches core doctrines and it’s important to know the background of the author.
- Historical/Devotional Resources- After you’ve done some background reading on the passages, scriptures and themes that the sermons will be based on you can narrow your search down to some key words and search through some other resources. One of my absolute favorite resources is the Worship Sourcebook by the Calvin Institute of Worship. This is a comprehensive compilation of readings, prayers and worship orders that you can do word searches in their pdf version. You’ll find words that fit every biblical response such as confessions that mention apathy for the poor, or calls to worship that turn our eyes towards creation. Another great resource is the Valley of Vision which is a book of Puritan prayers. They are organized by theme and are powerful because of their theological depth and express repentance and devotion in words that are almost never spoken today.
- Other Scriptures- Additionally I highly encourage worship leaders to look up scripture references for the songs they are going to be leading. It’s one thing to know that the songs we’re singing are scriptural, it’s another to know the actual scriptures and the context it’s found in. For example the song “Our God” by Chris Tomlin pulls from the reference of Romans 8:31 that says “whom shall I fear?” but knowing that he is talking about life in the Spirit and overcoming both the trials of this world AND our sinful flesh. So a word can be spoken to ourselves and our congregation that says God was able to open the eyes of the blind, but also is able to help us live a life that is not slave to our sinful passions. Biblegateway.com is a no brainer when it comes to being able to find scripture references and topics because of the ability to search by book, word, or phrase. I typically go through and search the keywords and concepts for each sermon and also paste them into my Evernote file. Topical Bibles like the Macarthur Topical Bible or NIV Thematic Reference Bible are incredibly helpful because you can look up a topic like evangelism and see scriptures, and specific ways that evangelism is mentioned and practiced in the bible. This one is also available in Kindle.
PERSONALIZING THE WORDS
In Matthew 6 Jesus tells people not to pray, speak, and act in order to be seen by others and highly regarded by them like the religious elite. Instead he tells them to give quietly, pray in secret and in private rooms. He talks about the discipline of leading yourself in worship personally first before stepping in front of others. I have to admit that for years I both heard and told others to do this but spent significantly more time prepping corporate worship services than actually spending time singing, praying and meditating on God’s word for my own relationship with Jesus. However, as I have sought to practice what I preach and incorporate discipline of personal worship into my life and schedule I have found a richness and power that flows over into the Sunday morning gathering. I also know that many people are not in full-time vocational ministry and are serving either part-time or as key volunteer leaders I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone by preparing for Sunday and growing personally in our relationship with Jesus.
Luke 6:45 says that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. I cannot overemphasize this enough, that if we want anything good to come out of our mouths and serve our congregations well must be flowing from a heart that is saturated and filled to the brim with the word of God and a relationship that is the wellspring that never runs dry. As long as we are drinking from that river we are able to offer something to drink to others.
Here’s some ways I have been preparing to speak in worship by worshipping personally.
Schedule It- We’re all busy. Everyone I know is busy and sometimes we flaunt it like it’s a badge of honor and we’re all so important because our lives are jammed with important things. There is nothing more important than our relationship with God and our schedules must reflect that. There are plenty of insignificant things we can cut for the sake of drinking deep from the stream of Living Water: time on Facebook, watching TV (fill in the blank with time bandits that steal our day). Take out your smart phone and set an alarm for your daily time of worship. If it’s in the morning, set an additional alarm to remind you to go to bed in time to be rested.
Prepare for It- Just like preparing for a Sunday morning, we need to have some things ready before we sit down to personally worship.
- Worship planning notebook- my three ring binder that contains my: pre-gathered word elements (Worship Sourcebook, Valley of Vision, Scriptures) chord charts for the upcoming week (printed off and not in planning center music stand because I’m too easily distracted by Facebook, email, twitter and a thousand other things)
- Categorize- Taking a look at the Scriptures and the song lyrics, identify if it helps facilitate the gospel attributes of worship: Adoration, Confession, Assurance, Thanksgiving, Receiving Instruction, Communion, Petition/Intercession, Charge/Blessing. Write the Scriptures for the songs at the top of each song as well as what Gospel attribute it falls under.
- Other items- my acoustic guitar/or piano (an iPod or mp3 player will work if you don’t play, my Moleskin (again, going vintage because of the temptations of technology), a pen (uni-ball vision elite pen because I love the way they write and it makes me enjoy the tactile part of journaling in worship), my Bible (The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, and the Transformation Study Bible, NIV Thematic Reference Bible)
- Holy Place- When Jesus talks about prayer he tells people to go into their room, close the door and pray. This is our place where we go to be away from people and spend time in personal worship of Jesus. It may be your office, music room, somewhere outdoors. It doesn’t matter as long as it is a place that allows to shut off distractions and focus on personally worshipping Jesus.
Practice it- Now that you have all of your materials and you have gotten to your regular personal holy place it’s time for the divine conversation to start.
- Listen and Absorb the Word- Take out the main scripture(s) that the sermon is going to be about. Pray that God would speak to you in that moment. Here is a prayer from the worship sourcebook that might give you an idea of how to ask God to reveal himself. God of Jesus Christ, give us a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ, so that the eyes of our hearts might be enlightened. Help us to know the hope to which you have called us, the riches of the glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of your power at work in us.Through Christ, our Lord. Amen. —based on Ephesians 1:17-19, NRSV After praying, read the scripture(s) out loud for that Sunday, slowly making note of words or phrases that stand out and consider committing it to memory. Take a moment of silence and let His Word sink in.
- Pray and Sing the Word- After absorbing the Word of God and allowing Him to speak first, it’s our turn to respond. Often we pray for things we need or things we’re thinking about and this practice of starting with His word allows us to be able to hear first and become aware of what he wants to say. A great practice is to further internalize God’s word by praying back to God using the Scripture you have just read, either without music or by playing a chord progression for one of the songs in the set. You may even find yourself singing phrases of what you’ve read. Many songs have been written out of this context. At this point go ahead and sing and worship. Think of the words of the songs as you sing them. Often God uses phrases or words in a song to continue to speak to us the same way he does scripture. After you’ve finished singing the song, you may want to pause and think about what God has revealed in that moment, or repeat singing the phrase that impacted you. It is always great to go back to scripture regularly and if there is a scripture associated with the song you sang, maybe you might want to go and spend some time reading it as well. There is no hard and fast rule to how to do this so experiment and find what works for you (and then shoot me an email cause I’d love to know). Continue doing this pattern all the way through all of the songs that you will be singing.
- Record the Word- We are forgetful creatures. Do a quick search on biblegateway and see how many times God tells us to remember what God has done. Pull out your journal and take some time and write down both what God has spoken to you in these times as well as using this as a chance to write down what you want to say to God. A journal helps you begin to articulate the conversation that you and God have been having. Additionally, writing brings clarity and allows us to speak intelligently and coherently because there is discipline in putting thoughts into words.
Prepare for it Again-
- Envision the Word- After you have spent time letting God speak to you through His word and you have sung and prayed the words you are planning on putting in the mouths of someone else, it’s time to play pretend! We need to both play through in our mind what the service looks like by walking through mentally each element of the service. Be sure to think about two major things when choosing worship words from this point forward: (1) the thematic thread and (2) the attribute of gospel worship.
- Questions/Transitions to think about- Is the first song a song of Adoration? What can be said to help them prepare or understand what they’re about to sing? Is there a scripture, or something that stood out to you from your personal worship? Do they need to stand or does the song mention bowing, clapping, dancing or shouting? What happens right after this song? Is the next element a song of thanksgiving or confession? What about putting a scripture on the screen that the next song is based off of and telling people to take a moment and reflect on it while lightly padding with a keyboard and ask them to listen to what God would have them hear before we respond in song. Is there a word that is confusing or obscure or overused that needs a definition? You might read a scripture or definition or again use the screen. Is there an instrumental where instead of staring at the band, you might read a scripture or encourage the congregation? After they’re done singing then what, is a prayer coming or is it time to sit down?
- Write it Down- Songwriters write out their lyrics, poets write out their prose, preachers write out their sermons, so why not worship leaders? Script out what you’re planning on saying at every moment in the service: welcome, communion, new song intro, that prompt during an instrumental. It will keep you from using habitual phrases, cliches, and not ramble on and on. This includes prayers by the way. (check out the post of word ninjas or my list of resources for prayers)
There are a million things happening on Sunday that you’re paying attention to, so give yourself a handy backup just in case you get distracted. This is particularly helpful for announcements, next steps and instructions for things you don’t do normally in a worship service.
Some final parting words. Make sure to check out some short practical tips here. Also, the Spirit of God is always moving and speaking and if we are listening he can speak clearly and loudly during our personal times. Additionally, we can write those down and be prepared to use them and the Spirit tells us to be quiet during the service. The important thing is that we are learning to listen to God speak, learning to speak back to Him, and then listen to what God wants to say to our congregation. There is no magic formula to follow for this last part, just good old fashioned relationship with Jesus. Good Luck!