You've been there before... You're running on empty, you barely know the songs you're singing, you've only read one bible verse to get you through that morning's worship set, the band isn't sounding the way you'd like, and you can't wait to get home for lunch. One might take a look at that scenario and say "They just need some time off", but I would say it comes down to preparation. I understand that leaders suffer from burnout a lot, so I don't want to negate the struggles of ministry. I'm speaking from my experience in feeling the weight of the chaos I've created by not preparing my heart and mind for a worship set. I'm no worship leading guru, and there are many who have blazed the trail before me on all of this, but I feel you can sum up the preparation process into 3 categories.
"Search me O God and know my heart..."
1. Prepare Your Heart
"Search me O God and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in your way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24
Our weeks get busy with tasks, some routine and some spontaneous. It's easy to let the "to-do list" get in the way of your time to study and pray. I'm not one to read for hours on end, but there needs to be a time where you are meditating on the word and delighting yourself in it (Psalm 1:2). Find verses that coincide with what your pastor will be teaching through that weekend and meditate on them. Pray that the Holy Spirit would use you to share the gospel through song and lead from a place of humility. Truly take a moment to allow God to search your heart and know your thoughts. That way you head into your song planning and worship setting sober minded and guided by the Spirit.
2. Prepare Your Songs
Do we "let the spirit lead" in our song choice the day before or should we schedule songs two weeks in advance? I like to meet somewhere in the middle saying "Let the spirit lead while you plan your songs a week or two in advance". We should always keep the congregation in mind through this process because they are the ones ultimately effected by the decisions we make. When you plan ahead, everybody wins! The band plays the best with little to no "distractions". The congregation is more inclined to be engaged because everyone is focused on one thing... WORSHIPING!
Once you've discerned and chosen your worship set, PRACTICE THE SONGS! Practice them as much as you can. A goal of mine is to know the songs I'm playing well enough that I don't need a music chart or lyric sheet. Once you know the songs well enough, find some time to lead yourself through those songs. Open up the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to move in a time of vulnerability and seclusion. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will put something on your heart to speak for that worship set. Sometimes you gain a better understanding of how the songs flow together and you can create new arrangements.
"Let the Spirit lead while you plan your songs a week or two in advance".
3. Prepare Your Words
Exactly! What are you going to say? This last one has been the most difficult for me because I like to feel authentic when I'm speaking to the congregation. Basically, I've felt if it's not impromptu then it must not be the Spirit. I've learned that's not the case at all. Instead of trying to come up with something to say on the spot, I am able to comfortably lead from one song to the next. I would be a fool to think the Spirit can only impact my words when I'm on stage with a guitar in my hands.
Bob Kauflin touches on this topic in his book "Worship Matters" as he encourages leaders to think through what they are going to say. He even brings up the idea of writing down your prayers ahead of time! The goal behind this isn't to make you a robot who just memorizes things all the time. It's to help you form a cognitive process of how to say exactly what needs to be said to garner a response of worship to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There you have it: Prepare your heart, prepare your songs, and prepare your words. I believe if all these things are taken care of before you head in to your weekly worship setting you will dodge the feelings of chaos and entropy. In return, you will experience a new found freedom of leading in "Spirit and Truth", and a new found focus on aiding the congregation in worshiping the God who deserves to be praised!