Worship Leaders – here are a few practices that most preachers make a part of their weekly preparation that we can learn from.
1. Think both Series and Sundays.
Most preachers are constantly working on a series of sermons as well as the content for a single sermon. This accomplishes a couple of goals. One, scripture communicates ideas both in a longer narrative form (think OT historical books like Judges and Ruth) and in precepts and doctrine (think Paul – epistles). You need both of these working in concert to truly reflect sola scriptura. (Actually scripture uses a large number of different genre’s of literature to communicate God’s story…does your music reflect this diversity?)
You can pursue this in a couple of different ways:
1. Thematic Series: If your preacher is preaching a thematic series then get his list of sermons topics and any scriptures that he plans to use. Spend some time studying this list and making thematic and scriptural connections with songs that are in your reportoire. Good places to search themes and topics are CCLI , Worship Together and Hymnary. If you are missing songs that support his main theme then find or write songs to support that. Also, try to pick a few songs that reflect doctrine’s in tension or in contrast with his sermon series. Our worship must always hold the tensions of scripture before God’s people. Jesus being both man and God, etc.
Here is an example – Advent
2. Expository Series: If your preacher goes through books at a time then spend some time reading and working through that book. Make your own list of themes and phrases that stand out to you. Put together a list of songs that reflect those themes. You can use tools such as the hymnary to research songs that were inspired by the sermon texts.
Here is an example – Ephesians
2. Learn from history and learn from your contemporaries
Most preachers are constantly reading and listening to sermons. This is how they improve their preaching, learn from the greats, and hopefully get a larger sense of how the Spirit is speaking to the church in the present. As worship leaders we need to explore the same strategies for our growth both spiritually and as leaders.
You can pursue this in a couple of different ways:
1. Study the history of worship in the Christian Church. We do not worship in a historical void. God works in and through our sense of time and space. He sent his Son at the appointed time and place and now we wait for the completion of all things. When we worship we should strive to use all of the ways that the Holy Spirit has spoken through the church to communicate the Gospel. When we do this we learn how various era’s have built their work on scripture, for better and for worse.
Check out these resources:
Andrew Wilson-Dickson – The Story of Christian Music
Paul Westermeyer – Te Deum: The Church and Music
Bard Thompson – Liturgies of the Western Church
Reggie Kidd – With One Voice
Lester Ruth – Walking Where Jesus Walked
Tim Keller – Evangelistic Worship
2. Study and interact with the worship services of Worship Leaders you respect and admire. I regularly read and study the liturgies of other worship leaders. It’s helps get me out of ruts, I learn, I admire their craft, I worship in a different setting and context, I find resources I can use to bless my own church.
Check out some of these resources: and email them if you have questions!
City Church, San Francisco (Karl Digerness)
Sojourn Church (Mike Cosper, et al)
Redeemer Pres Indy (Nathan Partain)
Covenant Pres Chicago ( Paul van der Bijl)
Trinity Pres CVille (Isaac Wardell – BiFrost)
3. Listen and study a lot of different kinds of music. We like to listen to what we like to listen to. Especially when it comes to worship music. It’s important that we listen to the best of what we use on Sunday’s, and then devote additional time to listening to music, worship and otherwise, that stretches our boundaries and our comforts. I love to download mixes that others have crafted, pick up themed collections from Amazon, and get suggestions from other worship leaders on what they are listening to.
3. Learn to craft worship and song like preachers craft sermons
It doesn’t take to long working in the office with a preacher until you realize what an immense task it is to craft a new sermon each week. As musicians we are really lucky. Usually we are using songs written by other people, and we only have a limited number that we use in every season. Preachers could preach sermons written by other men…who wouldn’t be blest to hear the sermons of John Calvin, or Spurgeon, or Keller each week? Yet a preacher is called to bring the Word of God to a specific people, in a specific context, with a unique spiritual makeup that makes it inappropriate for them to preach others sermons. As Worship Leaders we need to play our part in this task of crafting worship and song to speak to a specific context. All to often we fall back on songs and arrangements crafted for other contexts that don’t fit our own. We don’t do the hard work of parsing our own community — what are their needs, their deficiencies, their strengths?
Here are a few resources to help you with this weighty work:
Zac Hicks – How I Choose Songs for Corporate Worship
Bruce Benedict – Five Things I Learned about Songwriting from Sufjan Stevens
Keith Getty – 10 Ideas for Good Songwriting
Bob Kauflin – Songwriting resources at Worship Matter blog
John Newton – Songwriting 101
David Taylor – Questions of the Preacher (Worship Leader)