Really, that’s it. I set out to write a post about how important personal preparation is, how helpful it is. But I believe it is truly the most important key to leading worship from a place of inspiration. Whether you lead by singing, playing an instrument, or even running sound or the lyrics software, preparation is primary.
I wish I could say I set aside time before every worship set to prepare on my own, but it doesn’t always happen. This past weekend, for example, I was scrambling just to get basic things in order for Sunday morning. But the difference in inspiration I feel between going in prepared and not is night and day.
My preparation usually entails playing and singing through the worship set in my studio, on Saturday, with Ableton loops and Mainstage sounds, just as I will use them the next day. But it doesn’t take all that. Your preparation might be as simple as playing with a recording or singing a capella.
The key is to allow time and space for focused preparation to occur. You want to be attentive to your musical tasks and spiritually receptive to the Holy Spirit.
I receive at least six clear benefits from this type of preparation. Playing through the songs on my own allows me to…
1) …play and sing more effectively, which helps me lead more effectively. When my parts are sorted out beforehand, I can forget about some of the musical maneuvering, put it on auto-pilot, and simply focus on leading and worshiping.
Many people talk about the difficulty of playing music and worshiping at the same time, or worshiping and leading at the same time, or even just playing an instrument and singing at the same time. What’s the key? You have to develop your technical skills so they require less than 100% of your attention. Worshiping while playing becomes much easier when the music only requires 30% of your mental energy. The rest can happen through coordination of ear training and muscle memory, developed through practice.
2) …help others, because I’m playing/singing my parts correctly. Who would you rather play with: someone who knows his/her part or someone who doesn’t? Every mistake you make has the potential to create instability for your bandmates and for the congregation. I want to be one who creates a solid platform for others to play and sing inspired. My preparation time helps me do that.
3) …adjust when others aren’t solid. Live music requires the ability to listen and respond, not simply be an island of correct notes. Having my parts ready means I will be more adept at adjusting to a wrong lyric or a rushed drum fill.
4) …come up with musical ideas. My personal preparation time is the safest place to experiment. When ideas happen during preparation, I have freedom to explore them. This sometimes results in a new song being added to the set, a new feel for a well-known song, a new musical riff, or even a newly-written vamp or chorus. It’s the preparation time that breaks the cycle of doing the same songs the same way every time.
5) …draw inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Playing and singing through the worship set on my own removes the distractions that people can create. It allows me to take a step back and ask God what he wants to do through the worship set.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit will highlight a theme woven through the songs, or bring to mind a scripture to read, or even give a prophetic statement for the church. Of course, this can all happen during a worship set, but I find I’m more receptive in preparation time.
6) …get back to my original purpose in leading worship: ministering to the Lord. God showed me several years ago, in a very definitive way, that my purpose is rooted in Ezekiel 45:4b, as one of those “who minister in the sanctuary and who draw near to minister before the Lord.” I have a public ministry, but it is more effective when preceded by my private ministry to the Lord. I want the prayers, songs, and melodies heard only in my studio to resound in heaven, blessing the audience of One.
Preparing in the secret place
You may have great rehearsals with your team, where you develop the musical confidence and spiritual receptivity to lead effectively. Even if that’s the case, I challenge you to go a step further and prepare on your own, in the secret place.
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed
under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God;
on Him I lean and rely, and in Him I confidently trust!”