I don’t like having to decide before a service exactly how I’m going to lead a song, how we should start it, how we should end it, or what (if anything) we’ll repeat. Until I’m actually leading the song, seeing and hearing how people are responding, and sensing where God is leading, I never quite know what will work best. Having the freedom to make last-minute (or second) decisions is helpful.
There are exceptions of course, like when a song is accompanied by a dance or a video, or when we’re following a specific arrangement, or when a lot of moving pieces are involved like choirs, organ, orchestra, etc. In those cases it can make a lot of sense to decide ahead of time the exact roadmap for a song.
But the worship team at my church has gotten used to me saying to them during rehearsal something along the lines of: “we’ll see what happens. We might do this, or we might do that.”
I’ve found it helpful to let my worship team know what the options are on a particular song. Take this past weekend for example:
- We started with Sovereign Grace Music’s “Greater Than We Can Imagine”. On the recording, the band comes in together at the beginning at full volume. I told my team that we’d either do that, or I’d just come into verse one quietly, we’d slowly build, and then be in full by verse two. It depended on how it felt in the room. We ended up coming in slowly.
- We sang Matt Redman’s “This is How We Know” which we had taught the week earlier. On Saturday night I made a last minute decision to skip the bridge, since I felt like people were just barely getting the feel of the verse and chorus. On Sunday morning I told them that we might do the bridge or we might not. We ended up not doing it.
Sometimes I’ll tell the worship team: “when we get to the end of verse three, we’ll do one of two things. Either we’ll play the intro and go back to verse one, or play the ending and sing the last line over it a few times. Just follow me at the end of verse three and I’ll let you know.”
On our chord charts sometimes I’ll even include “option A” after a chorus or bridge, or “option B”. During rehearsal I’ll tell the team to watch me for a cue. Usually option A is the default so my “cue” is doing nothing. Option B is something we might do – or only do once – and so my cue is looking back at them and nodding “like something is about to happen”. It sounds silly but after a few years the worship team knows what I mean when I say that.
It can be frustrating to be locked into a predetermined way of doing every song before the service starts. But it can be equally (or more) frustrating to have no idea what you’re going to do and expect it all to come together on the fly and your musicians to read your mind. As much as you can, let your worship team know what the different options are within a certain song, rehearse those parts, and make sure they’re comfortable. The more you do this the more natural it will become for everyone.