God has used me in worship for a while, so I thought it may be helpful to share some tips I've learned along the way. We all have something to learn from each other so I'd be interested in anything you have to say as much as what God's taught me. I hope and pray this helps others :)
1. Preparation is key.
This is time spent with God, time spent listening to songs and learning new songs (and old ones!) The best way to be spontaneous is to be prepared to allow you the freedom to be spontaneous.
So what is preparation?
- Learning songs and learning them properly. Here's an idea - don't use the internet for chords esp 'guitar tabs' and the like as they are wrong 90% of the time. Try your best to learn the right chords or go to the artist's website or ask someone like me and I'll help! Songselect.com is an excellent paid-for service that also has the right chords but not always from every artist. But do your best to get the chords, words and melody correct. On the web you'll see the song 'There must be more than this' by Tim Hughes. Someone has put the line, 'Now set the Captain free' on the internet. I don't know who the Captain is or why he needs to be set free... But the real line is 'Now set the captives free'. So check words and everything. If you know things, you will inspire confidence in others.
- Email other musicians or message them with the songs ahead of time. I used to email songs to all the band at the start of the week if possible. I would send them all the music in the right keys (including capo keys for learning guitarists etc). I would also include links to youtube for songs people may not know.
- Have a practice if at all possible. This builds team, builds worship and helps people improve as a musician and worshipper.
- Prayer is of course absolutely key. I often choose songs by praying for God's guidance and then going through the list of songs, sometimes playing the songs. Sometimes songs literally jump out at you, as can happen when we read the Bible. Other times, songs just come and you just know. Then on occasions you just don't seem to have any ideas but things come together anyway!!
- My preparation time also includes spending a lot of time thinking about worship, listening to lots of songs and watching to see what God is doing, which songs work and why. I think (instinctively by God's grace) about what would work, how it works, ideas on playing and more. It's good to keep fresh and to consider your sound - a full band in the traditional way is great but maybe you want to occasionally change things. Think about new styles, fusions and mixes without going too far so you alienate most people!!
2. Think about what songs work and think in relation to your church or wherever you're playing. Think also about your musicians.
The latest anthemic rock song from Hillsong United may not work; the latest bouncy boing-y, ooooh-y, aaahhhh-y Matt Redman number would be amazing at a youth event but not for an adult service at 9.30am on a Sunday perhaps... The reverse is also true!
I've found that at my old church there were certain songs that really took off. But when I started using some Bethel songs, they just didn't work. Why? Because my old church didn't really reflect Bethel in its thinking or theology even. Whereas at my church now, songs work from Rend, Bethel, Hillsong, Tim Hughes, Matt Redman etc. It's awesome.
So choose thinking about your church, what's happening, yes even choose loosely based on themes if you want to (I don't).
One time someone asked me to play a load of songs for the coming Sunday (on about the Friday night). I told them it was too late sorry. But also that I had a band of young people learning their instruments and so we had to play according to their range.
So there are lots of things to think about!
3. Balance of songs in all kinds of ways
A good balance of songs is always key and this means balance in so many ways (this is especially the case if you lead regularly)...
- A mix of old and new songs - including hymns and the very latest cutting edge tracks if they work!
- A mix of lively songs and reflective songs. Think of it as going on a journey.
- A mix of songs that are very serious and fun songs. One Sunday my church started "Lord I Lift Your Name On High" with the music to a Micahel Jackson song. The pastor got everyone clapping. The church also likes "Lighthouse" by Rend Collective. Someone pointed out it's lightweight in its theology but you know what, people dance, people have the joy of the Lord and love it. So worship can go beyond 'theology' in song - to joy, fun etc. But it's a balance.
- A mix of songs from various artists. I know some churches only sing songs from certain artists, books, traditions etc. But this is so incredibly unhealthy when taken to an extreme. Open your hearts, your eyes, your spiritual ears to what God is doing and the worship songs rising up around the world!
More ideas will come in Part 2 coming soon... :)