A major roadblock to spontaneity in worship is linear thinking. When all of the songs on our setlist have a precise beginning, middle and end, there is very little room for creativity or even just lingering in the moment. Sure, tight arrangements sound great and have their place, but every worship service needs to have at least one portion that doesn’t feel programmed or rushed.
Instead, I like to think of each part of a song as a cog or gear. The verse, chorus and bridge are all connected, but in a way where we can move from one to the other without a specific order or pattern in mind. Each part can be repeated as many or few times as necessary. I’m even a fan of repeating one line of the verse a few extra times for impact. It makes us think about what we are singing.
Some songs lend themselves to this kind of thinking very easily because the chord progressions they use are circular. For instance, C – Am – F – G is a circular chord progression. The bass note moves down from C, down from Am, up from F and up from G. One time through the progression is one revolution.
Songs with only one chord progression are the easiest to lead without a linear structure. Your band can’t mess up too badly when all they have to play is four chords. Using simple songs and intentionally practicing them with no order will give your team confidence to flow. Sometimes, I like to start a song with the bridge or chorus rather than the intro or verse. My team is generally prepared to jump in wherever I start.
Teach your team how to follow your body language and use hand signals. My team knows how big I want to build by how high my hands jump off the keyboard. I also signal them in other ways if they are going a direction that I am not headed. Sometimes I follow the lead of one of the other instruments if they are really flowing well.
Flowing together spontaneously as a team takes practice. Give them lots of opportunity to do so before Sunday morning.
Do you think more or less linear when it comes to worship?
One of the challenges every worship leader faces is knowing when to talk and how much to say. My personal preference is to err on the side of saying nothing, but for many, a few words throughout the service helps them engage. On the other hand, too many words make for a very distracting worship time.
Today, I’m proposing there is another way to communicate during worship without stopping the music and talking. Singing. Yep, that’s right. Aren’t we already singing? Yes, but the singing I’m suggesting is a sung version of what you would otherwise say. A spontaneous song. It’s possible to phrase your thoughts in such a way that instead of being an exhortation to the congregation only, it is also a response to God.
Below is a link to an example of what I’m describing from our worship service at The Well. Skip ahead to 35:00 on the play bar if you don’t want to listen to the sermon (which was very good). The spontaneous song starts at 35:39. Listen for the spontaneous chorus (37:07) I use to end the song and help the congregation respond to the message.
What did you think? How would you use this technique?
I find that worship is like surfing. Okay, I don’t really know the first thing about surfing, but I do know that surfers catch and ride waves. Not just one wave either. They do it over and over and over again. That’s what worship is like.
Many times, we settle for riding one wave. Yet, if there was room to wait a little, to linger on, we would surely find that another wave is already coming.
I co-led worship last night and our purpose for that meeting is to go deep and linger long. It’s great having that expectation, because without the unity, it can be hard to sustain lengthy times of corporate worship. We experienced many different waves throughout the night. Waves of great joy and laughter. Waves of dancing and excitement. Waves of passionate cries and yearning. Grace, mercy, healing. It was all flowing in such a powerful, tangible way.
One key to catching and riding the waves is to be free to improvise. It’s easy to plan the roadmap. I’m sure you’ve done that hundreds of times. It would be disheartening for me to say, “Worship went exactly like we practiced.” It can be scary to go off the beaten path, to sing a spontaneous song or release your team to be creative or “messy”. But the more you surrender, the harder it is to want to go back to the program. (It’s not that we don’t plan. We just hold the plan loosely.)
Take time to enjoy God. Don’t rush through the song list. Find out what He is saying in each moment.
Is this a new analogy for you? Or do you “ride the waves”?
Flow. It’s an important thing every worship leader should know how to do. Yet, in my experience, flow isn’t usually something that’s taught. True, some things are easier “caught than taught”, but we still need to talk about it.
So, what is flow? Definitely not a technical term. Flow is the ability to transcend the plan/roadmap/agenda/itemized schedule and be free to adjust on the fly. Flow is what keeps the worship service from feeling stagnant or “going through the motions.” Flow provides momentum like an undercurrent that takes you faster than you can paddle. Flow keeps the worship team and the congregation together in a unified direction. Flow is the satisfying feeling of riding a bike downhill or canoeing downstream. Flow is like flying. When you don’t have it you feel grounded, tied down. Like you’re pulling a load of bricks in a wagon with no wheels (anybody else ever lead a set like that?).
Flow is a release of control. A following of the Spirit.
As with many things in life, flow is something you cultivate in your bedroom when no one is watching. Your personal interaction with the Lord in worship is the place to start. I don’t know anyone who plans a worship set for their personal worship time.
First I’m going to sing… followed by a cool key change… then I’ll wrap up with a remix version of my favorite hymn…
Who does that?
Since worship isn’t really about the songs, all we need to bring is our hearts. The adoration of God’s grace. The thankfulness for His mercy. The expectancy of our hope. Whether spoken, sung, laughed or cried, the movements of our hearts are what move His heart. God’s not impressed with your voice as an artist. It’s not the precise combination of pitch and rhythm that excite Him.
So at home, there’s no performance. Just you and God. Enjoying the presence and love of each other. From this place, what do you do? Maybe sing or say a prayer. What comes next? We have a dialogue. As we minister to God, He ministers to us. His word brings life. It awakens passion, desire or simply peace. Then we respond. And He responds. You get the idea.
Corporate worship can be the same. Should be the same. A wonderful dialogue (aka not a monologue) between God and His people. As the worship leader, we have the ability, even responsibility, to release God’s response for His people.
I should have titled this, “An Introduction to Flow.” I have way too much to say here and now. But let me encourage you to begin practicing flow. Do it at home by yourself. Practice with your friends or worship team. Let your worship become more of a release. Sing spontaneous songs. Be free.
Release your song.