Zac Hicks, author of The Worship Pastor sheds insight on our pastoral responsibility as worship pastor and he shares tips for working out this responsibility in our day-to-day responsibilities in worship ministry.
Finding the right songs for your worship ministry can be tough. In this article, I share my favorite worship songs as I build a song library from scratch.
In a few weeks, I’ll be helping launch Mission Lakewood Church as an interim worship pastor. Since I’m building a worship ministry from the ground up, I need to begin creating a library of songs for the church to sing.
I want your input in this process! What are your favorite worship songs right now? Make sure you tell me below in the comments.
Mission Lakewood is being planted from Cherry Hills Community Church, a mega-church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. While it’s easy for me to move forward on my own picking what I think are the best songs for our congregation, I want to acknowledge that these people already have a collection of songs they have been singing.
In fact, Cherry Hills has a strong worship ministry and they have just released an original worship album. My assistant worship leader, Sarah, is on the worship team at Cherry Hills, so I’ve asked her to compile a list of twenty songs which are standards at that church. I want to make sure we launch the worship ministry with a decent amount of music being familiar to the congregation.
At the same time, Mission Lakewood will have its own unique identity as a church. It is not a campus of Cherry Hills. It is completely autonomous. That means our worship ministry does not need to be a copycat of their church.
One of my favorite responsibilities as a worship leader is choosing songs for our church to sing. I’ll admit, sometimes I’m a bit selfish in my song selection. I like choosing songs that are my personal favorites. At the same time, I want to make sure the church has a healthy diet of diverse worship songs.
In the rest of this video, I’m going to outline some of the worship songs I’ll be including in our library. I think the easiest way to do this is categorize the songs by the following themes. That will ensure I have diverse pool of songs both in the sense of energy and the different aspects of the gospel narrative they emphasize. Here are the categories.
When I plan worship, every Sunday I try to tell the gospel story through my song selection. That story being, God is great, we are not, but he forgives us, and we are sent out on mission to serve him. I learned this approach to worship planning for the book, Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell.
Generally speaking, Adoration songs are higher energy and toward the opening of worship. Confession songs are more reflective on our sinful condition and the need for grace. Assurance songs have a triumphal and thankful feel to them. Sending songs get the congregation fired up about living for Jesus.
Using this categories helps me plan worship with a more meaningful mindset than just playing with emotions. I want the gospel story to inform how I plan.
So here are the songs I chose to get this worship ministry off the ground. I think you’ll quickly be able to tell who my favorite worship bands and songwriters are. This list of songs will most likely evolve and change overtime, but I hope it gives you some ideas of great songs to add to your own song library.
Songs of Adoration
Nobody Like You - Red Rocks Worship
There’s No Other Name - Bethel Music
Lion and the Lamb - Bethel Music
Ever Be - Bethel Music
Great Are You Lord - All Sons and Daughters
Holy Spirit - Brian and Katie Torwalt
So Will I (100 Billion X) - Hillsong United
Behold(Then Sings My Soul) - Hillsong Worship
What a Beautiful Name - Hillsong Worship
O Praise the Name - Hillsong Worship
Only King Forever - Elevation worship
Right Here Right Now - Red Rocks Worship
Songs of Confession
Path of Sorrow - All Sons and Daughters
Come Thou Fount - Traditional
O Come to the Altar - Elevation Worship
Prince of Peace - Hillsong United
Crowns - Hillsong Worship
Tremble - Mosaic MSC
Lord I Need You - Matt Maher
Songs of Assurance
How Beautiful Your Grace - Red Rocks Worship
King of My Heart - Bethel Music
Reckless Love - Cory Asbury
Mercy - Bethel Music
I Will Boast in Christ - Hillsong Worship
How Beautiful - Mosaic MSC
Good Good Father - Christ Tomlin
In Christ Alone - Getty
This I Believe (The Creed) - Hillsong Worship
Songs of Sending
Not Afraid - Red Rocks Worship
Old for New - Bethel Music
Glory to Glory - Bethel Music
Faithful to the End - Bethel Music
I Surrender - All Sons and Daughters
Christ Be All Around Me - All Sons and Daughters
Shadow Step - Hillsong United
Wow, sorry that was such a long list. But it feels great to have that all documented before I start adding songs to my Planning Center Account. I’m still waiting for Sarah to add her recommendations.
As I mentioned, this song will evolve over time, and I know there are great songs I don’t have on the list. I will probably add some hymn arrangements as well.
Once we’ve completed our list of approximately 50 songs, we will begin creating library assets for each song. Those assets include:
Backing track sessions
If you want my complete song list with links to resources like charts and multitracks, you can download my free guide.
What songs should I add to this list? What are your favorite worship songs right now? Let me know in the comments.
In this guide, you will learn a simple worship planning strategy for Advent and Christmas.
First, I will unpack the meaning of Advent and Christmas from a theological standpoint. A lot of worship leaders miss the critical step of identifying the role these seasons play in the Gospel narrative. Understanding their theological meaning will make it way easier to plan services and pick songs during December.
The second portion of the guide contains my list of recommended worship albums and songs to aid you in the song selection process. New Christmas albums are released every year. This guide will help you stay up to date with the latest Christmas worship songs that are non-cheesy and easy for your congregation to sing.
It’s not Christmas time. It’s Advent.
Once Thanksgiving is over, western culture kicks into Christmas mode. Even in my own family, it’s a tradition to watch It’s A Wonderful Life after our Thanksgiving feast, and it becomes acceptable to listen to Christmas music.
All throughout December, businesses bombard us with advertisements for Christmas sales, Christmas movies, Christmas cookies, and Christmas parties.
The problem is it’s not Christmas yet.
Christmas does not start until December 25, and it lasts 12 days until Epiphany. That’s why we have the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Instead, the actual beginning of Christmas feels like the end of Christmas. December 26 comes, and the decorations go.
The major downside of going straight from Thanksgiving to Christmas in the context of worship is we miss out on the season of Advent.
Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas and is more than just a pre-game to Christmas. It’s tone and nature is significantly different. The word Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which translates coming or arrival. It’s a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. It anticipates both his coming as a baby as well as his second coming in the final days when God fully establishes his kingdom on earth.
A season of preparation, repentance, and hope.
When someone or something important is about to enter into your life, there is a lot of preparation work you need to be done. My wife and I are expecting twin babies in January. We are in the midst of the crazy amount of preparation work that needs to be done before the babies arrive. There’s a lot of practical prep work like getting the baby room ready. There’s also a lot of work we need to do on preparing our hearts and mindset. We are trying to figure out how we will care for two fragile little lives as well as maintain a healthy marriage. We will never be completely prepared for the arrival of our twins, but there are a lot of smart things we are trying to accomplish now to start the parenting thing off on the right foot.
Advent reminds us of the prep work needed in our hearts so God can truly be king of our lives. It does not take long examining ourselves to realize how much we have fallen short.
If Jesus were coming back on Christmas Day, how would your life look different between now and then? What type of prep work would you want to do?
I would probably be a lot more intentional at loving my neighbor and loving God, knowing that those two things are of highest priority in the kingdom of God. I would probably spend less time watching Stranger Things and Youtube and go knocking on doors in my neighborhood to tell people about Jesus.
Basically, I would do things I already know I should be doing but don’t because I feel no urgency or conviction about my current condition.
Advent is a season of repentance.
It’s an invitation to turn from our sinful desires and refocus our hearts on the kingdom of God. Advent is also a season of anticipation and hope. We are soon going to celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas.
The King is born. The reign of God has commenced. But when we look around at the world, we know that God’s reign is far from being fully consummated in this broken place.
Our world is full of tragedy, evil, and pain. Every time we hear about natural disasters, mass shootings, wars, disease, and genocide, alongside our grief, we have hope that someday Jesus’ second coming will put an end to it all. That’s what Advent is all about: preparation, repentance, and hope.
The tone of Advent is significantly different from the happy, cheerful, celebratory mood of Christmas. It makes little sense to sing our traditional Christmas carols or even the spiced up ones by Tomlin and Baloche during the season of Advent. The message of most of those carols is too early. They skip the part of the story, our story, when we have to examine ourselves, prepare our hearts, and hope for the coming of Christ.
You do not need to eliminate all Christmas songs from your repertoire before December 25. You most likely are not in a church that observes the church calendar.
Advent in your context is pre-game for Christmas. That’s okay. What you can and should do is tailor your song selection during Advent to hit on themes of preparation, repentance, and hope in Christ’s coming. You will find this will give your worship planning in December a lot more intentionality and purpose. Not every song you play needs to be a Christmas carol. There are plenty of non-Christmas worship songs that touch on these themes and would be appropriate for Advent.
Identify opportunities in worship to explain the meaning of Advent to your congregation. For example, you can say,
“In a few weeks, we will be celebrating Christ’s coming. There’s a lot to celebrate and be joyful about His first coming as a baby in a manger. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have hope for a future beyond death. We have hope that God will renew this broken world. Christ will come again and completely eradicate evil, sorrow, and tragedy. But as we look forward to Christ’s birth and his second coming, we need to do some prep work to our hearts. We often desire things that are not compatible with God’s kingdom. We need his Spirit to reshape and aim our hearts back toward God. As we sing songs celebrating Christ’s coming, we will also sing songs in which we cry out to God in repentance and acknowledge our need for Him.”
Then you could sing a song like Lord I Need You by Matt Maher or Kyrie Eleison by Chris Tomlin.
Okay, now it’s Christmas time.
You probably do not need much explanation around the meaning of Christmas. If you take anything away from this guide, I hope it is a better understanding of Advent. But Christmas is still a big deal.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we celebrate the incarnation. God became man. The Word became flesh (John 1). The incarnation is the starting point for understanding the identity of Jesus. It sets the stage for comprehending the significance of his life, death, and resurrection. Christmas historically has always been a joyful celebration, so do not be afraid to pull out all the stops and have a high energy service.
There will be a whole lot of visitors at your church. Make sure there is a clear invitation to salvation in Jesus. Our culture cannot quite get past the instinct to go to church on Christmas Eve. Don’t squander this evangelistic opportunity. As a worship leader, pick songs that tell the Christmas story and connect that story to the cross and the empty tomb.
As for Christmas song ideas, I would recommend sticking to mostly traditional carols that your church and visitors will know. Use fresh arrangements of these traditional carols found in my song selection guide. Make sure the arrangements do not stray too far from the original tune, or else that could just confuse people trying to sing along.
If you introduce a new Christmas song that isn't based on a traditional carol, I recommend introducing that song in Advent, so your congregation is ready to sing it on Christmas Eve. Also, make sure songs are in a singable key for your congregation. Finally, make sure your songs are playable for your band.
By now you have a better understanding of the theological meaning and significance of Advent and Christmas and hopefully you have a more robust framework for picking worship songs for the month of December.
I’ve compiled my recommended songs and albums into a free PDF download. This will save you hours of research trying to find the right songs for Advent and Christmas. This guide also includes links to the songs’ chord charts and multitrack sessions. You can access the guide by clicking the button below, completing the form and it will be sent to your email inbox.
The worship leader's guide to advent and christmas songs
A tension you may feel as a worship leader is finding a balance between planned worship and spontaneous worship. We want to do our best to be prepared and have a clear plan for every worship service. Our musicians and tech teams need a clear picture of what to expect so they can rehearse and play their part with excellence. At the same time, we are worshipping a living God who can move and speak unexpectedly during worship. We want to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit during our gatherings. Here are a few key things to consider as you wrestle with this tension, as well as some practical tips for engaging in both of these forms of worship.
When reflecting on the nature of worship, it’s always a good idea to search for what scripture has to say on the subject. The passage most commonly associated with planned and orderly worship is 1 Corinthians 14:26. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth because they were having a lot of issues in the community regarding worship and they were not doing it in a way that was edifying to the church body. He writes, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” He goes on to give them specifics regarding how to share prophetic words and tongues and ends within verse 30, “God is not a God of confusion but of Peace.”
Paul was writing this to a specific church within a particular context, so we need to identify the timeless principle behind this passage for corporate worship. I see two of them. First, everything we do in worship should be done to build up the body. Second, our gatherings should not confuse.
Intentionally planning our worship gatherings allows us to craft edifying worship gatherings for our churches. We are not leading worship to entertain or merely inspire the emotions. We want our worship to unify the body, direct people’s hearts toward God, and ultimately make them better disciples of Jesus. It’s difficult to do this without putting in the time and effort to intentionally plan our services.
Scripture makes it clear that God regularly moves and speaks in unexpected ways. Take a look at the book of Acts. In chapter two, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends upon the believers in Jerusalem in a spontaneous and unexpected fashion. In Acts 16, we read that Paul had plans to go one place to preach the gospel, but the Holy Spirit changed his plans and directed him elsewhere.
This tension between planning and spontaneity is healthy for God’s people. It exists in our worship gatherings as well as in Christian living in general. Neither approach is wrong. We should embrace both planning and spontaneity.
It’s also worth clarifying what spontaneous worship is. This style of worship is a regular part of worship at Bethel Church in Redding, California. Their worship is very charismatic and they have contributed a lot to the worship songwriting world in the past few years. They’ve also popularized spontaneous worship for our generation. Regardless of your opinion on their ministry, they have great insight on spontaneous worship since they intentionally make it a part of their worship experiences. One could say they PLAN to have spontaneous moments.
On their Worship U blog, Bethel defines spontaneous worship as “fresh expressions of worship beyond the songs that have been pre-written, planned and practiced.” They also differentiate spontaneous worship from prophetic worship, which they define as “unique to a specific moment. The prophetic comes when we can sense what the Spirit is doing in a certain place on a certain day. Then we choose to sing out what we feel God is saying or what heaven is doing at that time.”
In other words, “spontaneous worship springs from the overflow of our hearts towards His. Prophetic songs occur when we sense the stirrings of God’s heart towards us.”
I think this is a very helpful distinction between prophetic and spontaneous worship. Prophecy is not a foretelling of the future, but a "forthtelling" of truth for God’s people. Some people have the gift of prophecy, while others do not. If you’re a worship leader with the gift of prophecy, by all means, use it in a discerning way that builds up your church body in worship. If you do not have the gift of prophecy, it’s worth exploring spontaneous worship as another way to express adoration to God.
Here are a few ways you can improve both planning and spontaneity in worship. First, let’s focus on the planning process.
Plan your set-list of songs
Prepare chord charts and other practice resources for your band
Plan your transitions between songs
Know what you will say or pray during your set
Plan transitions to other parts of the service like the sermon, announcement, and communion
Plan any audio/visual cues for your tech team
Planning what you will say or pray in worship is often overlooked. I've created a free guide to give you 25 ideas for meaningful things to say or pray. Click the button below to download the guide.
These are simple tips, I know, but do not overlook them as you prepare for worship. Disregarding these fundamentals will result in a train wreck.
Here are some tips for growing in your ability to lead spontaneous worship. I found these ideas in Bob Kauflin’s book, Worship Matters.
Sing scripture. Open up to the book of Psalms, play a simple chord progression, and sing the words of scripture to your own melody.
Sing scripture and respond to it in song. You’ll develop the ability to interact with God’s Word.
Sing your own words and melody over a simple chord progression
Work on spontaneity with your team. Make sure they know how to follow you when you decide to take things in a different direction. Create subtle gestures or signals to indicate different parts of the song.
Believe it or not, spontaneity does require practice and planning. Plan for a time in your worship service to be spontaneous. Planned worship and spontaneous worship are not opposed to one another. Both are biblical, and both can edify the church.
I grew up in a small Pentecostal church in Northern Vermont. It was the church where I discovered my passion for worship ministry. I love the vitality and energy of the charismatic tradition. When I was young, the charismatic church and its style of worship were all I knew. I did not know that not all churches value extended worship sets, raising hands, clapping, and altar calls. Elevation Church is one of a handful of charismatic mega-churches that has been producing solid worship songs for any church to use on Sunday. In early 2016 they released the album, Here as in Heaven. One of the most popular songs on that album is O Come to the Altar written by Chris Brown, Mack Brock, Steven Furtick, and Wade Joye. Since the album’s release, O Come to the Altar has made it to the top 10 most popular songs on CCLI Song Select. Many churches across the globe are singing it right now. This song is both singable and powerful for any congregation.
The following is a review of the song from both a musical and theological standpoint. You’ll learn some practical tips for arranging the song for congregational singing and understanding the song meaning.
O Come to the Altar is a ballad in 6/8. I don’t know what it is about 6/8 ballads. For some reason, they have a high emotional impact. Another popular but older song that is a 6/8 ballad is How He Loves by John Mark MacMillan or Come as You Are by David Crowder. The range of the melody is small and stays under an octave. That makes it singable for just about anyone. The motifs in the song are also memorable and repetitive. There is nothing particularly challenging about the instrumentation in this song. It sounds great played acoustically or with a full band. If you’re new to leading worship, I would recommend having this song in your library. One of my favorite things about this song is the chord progression in the chorus. I love how it moves from the one chord to the two chord, then to the six chord. The two chord feels a bit surprising but it fits well and gives the song a distinct sound.
As I mentioned above, I grew up in a charismatic church where altar calls were the norm. Personally, I can connect with the idea of coming forward to the altar as a sign of surrender and worship. In the Old Testament, the altar was the place where God’s people made sacrifices for their sin. It was a unique place where God interacted with humans. It’s where people would go to consecrate themselves to God. In other words, it’s where people would go to find forgiveness for their sin and devote their life to God. In the New Testament, Christ’s death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice on the ultimate altar. As Christians, we do not need to make animal sacrifices anymore. Instead, we are to offer our lives as “living sacrifices” to God, as Paul says in Romans 12. We are “living” sacrifices because Christ has brought us from spiritual death to life. We are in right relationship with God. We are consecrated. We are set apart for his purpose. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were a prediction of what was to come in complete fulfillment in Christ.
So when you sing the lyrics of this song, know that the imagery of the “altar” has a lot of Biblical meaning behind it. The chorus is simple but packed with truth. When we sing, “O Come to the Altar,” we are not asking people to find a lamb to kill at the front of the church. It’s referring to the type of sacrifice Paul mentions in Romans 12:1. We want to make it a habit of laying down the ways of our old self at the altar so that we can embrace a new life in Christ.
Worship Leading Tips
I would recommend leading this song in the key of F or G if you are a male vocalist and D or E if you are a female vocalist. On the album, they play it in B. In my opinion, it is an awkward key for your average small to mid-sized congregation. If I were leading, I would play it in the key of F and capo the 5th fret and play in the key of C.
This song works great as an invitation for response to a sermon or call to salvation. Depending on your church’s style and traditions, you could even invite people to come to the front of the stage as a tangible expression of coming to the altar. You could have church leaders available to pray over them. Using the brief theological explanation above saying something like, “In the bible, the altar was a place where people came before God and sought to be made holy for His purposes. Back then they sacrificed animals to experience communion with God. Since Jesus’ death was the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of the cross, we can come before God without needing to make animal sacrifices. Instead, we surrender our own lives to God so that we can be living sacrifices. That’s what this song is about. I want to invite you to embrace God’s transformative love for you through Christ. You are made holy and accepted by God because of Jesus' blood.”
If you found this review and these tips helpful hit that like button and share it with your worship leading friends! I’d love to hear your feedback on this song. Are you singing it in your church? How has your congregation received it? What do you like or do not like about the song?
During my years at seminary, I spent some time leading worship in the Anglican church. If you are unfamiliar with the Anglican tradition, they are the folks who wear funny robes, walk up and down the aisle at the beginning and end of service holding the Bible and cross and say a lot of liturgical readings. They are Catholic in worship style but Protestant in their theology. The Anglican churches I had the pleasure of leading in were a mix of ancient tradition with modern music. As a worship leader, I loved it.
A lot of modern, evangelical churches view music as the only form of worship on Sunday morning. In the Anglican church, music is just one aspect of worship. Anglicans view other activities like reading scripture, listening to the sermon, and celebrating the Eucharist as worship. It makes for a highly participatory worship service because people can engage in multiple forms of worship rather than just singing. Everyone can do a responsive reading or prayer because those activities are so straightforward and simple. No one complains that they do not like the “style,” “key,” or “arrangement” of a corporate reading like they would complain about a song. But I guess this is the church we are talking about so we never want to underestimate a church-goer’s ability to complain!
Although I no longer lead worship in an Anglican church, its tradition does have an influence on how I plan and lead worship, even in a modern, suburban, evangelical church. The primary way this expresses itself is in my use of corporate readings. On a weekly basis, I utilize scripture and other ancient prayers in worship that help increase the level of engagement in worship. Here are the most common types of corporate readings I use.
Call to Worship
Reading a corporate call to worship is an excellent way to get the congregation’s mouths moving and help them focus on why we are there to worship. The book of Psalms is the best resource for finding Call to Worship readings. For example, I will use a passage like Psalm 95:1-7. Sometimes I will invite the congregation to read the whole passage with me. Other times I will alternate every two verses with them. Whichever way you choose, make sure you indicate on the screens by changing the font colors or boldness.
Modern worship music in general lacks elements of confession, so I find myself using a prayer of confession frequently. Scripture verses like Psalm 51 work great as prayers of confession. I would also recommend the Anglican prayer of confession you can find in the Book of Common Prayer.
Assurance of Pardon
If we read a prayer of confession, I always follow it with an assurance of pardon. We do not want people to forget the grace they receive in Jesus. Many Bible verses work well for this, and most of the time I will read it over them. A few examples include Isaiah 1:18, John 3:16-17, and Romans 8:1.
If you want to sound a little old school but thoughtful in your prayers, then I would check out the Collects in the Book of Common Prayer. There is a different collect for every week of the year, including ones for other special occasions. You can either read the collect entirely or have the congregation read along. The collects are super brief and could work well while transitioning in between songs.
Prayer of Blessing or Sending
At the end of the service, I like to send the congregation out with a prayer of sending or blessing. It reminds them that they are a people of God on a mission. Many Bible verses work well for this. A couple of examples include Numbers 6:24-26, Romans 15:13, or 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.
I hope this provides you with some direction on how to start using corporate readings in worship. These readings are never a substitute for congregational singing. Make sure you are still picking and arranging songs your congregation will sing. I also understand that whether or not you choose to do these reading depends on your church’s worship style and if your pastor is okay with this type of worship. Make sure if you introduce something new like this, you explain the why behind it. When done properly, corporate readings will increase the level of engagement and participation in worship.
Alongside the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, the best resource I know of for choosing readings on a weekly basis is The Worship Sourcebook. This book has hundreds of ideas for prayers you can use. It is also an educational resource for understanding liturgical readings and their purpose.
Does your church use corporate readings in worship? Let me know in the comments.
As a worship leader, I love having the responsibility of picking the songs my church is going sing every week. Think about how cool of an opportunity that is. Whether your church is 50 people of 5,000 people, as worship leaders, we have the privilege of curating a musical and spiritual experience that deeply impacts the lives of those in your church. Song selection plays a huge role in your congregation’s spiritual health. The songs you pick will be stuck in their head throughout the week. They won’t remember your pastor’s sermon, but they will remember that catchy new song by Elevation Worship. A lot is at stake as we select songs on a weekly basis. How do we make sure we are picking the right songs?
While there is no clear-cut process for choosing the right songs, I do believe there are a handful of things worship leadership should consider on a weekly basis as they open up Planning Center and start plugging in their song choices. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I want to show you the six things I consider most often while choosing worship songs.
Consideration #1: God
Worship leaders should make it part of their weekly routine to sit down and consider God. This seems obvious, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easy to skip over spiritual preparation for practical preparation. Do not underestimate how God can speak into your planning process when you make time and space for it to happen. Go for a long walk, or find a quiet place in your church. This does not need to be a half-day prayer retreat. Maybe for some, just five minutes of dedicated time to prayer over your planning process is all you need. The important thing is to reflect on who God is and ask Him to guide you in your worship planning and song selection process
Consideration #2: Gospel
My approach to planning worship is to tell the story of the Gospel every Sunday through song choice, readings, and prayers. That means I want to have songs that express God’s greatness, our need for salvation, His forgiveness, our thankfulness, and our call to mission. Each week I try to select songs that touch on most or all of these aspect of our encounter with God. A book that helped me think this way about picking worship songs is “Christ-Centered Worship” by Bryan Chappell. After learning this paradigm, my song-selection is informed by the narrative of the gospel instead of haphazardly picking songs that seem to fit well together.
Consideration #3: The message or theme of the day
The message of the sermon or theme of the day also plays a role into my song selection process. I do not try to force this. While the sermon is a crucial part of worship, it should not determine the choice of every song. As I explained already, the whole gospel narrative should be told throughout the worship experience, so while it is good to have a song, maybe two that reinforce the sermon message, I feel like the purpose of the music and other aspects of worship should be to take the congregation places where the sermon does not. In my current worship leading context, most of the worship music is before the sermon, and we have one response song after the sermon. That is where I will place a song that reinforces the message.
Consideration #4: Song Frequency
Before scheduling a song, I will look at the song use history. Planning center makes this really easy when viewing services in matrix view, or by looking up the song’s history in the library. I want to be sensitive to whether or not a song has been played too much or too little. If I’m introducing a new song, then I will play that song multiple weeks in a row. If it’s a song that is a standard in our library, I will play it every 4-6 weeks.
Consideration #5: The Band
Often, the makeup of my band on a given week will determine what songs I choose. On weeks when my best drummer is playing, I will schedule more challenging songs because I know he will nail them. Or maybe my best piano player is on the schedule so I choose more songs that are piano driven. I enjoy picking songs that play to individual band members strengths.
Consideration #5: The Worship Leader
Hopefully you are not the only worship leader in your band. Maybe you are the only one paid to be the worship leader, but there may be skilled volunteers who can lead songs. I know this plays a significant role in my song choice for a particular Sunday. What songs fit that person’s voice? Which ones are they most confident leading?
What other considerations do you have when picking songs? Let the Churchfront Community know below in the comments.
My number one leadership book recommendation is The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell. Reading this book has given me the clearest paradigm for understanding what it means to grow as a leader in whatever context or role I find myself. The book is straightforward. Maxwell explains there are five levels of leadership.
- People Development
- Leader Development
Leadership growth happens when you advance from level one up to level five. You cannot skip a level, and you must maintain prior levels as you grow. It did not take long reading this book for me to discover how this applies to my role as a worship leader. Maxwell defines leadership as influence. I agree with this definition. As worship leaders, we are trying to influence our volunteers to be committed and the church body as a whole to know and love God more. But how does this influence happen? As I unpack the five levels of leadership, I think you’ll discover where you are at as a leader and how you can grow in influence in your worship ministry.
Level 1 - Position
Maybe you’re a volunteer and your lead pastor saw potential in you, or you were hired as a full-time worship leader. Either way, you began your journey by being granted a position. This level of leadership has the least influence. It is merely having the title, “worship leader.” Do not expect people to follow you just because you were granted a position. Sure, your band members may show up to rehearsal and maybe put in a little practice time at home, but do not expect them to be committed or exceed your expectations. A lot of worship leaders complain their band just does not care or they are not reliable. Guess whose fault that is. Yours. It’s probably because you are stuck at level one leadership. Influencing others takes a lot of work and requires stepping up to the next levels of leadership.
Level 2 - Permission
To reach the next level of leadership, you must develop relationships with your worship band so that they give you permission to lead them. Developing relationships is absolutely critical for influence. The old sayings are true. “People go along with leaders they get along with.” Or “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” As a worship leader, I have always struggled with this area of leadership. I poured all of my time and energy into the excellence of music and production, but I failed to connect with my worship team and congregation. You can attain this level of worship leading by making time in your calendar to meet with your band and members of your church. Set a goal is to meet with one or two people a week. Ask them a lot of questions about their story, their family, and their passions. Ask how you can pray for them. Host a band hangout at your house so they can meet your family. You do not need to be their best friend. They just need to know you. I think you’ll be amazed at how much more committed they will become. They will even buy into your crazy ideas. Invest the time to earn their permission as a leader and your influence will increase.
Level 3 - Production
The next level of leadership is production. This is not “production” in the sense of audio and visual elements in worship. This production refers to your competency and ability to get work done. In the church world, a lot of leaders become complacent and remain on level two. It makes sense because the permission level seems the most “pastoral” and a lot of churches believe it is okay to have less than stellar production in ministry. There are also ministry leaders like me who want to skip permission and work on production. Both staying on level two and skipping level two are wrong. If you want to grow your ministry and grow your church, you need to continually grow in your skills and be a productive leader. For worship leaders, that means becoming a better musician, theologian, and growing in one's understanding of how to use technology in worship. Take music lessons, read books, and attend conferences. Advancing one’s education and skill set has never been easier thanks to the internet. It also means being disciplined and working hard. Avoid being a last minute planner. Your band and your congregation will want to follow you more as you contribute to the advancement of the church’s mission.
Level 4 - People Development
Once you have established meaningful relationships and the discipline to be a productive leader, the next level is people development. At this level, people will follow you because of what you do for them. If you remain on level three, it will not be long until your team stagnates. Your ability to be productive can only go so far in advancing your ministry. That’s why it is necessary to begin developing other team members into worship leaders. This will set you apart from 99% of worship leaders. Advancing to this level is tough. It’s hard enough to ascend to the third level of leadership yourself, let alone influence others to do the same. Good leaders are not afraid to work themselves out of a job. If your church has a healthy leadership culture, this will be encouraged. Replacing yourself will give you the opportunity to lead larger and work on bigger projects you would not have time for if you were the sole worship leader.
Level 5 - Leader Development
The pinnacle of leadership is developing others to level four leadership. In other words, you develop leaders who develop leaders. Very few make it to this level of leadership. While I have never seen this in a worship ministry, here’s what I would envision for a level five worship leader. This person would mentor and develop a team of worship leaders who are developing other worship leaders. They would be behind the scenes and rarely would they be on the platform on a Sunday morning. It does not sound glamorous, but this type of leadership is how you leave a legacy because now your influence impacts exponentially more people. Realistically, I only see this happening at large and growing mega-churches who have the resources for growing and developing a large staff. There are possibly some other avenues through which this level of leadership can be exercised, but they would be rare.
Leading and influencing others is tough no matter how you slice it. If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell. As you can see from this brief overview, it is highly applicable to any leadership context, especially worship leading.
How is your church’s worship diet?
Recently, I’ve been reading the book The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks. If you are involved in worship music ministry, I highly recommend reading it yourself. I think it is one of the most thoughtful but accessible books I have ever read on worship ministry.
One of the chapters in his book is called “The Worship Pastor as Theological Dietician.” Have you ever thought of having the responsibility as a theological dietician for your church? In a nutshell, Zac talks about how the way we plan our worship services determines the type of theology our congregation is consuming on a weekly basis.
Does your church’s worship gatherings consist of primarily joyful, happy, praise music? Obviously, that is an essential part of how Christians should be worshipping. There is a lot to be joyful about because of the Gospel. The problem occurs when this type of worship makes up 100% of our worship gatherings.
When worship becomes out of touch with reality.
Zac Hicks gives the illustration of your average guy who attends church with his wife and kids. It’s a healthy, vibrant mega-church, and the worship music is always celebratory, God-is-good-and-life-is-so-great type of music. Then one day the guy's wife is diagnosed with cancer and life takes a turn for the worse. All that his church sings on Sunday is happy and celebratory songs. It causes the man to become bitter and even leave the church because he feels it is so out of touch with reality.
This is an extreme example, but it reminded me of the importance of planning a healthy diet of songs for my church. Each week I try to pick some songs that are celebratory and others that maybe are more somber and reflective. Some songs are for praising God, but others are for lament and crying out to God for his healing presence in our lives.
There are theologically rich songs being written today (even by the mega-churches!)
Here is what’s exciting. The modern contemporary worship music is still relatively young, but within the past decade, I have seen how the songwriting of even the popular worship leaders is beginning to mature. Of the new music being written these days, fewer songs are peppy and happy-go-lucky, and more songs and songwriters are focusing more on the realities of life and how the gospel comes into play no matter what the situation.
I’m a HUGE Hillsong United fan. Maybe it is because when I first started leading worship in high school, that’s when Joel Houston and the gang started to have an international platform and I learned how to lead worship using their songs. Remember songs like “Break Free?” Sure it was a great song, but it’s the epitome of happy-go-lucky worship music. But I don’t blame Hillsong United for writing it because they were writing songs for their youth ministry. Fast forward ten years and now Joel is arguably the most thoughtful and theologically informed worship songwriter out there. Watch the Hillsong United documentary, "Let Hope Rise," and you will see what I mean. Now Joel and his friends are writing songs like “Even When It Hurts” and “Prince of Peace.” I am nearly moved to tears every time I listen to or sing these songs, not merely because of the emotion of the songs but also because of the theologically-rich lyrics.
It excites me to see songs like this being written because finally, the contemporary worship scene is starting to have a healthy diet of songs. Just a couple of days ago Hillsong United released their new songs, "Wonder" and "Splinters and Stones." Together these songs display a balanced diet of worship songs. "Wonder" is more celebratory and joy-filled, while "Splinters and Stones" is more somber, reflective, and contains elements of lament and confession.
Do not let people tell you that you need to incorporate old hymns into worship to have theologically-rich music. I love hymns, but people who think hymns are holier to sing and more substantive than modern worship music need to pull their head out of the sand and just research more of what is being written today
Sorry, my rant is over.
How is your church's worship diet?
Reading this chapter about the worship pastor as dietician reminded me how important it is to have a healthy variety of song selection in worship. I also like to throw in some other liturgical elements, but that’s a topic for another article. Don’t just feed your congregation theological comfort food. Make sure they eat their fruits and veggies as well. It may not taste good, but they will be much healthier down the road.