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10 Things I've Learned About

Worship Leading

Taya Smith
4 September 2014

1. The difference between preparing and not preparing is MASSIVE.


Apart from knowing the songs and learning the lyrics, setting aside time to
prepare my heart before God is the most important thing — it allows the Holy
Spirit to speak, puts a verse on my heart, and gives me ideas.
Setting aside time to prepare my heart before God is the most
important thing...

2. Receive constructive feedback.


From those around you who have been doing this for longer than you. I want
to lead people the best way I can each time, plus I don’t know everything so I
need to remain humble and teachable.
SEE ALSO: 10 THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT LEADING A CREATIVE
TEAM (#11 IS MY FAVOURITE)
3. Have a plan.
If you don’t play an instrument, grab the Music Director, or a musician and
together, figure out the keys of the songs you’ve chosen, any potential
creative moments you might have, specific transitions, etc. That way you have
a plan in place that has been practiced, but you also have flexibility to change
if you feel to do so.
4. Have an opinion.
Especially if you’re a co-worship leader. When the senior worship leader asks
you what you think of a song, idea, or moment – have something to
contribute! You could have a great idea that no one has thought of yet.
5. Run your song list by someone else.
I always get a second eye to look over my list, just to make sure it’s the
strongest and most relevant it can be. This can mean you may need to tailor a
song list to a specific service and then tweak it slightly for the next one.
6. Don’t strive when you lead, but don’t step back either.
Lead with the authority that has been given to you. Yes, there is a spiritual
weight to the platform, which includes the responsibility we have to lead
people to Jesus, but lead confidently knowing you’ve been given the platform
and entrusted by your pastors.
7. You will have a train wreck and you will be okay.
A close friend and mentor told me this and a week later, I had a beauty! Don’t
stress – it keeps you humble and you learn from it, plus they make for great
stories!
8. Watch, listen and learn every chance you get.
We never graduate from learning.
We never graduate from learning.
9. Your primary service to the church is to lead them to the presence of
God.
Don’t think for a second that worship leading is your moment to shine or
preach, especially when you are taking ‘the gap’. If it adds to the service and
allows you to arrest the atmosphere, then do it; but if it takes away from Jesus
and what your primary purpose is, leave it out.
If it takes away from Jesus and what your primary purpose is, leave it
out.
10. Be yourself.
You are unique and God speaks to each of us differently, so lead accordingly.
God has put something on your life, so lead from that place.

love, Taya
1. STUDY YOUR PEOPLE
This is a simple concept that is rarely done. So often our calendars, agendas, to-do lists, and book studies

overshadow the people we try to bring into the presence of God. Strategies and action plans are all great things,

but we can get so focused on our plans that we forget who our people are. So, it’s important to study your

people. What do your peo- ple do? What inspires them? What makes them laugh? Who makes them laugh?

When do you see them falling into never-never land on Sunday morning? Study them. Ask them. Get

feedback. I’m waiting for the helmet cam for children so we can see worship through their eyes. People have

issues! I know, that’s turned into a major catchphrase of the new century, but it is so true. Find out what their

issues are and help them discover, or rediscover, God in the midst of it all.

2. READY, FIRE, AIM


I learned this from an old country pastor before it became a popular business strategy. Simply spoken, take a

shot at new stuff in a small way. See if you hit the target and then aim accordingly. Many churches

spend half their time, resources, and emotional energy aiming. They aim, and aim, and aim some more. They

go to Chicago or Los Angeles and aim. They read a book, take a nap, get up, and aim some more. Then when

they finally fire, they fire at the point of no return. A ton of money has been spent, subcommittees have slaved

over the issues, then $20,000 and 13 business meetings later the strategy is unveiled. If it backfires after so

many hours and meetings, then the entire leadership feels demoral- ized. So, start small. Fire experimental

peashooters before you pull out the thermonuclear version.

3. CREATE A VISION FOR YOUR WORSHIP


Know where you are going and how to get there. Very basic. Just remember: “No Vision, No Life.” That’s as

old as Proverbs 28:19. Make your vision work through teamwork. Create ownership and multiply the buy-in

through vision casting.

4. REIGNITE YOUR PASSION FOR GOD


If you don’t have a passion for God and a passion to lead people into worship, then sell life insurance or

market cereal. This is God-stuff. Passion isn’t just a strong emotion. It is a commitment to a dream in which

you’re willing to lay everything on the table and say, “Lord, I don’t care what the cost is. I want to see You in

all Your power and glory. I want to experience worship and ministry that is truly transformational. I’m tired of

the regular song and dance. I want to see You high and lifted up. I want the holy smoke and fire that

accompanies Your presence.” As the church of Laodicea reminds us, if we have no fire, no passion, we leave a

bad taste in God’s mouth.

5. NEVER KILL AN IDEA BEFORE YOU


WRITE IT DOWN
During brainstorming worship ideas, as well as church growth ideas, we need to be careful about trashing other

people’s ideas before they have been fully communicated and considered. Lay down a ground rule: there are

no bad ideas at first glance. Why? Because we all have bad ideas from time to time. If you are facilitating a

brainstorming meeting and immediately give a thumbs-down to every new idea, you will cultivate timidity and

self-consciousness in your team. No one likes to have their ideas body-slammed three seconds after they speak.

After this brainstorming period, you can begin the process of appraising what ideas work and what ideas are

simply…well…ideas.

6. DON’T COUNT ON SUCCESS, BUT


NEVER EXPECT FAILURE
Yes, this seems very ironic. But if your team is counting on home runs every time they try to lead people into

worship, then frustration will soon follow. In the same breath, we must do everything we can to achieve our

goals. It’s true: God doesn’t ask us to be successful; He asks us to be faithful. Results are a God thing, not an

us thing.

7. DO SOMETHING EACH MONTH IN


WORSHIP THAT FRIGHTENS YOU
If you want to grow, you should be prepared to risk. As a rule of thumb, do something every month that scares

you. If you grow in your faith and tenacity, do something every week that scares you. It might be asking a 7th

grader to pray the benediction. It may be singing in the middle of the sermon. It may be asking a visitor about

his relationship with Christ after a service is over. If you’re shaking in your boots sometime during your

ministry, you might feel uncomfortable, but at least you know you have a pulse.

8. THINK ABOUT ONE PERSON IN THE


CONGREGATION AND PLAN A WORSHIP
SERVICE THAT ALLOWS THAT PERSON
TO TRULY WORSHIP
Like the culture around us, we have become a politically correct body. So many churches fail to reach anyone

because they are afraid they might exclude someone. Don’t sweat speaking directly to youth in adult worship.

We are a family, and sometimes transformation happens through overheard proclamation of truth. Sometimes

we truly can’t see the tree because all we can see is the forest. Minister distinctively to one person in the body,

and, chances are, the ripple effect will transform the entire church.

9. DON’T TRY TO TURN SMALLVILLE INTO


WILLOW CREEK IN ONE MONTH
It’s the old Sunday after youth camp effect. We got go to conferences, great conferences. Great ideas! We have

the passion! It’s all good. We are ready to hurdle every obstacle to make the cover of GC, then reality sets in.

We changed, but the people are the same peo- ple from whom you flew away the week before. I love the

ancient Chinese proverb: “Oh snail, climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but slowly.” In other words, shoot for the stars,

but realize that the warp-drive technology is not quite there yet. Be intentional and smart with your changes.

And, of course, choose the hill on which you are willing to die. Jesus is patient with you; be patient with your

people. Lead them through the process and help them understand the reasons for change. Baffle them with

your grasp of common sense.


10. DON’T BE AFRAID OF EMOTIONS, BUT
DON’T TRY TO MANUFACTURE OR
MANIPULATE THE WORSHIPERS
EMOTIONS, EITHER
Our obsession should not be: “How can I really tear ’em up this Sunday? What could I do to give those people

a really misty eyed, three-tissue sniffer moment?” Your focus should be to bring people into an encounter with

God. On the other hand, how can a person who understands this incredible grace mes- sage avoid getting

emotional? Some people in your congregation grew up in a paradigm that said emotions are weakness. Don’t

cry. You aren’t a man if you cry. Don’t shout, or dance, or laugh. It just isn’t spiritual. Worship leaders need to

realize this is not a biblical precept. In truth, it’s a very errant stance. I suppose it’s fine to offer your

community unemotional, cerebral, fact-only worship, but I don’t think you’d want to classify it as biblical.

You’ll end up painting yourself into a corner.

11. DON’T TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD


IN VAIN
As we all know, I didn’t come up with this on my own. Basically, the tip here is that when we lead in worship

and plan worship in a team, perhaps the quickest way to sabotage the work is to give vague vetoes and blame it

on God. Example: Pastor Dave walks into the sanctuary where the ensemble is practicing their part in worship.

Dave, after a long sigh, says, “Folks, I don’t think God wants us to use that song.” That might work once or

twice, but, after a while, people catch on to the fact that God is your fire escape rather than your Shepherd. I

know there are times when we do get a specific word from the Lord, but God more often works when we meet

Him in our planning meetings.

12. MOST GREAT LEADERS AND


CREATIVE THINKERS ARE UNTAMED
MONOMANIACS, WITH A STREAK OF
OBSESSION, WHO BELIEVE STRONGLY IN
THEIR MINISTRY
Want to have an impact? Discover the obsession for ministry. Everyone should have a standard for which they

are willing to bleed in this mission. What’s yours? If it didn’t pop into your brain the moment you finished

reading the question, then it might be time to grab your Bible and your toothbrush and head to the wilderness

until you do.

13. READ YOUR PLAN OUT LOUD


This is very practical and very simple. Most people will not read your plan; they will hear your plan. Close the

door and read your plan out loud. How does it sound?

14. EXILE THE LEFT BRAIN WHEN


BEGINNING YOUR WORK
Whenever you are working alone on a sermon, a project, a poem, a dramatic sketch, or an idea, your creative

side (the right brain or the artist) needs to be able to work without the detailed side (the left brain, or the editor)

looking over his shoulder. The important thing when you begin to work is to keep creating without assessing

what you are doing while you are doing it. So many times the right brain is stifled because the left brain is

asking: “Did I spell that right? Do I really think this will work? I don’t know if this is good enough. I wonder

what Roger, the chairman of the church council, will think?” The left brain needs to leave the right brain alone;

otherwise, the right brain will never get anything done. After your artistic work is complete, begin the tough,

painful left-brain work. It’s important late and fatal early.

15. KEEP TOYS CLOSE TO YOU


You are at your best when you are like a child. Jesus reminded us of that. Give yourself space, and don’t take

yourself too seriously, or you will miss the joy of walking in grace. One way I keep fresh, alive, and

responsive is to keep a toy within arm’s length. It’s a fact that you need short intervals of time where you can
disengage. When you have the opportunity, play! Also have some fun as a team. It will increase the esprit de

corps of your team.

16. DON’T JUST SIT THERE, WRITE


SOMETHING
Make it a goal to write something every day. A great way to do this is to take a calendar and try to fill up each

day’s space. Write about everything. Try writing a story. Write about things you love. Write about things that

annoy you. Write about your passions. Write about your day. Write your prayers. It will be a priceless

reminder in years to come of God’s grace. Write anything. Just keep the pen moving!

17. SET SMALL GOALS AND REWARD


YOURSELF WHEN YOU ACHIEVE THEM
If you finish a task, reach a goal, or see transformation take place in worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship,

or discipleship, celebrate it. Let everyone on the team in on small victories and achievements. As in the story

of the 10 lepers, don’t be like the 9 who received transformation and forgot to thank God. Have few secret

victo- ries. Rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). Set visible, reachable goals and let the benediction be

party hats and confetti.

18. AVOID LIP WORSHIP


Lip worship is worship that is totally auditory. A person who totally relies on lip worship will fail to

powerfully communicate to 95.86 percent of the crowd. (Sounds scientific, right? Did I just make up that stat?

Uh…well…yep.) But seriously, we have a plethora of learning styles in the congrega- tion. Some people are

auditory learners, but many are kinetic learners, natural learners, verbal learners, logical learners, physical

learners, concrete learners, emotional learners, visual learners, olfactory learners, musical learners, gustatory

learners, interactive learners, analytical learners, and so forth.

19. AVOID TIP WORSHIP


Tip worship is worship in which the sole driving force of worship is life application and very little Bible. This

is currently a very popular strategy, which works effectively if it is biblically based. The Bible is very

practical. When the application fits, by all means, communicate it. But may we never turn worship into the

Oprah Winfrey show.

20. AVOID RIP WORSHIP


Rip worship is when we load the congregation down with guilt and shame. Our duty in worship is not to rip the

congregation or to use worship as our personal bully pulpit. Who wants to be part of that? I don’t believe

families spring from their beds on Sunday morning saying, “Hey! This is the day the Lord has made! Let’s get

ready and go to church for our weekly flogging! This is our chance to feel totally inadequate. Let’s go!”

21. AVOID FLIP WORSHIP


Flip worship is worship that is done without acknowledging what a vast and important responsibility worship

leadership really is. Flip worship is a kind of worship that says, “Let’s get this thing over with so we can get

home in time for the Colts’ game.” Flip worship doesn’t ever get nervous. It never sheds a tear. It reeks of

sarcasm and apathy. God, protect Your people from the poison of flip worship and flip worship leaders.

22. AVOID HIP WORSHIP


Hip worship is worship that is totally (as the old saying goes) from the hip. Things unexpectedly happen, not

because God came, but because there was not a plan or even a thought. Granted, there will be times when God

will call on you to shoot from the hip, but usually shooting from the hip will do little toward developing trust

in the ensemble.

23. IF YOU’RE IN IT FOR THE MONEY, GO


HOME
Capitalism has no place in the church. If you base your ministry on the financial litmus tests, you will miss out

on every spiritual victory. Jesus didn’t knock over the tables in the temple by accident. He made a whip to
defend God’s people from charlatans who were trying to turn the temple into a corporation. The “pastor as

CEO” paradigm is about as old school as Ahab.

24. BE PREPARED TO RECORD IDEAS


WHILE DRIVING
If you are like me, you get lots of ideas when you are driving from your personal Jerusalem to Jericho. Take a

micro-cassette player with you. I am convinced that great ideas invariably occur between lane changes.

25. ONCE YOU’RE THROUGH READING,


THEN YOU’RE THROUGH GROWING
What book is next in line after you finish the one you’re on right now? If you don’t know the answer to that

question, beware. Books are a lifelong source of inspiration and mental enhancement. The right books build

strong leaders and will help you avoid spiritual osteoporosis.

26. PREVENT RIGHT BRAIN FREEZE


If you are stumped on how to communicate a concept, if you are running out of ideas and strategies, or if you

are running out of options in creating that aha moment in worship, you may want to take a time-out and

disengage. Try listening to music, walking, reading aloud, dialoguing with a friend or associate, lying down in

the church lawn for a minute, changing pens, or any approach that might pull you out of the ordinary, so you

can jump-start your creative synapses.

27. EARLY PLANNING AND CREATING


GIVES YOU MORE ROOM FOR
IMPROVEMENT
One of my mentors once told me there’s no such thing as an overnight success in ministry. In other words,

God’s work is planned long beforehand, if not by us, certainly by Him. Do a quick character study of Bible

heroes. Was Moses an overnight success? Try telling him that in the wilderness of Midian! Or would Joseph
consider himself an overnight success as he reflected on his exciting days in a jail with a baker and a

cupbearer? Or what about card-carrying, AARP members like Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, or a 67-

year-old Daniel in the lions’ den? In the same way, we need to have slow, persistent, diligent, day-by-day,

tenacious, mustard-seed planning. In ministry, you’ll usually lose when you use a no-huddle approach in

worship.

28. WRITE IDEAS WITHOUT THINKING OF


WHAT VEHICLE YOU’LL USE IN THE FINAL
PROCESS
Don’t immediately think of a vehicle before you think of a concept. Great team planners will see the message

first. We shouldn’t say, “Golly, we haven’t had a monologue in a while. Let’s try to do one this Sunday.”

That’s a backward approach, which caters to form rather than content.

29. WEAVE YOUR WORSHIP AND PLAN


YOUR PAUSES
Your worship should be seamless. Work on transitions. For instance:

 The pianist begins playing during the last four lines of the script.
 The ensemble approaches the microphones during the last chorus of the hymn.
 The reader approaches the pulpit during the prayer.

Make your transitions smooth. This is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve had the blessing of visiting hundreds of

churches. I’ve had some astounding worship experiences. But, very few churches have effectively pulled off

transitional moments. When transitions aren’t attended to, the service is like driving a car with a bad

transmission. The flow becomes jerky and predictable. I love planned silence in worship. Reflective times can

be very insightful and emotive, but 15 seconds of awkward, no-clue, ambivalent nothingness is abhorrent.
30. PREPARE WELL
Getting to Sunday morning is the dessert of the process. If a worship team is prepared, then even the platform

people are liberated from the tyranny of self-consciousness and escorted into the pres- ence of God, along with

those who worship. Constantly worrying about what’s next and whether you can pull off your plans makes you

a “dish-cleaning Martha” instead of a “worship- driven Mary.” Let’s choose the better.

31. REALIZE THAT WORSHIP IS


DIFFICULT
As my grandfather would say, “This ain’t tiddledywinks, my boy!” Worship is a lifelong work of art. No one

ever arrives at the ultimate worship plateau. Watch what happens when you think you have arrived. God

always seems to remind us of the reality of our own infancy. It is truly a process, not a destination. We are

being transformed from glory to glory to glory.

32. USE TECHNOLOGY, KEEPING IN MIND


THAT ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT LOUSY
WORKMANSHIP
In other words, you can have all the bells and whistles of 21st-century worship technology and still crank out

mediocrity. Leaning on bells and whistles to replace perspiration is a formula for failure.

33. BECOME A WORKAHOLIC


Become addicted to glorifying God on Sundays. He is worthy of our worship. A minister who doesn’t worship

is like a surgeon who faints at the sight of blood. Do I want that man to operate on me? No way! If you can’t

wait for another chance to experience God in corporate worship, then your people will follow your hunger for

passionate, holy worship. By the way, may I rant for a sentence or two? If I see one more pastor flipping

through his Bible, checking notes, and not singing or worshiping during the service, I think I’ll scream. What

an insult to the team! What an insult to God! (Sorry about that! I just had to get it off my chest.) What that

behavior says to a worship team and to the congregation is that corporate worship is just all fizz. My part
supersedes everything else. The same is true of musicians who take a trip to la-la land during the message.

Wherever we are, there we should be. All of us! That’s what worship should be.

34. EVERY NOW AND THEN, DO A POST


MORTEM OF THE WORSHIP EXPERIENCE
(What did we do well, or badly? Where could we have improved?) Learn from mistakes and, as a team, talk

about how to avoid the mistakes. Laugh together, and don’t turn the postmortem into a gripe session.

Ask these questions:


 Did it work?
 Was it adequate?
 How could we have improved?
 Did we offer people an opportunity to be trans- formed?
 What feedback did you receive?
 Are we in a rut or on a roll?
 Did we, as leaders, worship?
 Did we improve the mix by using more than two or three communication strategies?

Pray, asking God to continue transforming people through the experience, worship, and truths that we

experienced.

What are some tips that have helped you create powerful, creative worship? We’d love to hear from you! We

are all on the same journey.