Artistically oriented people necessarily see life differently, and are often said to ‘color outside the lines.’ Certain organizational skills often elude this type of person in lieu of their tendency to be creative and spontaneous. They may secretly feel that planning ahead will take the mystery and surprise out of life, and will generally tend to be rather disorganized.
Unfortunately, organization is a key requirement to leading well, as people do not want to have their time wasted. A primary pastoral admonition is to “equip the Saints to do the work of ministry,” rather than doing the work oneself. A Worship Leader, therefore, must learn the skills of organization and planning, in order to successfully administrate ministry in the local church.
Planning – The Week
Structure your week around the constant: Sunday. An effective cycle of tasks can begin on Thursday. On this day, begin thinking and praying about the following Sunday (the one after the immediate Sunday). Pray, “How do you want your people to worship You?” Take the time to listen. Get the sermon outline, and any ideas the preaching pastor may have. Jot down ideas for congregational involvement, including songs, creeds, corporate actions, etc. Take Friday and/or Saturday off, if you are allowed to choose.
On Sunday, arrive early and have an extensive personal worship time; then execute your plan (that began a week ago Thursday) to lead people in their corporate service to God.
Many pastors take Monday as their day off, but I recommend against this. You will be tired, sometimes a bit depressed, and rather uncreative on Monday, so don’t give yourself, or your family, your worst day. Save office tasks that require no real vision-casting or creative thinking for that day. It is also a great day to clean up from Sunday by filing the used music, and putting things in their rightful place. Oil squeaky sanctuary doors. Note any equipment that needs repair, and schedule a fix. Check on any auxiliary reports, special media or announcements that will be included on the coming Sunday, and who the point person will be.
Remember that if Monday is tough for you, it is worse for the preaching pastor. (NOTE: never ask for a raise on Monday.)
Tuesday is a good day to debrief the prior Sunday. Ask your pastor questions like “were the services what you hoped or envisioned?” or “did the services accomplish what you had anticipated?” Take notes, and don’t be defensive.
Don’t be too hard on yourselves regarding the technical issues; you are basically putting on a live production each week. These difficulties and unavoidable pitfalls are the very reasons that Television shows are now taped, rather than broadcast live.
Next, ask your pastor to look forward to the coming Sunday. Do this humbly and gently, with nothing set in stone. Some good phrases include “how can I help enhance your message?” or “what tone would you like set before you speak?” What you’re really saying is “how can I make you more successful?” Listen to the ideas and suggestions, and write them down. This is the submissive part of your role.
Then, since you have spent the prior Thursday brainstorming the coming weekend, be prepared to show what you have “tentatively” planned, and the various elements that others have scheduled for that day. Give any input in the form of an additional idea, rather than a demand. NOTE: Some pastors plan their sermons months ahead of time, while others don’t start preparing it until Saturday afternoon. You must adapt to your pastor’s rhythm and style, and do the best you can with what you have.
After this meeting of the minds, flesh-out the plan you began last Thursday: service theme, songs, keys and transitions. Arrange or modify any music that needs to be adjusted. Notify or confirm service participants and musicians regarding any special rehearsals or report times. This is also a good day to consider any aesthetic changes. See if there any simple changes in the appearance of the sanctuary or campus that will contribute to corporate worship.
Wednesday is a good target to finalize preparations for Sunday. Get the necessary information to the bulletin; make service cue sheets (discussed later); organize and arrange sheet music; plan and prepare for rehearsals; arrange for any projected lyrics, and try to anticipate all other details for the weekend. Please note that this weekly cycle is not intended to represent all that the worship leader does. It completely omits staff meetings and other pastoral care duties. It is merely designed to help deal with an otherwise relentless set of deadlines. Anticipating everything for Sunday is impossible, but if you have a plan, you will be less frustrated.
Planning – The Worship Service
Preparing the music, lyrics, media, aesthetics and participants must be a part of the worship leader’s weekly routine, as was mentioned above. The worship leader must now coordinate the singers, instrumentalists, pastors, media and lay people to insure each knows their place and function in the flow of the service. Most churches have developed an organic cue sheet that has been developed for their particular needs.
A second option is to utilize one of the many online planning programs now available on the worldwide web. An online planning program is a centralized place to list and store public information including media, songs, schedules, rehearsal times, participants, stage layout, etc. both for services and for the entire church. Each church pays a fee to gain access to a variety of templates. One of the many advantages includes the ability of worship participants to access the service plan well in advance of the service. Additional advantages include the attachment of music, Mp3 files, media notes and instant communication, to name a few.
There are some considerations when choosing an online planning program. The monthly price is often contingent on the size of the church, and on the services desired. Look into the availability of tutorials, and ask other users about the learning curve for both church staff and volunteers. If the program is not intuitive, it will not be utilized. Connectivity to email, mobile phone and networking sites is also important. Mp3, document storage, and expandability are additional considerations.
Planning – The Rehearsal
People participate in performing ensembles for a variety of reasons. Some want to offer their art as their sacrifice to God, while others are simply lonely and need to belong to something. Still others may need to escape their home-life for a bit. Life is difficult for many people, and a rehearsal should be a joy, not a burden. This may be the only opportunity some have to laugh, so be sure to laugh – a lot.
Pastor your group by setting aside time for Scripture, prayer and some body life. A ten-minute time of Scripture and prayer is sufficient. What you lose in rehearsal time will be more than compensated for in the resulting unity.
Plan your rehearsal to the minute. Thoroughly planning your rehearsals will increase your productivity, and will let people know that you value both them and their time. Plan and post your rehearsal order. Have all the music ready, and build the expectation that your people will put their music in order before rehearsal begins.
Plan the pace of the rehearsal to alternate between intense work and lighter moments. Start and end on time, no matter what. If your group performs a feature special song each week, the following guidelines will help prepare them. Have at least six features in the queue, representing a variety of styles and difficulties. A good rehearsal order and guideline is the following (song 1 = this week’s special; song 6 is the newest):
Rehearsal Order Notes & Actions
Warm-Ups Keep it short. Focus minds & ears.
Welcome & Prayer Focus hearts on the task. Take note of who is missing.
Song 2 Work nuance: phrasing and dynamics.
Song 1 Perfect, and work memorization if necessary.
Break Choir leadership gives announcements & upcoming dates.
Song 3 Run-through, spot-rehearsing difficult or sloppy passages.
Song 4 Review past work, and then drop into context of the whole piece.
Song 6 Sight-read, point out difficulties, read again and put away.
Break Devotions, care and prayer.
Song 5 Pick 2 to 3 difficult sections and break them down for success.
Song 1 Final run-through of the upcoming weekend’s song.
Benediction Send your people out with a blessing.
Planning – The Year
As inconvenient as it is to stop and plan, it is more painful not to plan, because it leaves a Worship Leader scrambling. If a leader will pay the price of planning twice per year, they can spend the other fifty weeks executing their plan, and ministering to the Church.
Set aside one week in June, and one week in October. As dreams, music and ideas come across your desk during the year, place them into a file for consideration during your planning sessions. Also, stewardship of the church’s musical instruments and technical equipment is often assigned to the worship leader, and it is essential to protect this investment. Schedule instrument maintenance and technological updates and checks during these weeks. Also, be sure to budget for repair, maintenance and replacement.
In June, peruse and purchase music for September through January, remembering to consider special holidays, Missions emphasis weeks, additional events and extra services. These might include Thanksgiving Eve and Sunday, Christmas Eve and Advent. Include the choosing and planning musical presentations, if this is part of your church’s holiday expectation. Also, consider planning something special for the first Sunday of the year. In the wake of the holiday season this Sunday can be an emotional letdown, and something special will give people a bit of a lift.
In October, take a week to again examine any new songs and ideas that you have filed for this purpose. Plan for February through June, remembering to include planning for Lent and Easter. Some churches also acknowledge special days like Mother’s Day, Independence Day, and Veteran’s Day. Again, include the choosing and planning of any musical presentations expected or desired. Attempt to give your large groups four to six weeks off during the summer.
For a vocal ensemble that sings each week, plan to purchase thirty pieces, and reuse twenty pieces (after building your music library for a few years). It is important to write down the date when a piece is performed. If a seasonal musical/cantata is to be performed, try to use at least four pieces from the concert as a lead up to the performance. This will save money, and help prepare your group to perform well.
This article is an excerpt from the book The Making of a Worship Leader and is used by permission.
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