I plan virtually EVERY worship set I lead the same way I would plan to share Christ with a total stranger.
Let me explain (but keep that statement in your back pocket).
David Platt once said “worship is a rhythm of revelation and response”. I would wholeheartedly agree. We see God and we respond. That is why the use of God’s Word in worship is not an option. You will not (cannot) respond to something or Someone you have not seen, and you cannot see the Triune God apart from His Word. The Bible is the revelation of who God is, and worship sets must be saturated with Scripture or they are worthless. The Bible is also the revelation of what God has done. It is the story of God. I is the Gospel.
When we worship we are remembering the mighty deeds of God, His faithfulness, and most of all His faithfulness in sending His Son to die for us and be raised for our sins. So when someone stands up to lead the Church in worship, their two PRIMARY roles are teacher and story-teller. Through Scripture, the worship leader is teaching people WHO God is, and telling people WHAT God has done. (see Isaiah 6:1-8 and Col 3:16)
Now… you still have that statement from the beginning in your back pocket? Good, cause here we go!
I never begin my worship sets with “cross songs”. Why? Because that’s not where God started His Story, and that’s not where I would start when sharing Christ with a someone on the street. Imagine this somewhat typical scenario: You see a dude in the mall you want to share Christ with. You’re not sure how to start, so you just throw out a quick “uh….hey man, did you know that Jesus loves you?” You smile, and hope the Holy Spirit falls. Since we’re in America, you just get a slightly awkward look and then a response, “yeah”. Now, you’re wondering what to say. He already knows Jesus loves him, so I guess he’s a Christian? So, you respond with “uh, cool man. um, have a great day!”. So what went wrong in this scenario? Why wasn’t the gospel unbelievably good news (or unbelievably offensive)? Because the story teller started in the middle of the story. This guy didn’t even know he needed Jesus to love him.
You can’t see how amazing grace is until you see how disgusting sin is and how Holy God is. Thus, when I’m sharing the gospel with someone on the street, I always want to make sure I start with GOD…..His character, His nature, His power, His holiness, etc (using the Bible). Then, in light of That, they/you see sin, depravity, and eternal separation as a consequence for all sinners. NOW ENTER THE CROSS….because THAT’S when it’s GLORIOUSLY GOOD NEWS! We can have peace with God again! You see, the guy in the scenario above didn’t know he NEEDED the cross, and as worship leaders it is also crucial for us to ALWAYS ASSUME that people don’t know that they need the cross. Here’s what I’m getting at: Leading worship is sharing the gospel! It’s putting the whole Story on display. Congregations are full of people who have forgotten that they need the cross, so we as worship leaders (who also forget) MUST remind them (and remind ourselves)! So here’s what it looks like practically for me (Isaiah 6 is a great model):
I usually start every worship set with a couple worship songs that just make God look HUGE. Songs that remind us that He is Different from us…that He is Holy, Holy, Holy (i.e. Everlasting God, Revelation Song, Glory To God, Our God, etc.). Then sometimes I’ll do a song of contrition….a song that cries for the mercies of God in light of who He is (Give us clean hands, You Alone Can Rescue, etc.). THEN, and every time, I will bring in the “cross songs”. And at this point in the service, they are SO precious. Infinitely precious, b/c we have seen the infinite distance God has come to save us (Jesus Paid It All, In Christ Alone, etc.)! Then I will hit the resurrection (Stronger, Mighty To Save, etc.), and finally sometimes I will close with some missional songs (Open Hands, etc.).
I am honored to lead in about 6 or 7 worship services a week, and I can truly say, it does NOT get old this way. The Gospel is good news. Always.
Planning worship sets primarily around tempo (fast songs first, slow songs last) or key(s) (playing songs in the same key or related keys), in my opinion, leads to banal and trite singing that doesn’t have Biblical or logical substance. And we know we don’t need more of that. We need The Story. We don’t need more worship jukeboxes who stand on stage and sing out of context excerpts of The Story that sound cool. We need men of prayer, full of the Word, who stand up with the weight of glory on them and sing The Story.
I’d love to hear from you. Worship Leaders: what’s your formula for worship planning? Do you have one? I’d love to learn from you. My goal in this post was not to say that my way of leading worship is the only right way of leading worship, although I do feel quite strongly about it. If you don’t have a formula, I would encourage you to start thinking through this lens.