The following is based on material originally written by J Kirt Tan of the Covenant Evangelical Free Church in Singapore. The first article in this series is Worship #1: Getting the Most out of Worship. Future articles for this series include a more in-depth look at song selection and tools.Do you long for worship in your small groups to be vibrant – meaning that the time of worship is spiritually alive and exciting? This can be a reality and to help you realise this, the following tips will guide not just yourself as the individual leading worship, but also the entire group.
Role of Worship Leader
The original article is focused on a cell-group structure where there is a specific individual holding the role of small group leader. This model of leadership is valid but here I expand the consideration set to accommodate other structures and models. Either way, someone is invariably asked/appointed to lead the worship segment/time during a regular small group session. The diversity of talent and background of the individual is likely to be quite expansive; some individuals may be more musically inclined, although the role is open to anyone willing to have a go – particularly in the environment that my church and small group fosters. It is an ideal if the individual is musically inclined and not tone-deaf, as is the characteristic of that individual as being a mature and growing believer.
For the purposes of this article, the role that we define here is simplified to the title of worship leader. So, what does it mean to lead worship? Consideration of the following areas and preparation are the keys to performing the role of leading worship in the small group setting. Being a worship leader as part of a church corporate worship ministry means applying much of the same principles discussed here. There are some differences because a small group environment and application of the role would likely mean a much smaller band/accompaniment and no stage to work from. These aspects may form a separate third article in due course.
For the context here of a small group environment, musical accompaniment would be an ideal and helpful if available, although it is by no means essential. Acapella worship with hand-clapping and humming, use of CDs, YouTube videos all provide flexibility and opportunities for creativity in the delivery of a time of worship. Personally, I have experimented myself – once even trying something out with drawings, guided by the use of keywords and themes. Ultimately, we need to be mindful of the purpose of worship and the focus of it being on God.
Prepare for worship by praying and seeking God on the following:
A Thankful Spirit
Thank God for the privilege of leading His people in worship of Him. It is an honour to be leading worship no matter the number and size of the gathering.
A Main Theme
Try to link the theme of worship to the discussion topic for that meeting. For that reason, couples may find it helpful if one partner is leading the discussion/study topic later and the other partner then focuses on the worship segment. However, coupling the theme of worship to a discussion topic is not necessary either – you may not be at peat with following the discussion topic, or there is something else that God has laid on your heart. Worship can be a separate ministry time for preparing people’s hearts to receive the Word by connecting with God’s presence. For that reason, worship flows naturally into a time of prayer.
Keeping to Time
Know and keep to the allocated worship time slot. Whilst it may not be articulated explicitly, generally 15-20 minutes is plenty of time, which allows for up to three songs. In my small group setting, we have adopted a principle of creating space in the second half of the worship segment where we spend the time connecting to God and praying, reading out bible verses and allowing God’s spirit to move amongst us. This second half where we pray is still considered by us as part of the worship segment – we may or may not have instrumental/background music playing to help keep the atmosphere of worship going.
In our group, we have also designated certain nights where the focus is intended to be wholly on a time of praise, worship and prayer for the entire night. These events are naturally different and call for a different approach but for all intents and purposes here, that kind of worship experience is a topic/article for another time.
Ultimately, worship is about God. So, creating space for God to minister and work is important. You do not want to cut short a time of worship if God is trying to reach out and speak to members of the group. Being sensitive to the workings of the Holy Spirit will help you know when to transition from singing, to a time of reflection, prayer and ultimately wrap up the time of worship.
In selecting suitable songs, remember that worship typically has various segments: (a) innovation; (b) celebration; (c) response – worship, adoration, healing, comfort and consecration; and (d) exaltation. A worship session usually has more than one of these segments. It is not necessary to cover all the four areas, not is there a fixed order to transition from one to the other. The segment in which it falls defines the purpose of the songs selected.
When selecting a song, just because you like it does not automatically make it appropriate for a setting of corporate worship. There are songs appropriate for personal worship times, whereas other songs that appeal better to corporate settings – be it in a small group, or even a church worship service. Pay attention to the lyrics of a song – are they theologically sound and consistent with the bible?
Some of the faster songs become more performance driven where people find it hard to actually sing. Nowadays, some songs give you that feeling that they are not actually singing but shouting out the words. Sometimes these songs are better suited to large church environments with masses of people to help build up the atmosphere and energy. In a small group setting, you cannot generate the same kind of energy so pick a song that suits.
Consider also whether you are picking a song the group is familiar with, or not. Songs that may be personally appealing may not be as familiar to the group – and it will take time for members to learn them. Just as applicable to the larger church worship setting, teaching people a new song takes time – and the recommendation is to repeat new songs regularly week after week to help them learn it.
Case in point, Hillsong’s 2015 Easter song O Praise the Name (Anastasis) was first performed at church around Easter, but more recently was sung twice on a Sunday service spread over three weeks. When reintroduced recently, the song touched me during that first Sunday service so much that I felt I had to use it in the life group worship session that Wednesday night. My song selection was affirmed by the fact that it had not just impacted me – but other members also shared the same sentiment. That song in particular was a good song to teach because it is musically simple to play and sing. I played the song through once in its entirety as a YouTube clip with lyrics before using a backing track that I had purchased. Use of the backing track with ProPresenter lyrics gave the small group the opportunity to sing without a direct replay of the video Hillsong performance, whilst the verbal arrangement cues helped us with timing.
Managing transitions not only applies to in between songs, but also at the end of the worship time, which is why in my small group, we merge the time of worship with a time of corporate prayer, where we connect and press into God’s presence. Having an instrumental interlude in between songs or even within a song arrangement creates that opportunity and space for God to minister. Transitions can be managed in various ways such as:
- Choosing songs which flow musically in similar keys or rhythm
- Saying an appropriate prayer or reading Scripture
- Observing a moment of silence
- Making a complete break between songs, where the first song ends naturally
When planning to speak, such as saying a prayer or reading out Scripture, make sure you have thought through what you intend to say (not necessarily word for word). The important thing is to keep it short and to the point. Let the music and words of a song minister to people. Be mindful that your role is to lead the worship and not preach – the time for that is later on as part of a teaching session.
Plan Song Arrangements
Also known as a planned auto-pilot sequence, this means having a pre-determined fixed sequence for the worship – the order of songs, statement number of verse and chorus repetitions. Where live music is accompanying a worship leader, practising beforehand helps, if not at least discussing the arrangements. Hand signals may play a role in the communication between worship leaders, musicians and even the whole group. Whilst you want to plan ahead when leading worship, you still need to remain open to changes as led by the Holy Spirit.
Focus on God yourself. Do not worry or be discouraged if an accompanying musician plays the wrong note/chord/rhythm, or if people do not seem ministered to. Trust God’s presence to minister and worship God yourself during the worship. Pray for yourself and quieten down before the worship starts, pray too for the hearts of your brothers and sisters to be open to enter God’s presence.
Be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Do not feel you have to complete your planned worship arrangement – repeat or skip a song if you feel led by the Spirit to do so. Do not feel pressed to fill every silent moment with prayer. Avoid talking too much or speaking each time between songs – as a guide, let a song flow musically and only add something to enhance the worship experience.
A time to quieten down people’s hearts is usually needed. As people typically rush to an evening small group meeting, it helps to facilitate their quietening down through prayer and even ice-breaker or sharing before launching into worship. In my small group, we try to address administrative/announcement-type things as part of starting a night.
Lead and direct the people. Be direct and be clear. For example, say, “Let’s pray”, “Let’s sing the first/next song”, or “Lets sing the first verse/chorus again”. Or just simply sing the first line of the verse/chorus that you intend to repeat. One way to signal the end of a song is to sing the last line again at a slower pace. Often the songs have an introduction or ending set of music/chords which will help prepare people to start or stop singing. For moments of silence, you can say something like “Let’s now reflect on the goodness of God this week” or “Let’s thank God in our hearts right now”. I personally have used phrases like “God, hear our hearts and our voices/prayers as we move into this time of worship/prayer”.
Lead the musicians. Brief the musicians on the songs and arrange, where possible prior to the actual meeting. Just as the more time dedicated to preparation is good, giving your musicians time to prepare and practice 1-2 days beforehand is always setting up the night for God to work. Rehearsing a song ultimately allows you to work out the technicalities beforehand so that on the night itself, you all can join in and worship since you are not focusing on the technicalities. Position yourself physically close to supporting musicians so that line of sight and easy communication is possible. Signalling transitions or changes in tempo all help.
Have variety. Be creative in your worship style and structure. You can have an instrumental interlude after singing a song’s verses, or encourage people to clap their hands or stand up for the more celebrate songs. Get someone to sing a solo or start the first verse of a song. Free worship should also be encouraged, where phrases can be sung out in praise.
When closing worship, do no be abrupt. Transition into a time of prayer and allowing space for God to continue to outpour His Spirit in that atmosphere of worship. Have instrumental and/or backing tracks available to create a transitional environment for prayer.
- Always prepare for worship ahead of time
- Always keep to the worship segment time allotted
- Trust God to minister during worship
- Worship God yourself whilst leading others
- Lead the group & musicians – avoid situations where people are guessing what is next
- Be planned going in, but flexible and open to the Holy Spirit and where He leads
- Stay focused on God