The Proper Use Of A Worship Song

David Santistevan —  — 21 Comments

[Today's post is an excerpt from my most recent newsletter. Due to such positive feedback, I wanted to feature it on the blog. If you're not subscribed to my newsletter, I suggest you do. I consider it the "Insider's" group and it's one of my favorite things to write. You can sign up here.]

hands-lifted-in-worship1When it comes to preparing for a worship service, what is the first question you typically ask?

What songs am I going to do?

We all ask that.

We get in frantic mode to pick the best songs everyone will like, that every church is doing, that is on the radio. Then, when it comes time to lead worship, we sing through our songs.

A job well done?

Well, not exactly. I want to share with you a different approach to preparing for (and leading) corporate worship.

It doesn’t start with a frantic hunt to find the most popular songs.

It doesn’t start with fresh, interesting arrangements. It doesn’t even start with your skinny jeans.

It starts with listening. Yep, listening.

Remember This

If there’s one thing you get out of this post, I want you to remember these questions:

  • “God, what are you doing?”
  • “God, what are you saying?”

The best corporate worship leading starts with tuning into the voice of the Holy Spirit (you can tweet that, if you like).

Then, when you hear from Him you can more effectively pick songs to lead your congregation.

The Father is always doing great things and speaking to us. Worship leader, it’s your job to tune into His voice. I don’t care if you sing “I Exalt Thee” for an hour. That’s not the point. It’s not your goal to be the most cutting edge, write the most music, or sing the newest songs.

Innovation in worship is meaningless if it’s not paired with a heart to know Jesus and an ear trained to hear His voice.

Remember what Jesus said in John 15:27? “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Corporate worship isn’t just the skill of choosing songs. It’s the skill of hearing God – hearing God in your preparation and hearing God in the moment of worship.

Songs are not an end in themselves. Successful worship leading isn’t getting through a songlist without mistakes. Songs are meant to take you somewhere.

Escalator Worship

Think about an escalator. The goal of an escalator isn’t to give you the ride of your life. You don’t go on vacation to ride escalators (unless, of course, you’re 3 years old). The purpose of an escalator is to take you somewhere.

It’s the same with songs. The purpose of a worship song isn’t to enjoy singing them or feeling good while you listen to them. The goal of a well-written worship song is to lead you to Jesus – to lift you to the main event – to carry you to another level of Scripture-declaring, truth-believing, lay-it-all-on-the-line worship.

The most important worship song isn’t the one someone else has written. The most important worship song is the raw, possibly-out-of-tune, tear-filled, desperate cry of a heart longing for Jesus.

So as you prepare to lead worship this weekend, ask the questions:

“God, what are you doing?”

“God, what are you saying?”

Your most Spirit empowered, Christ exalting, Church strengthening worship services are on the way.

Your Turn

OK, my friend. I want to hear from you.

What would it make possible if your entire team asked these two questions: “God, what are you doing?” and “God, what are you saying?”

Go ahead and leave a comment, even if it’s short. Blog posts aren’t the same without your input.

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21 responses to The Proper Use Of A Worship Song

  1. Hey! I loved this entry…

    I work at a urban church plant In downtown Santiago, Chile. Our pastor designs several-week-long series and we (try to) work on a two week anticipated liturgy and, as the worship leader, I choose songs according to what will be preached and what will be read during our gathering. If I have the time, I even try to write something, even if it’s just a chorus that makes the congregation meditate on what was taught that evening. I always swing it by my pastor so he can tell me what to emphasize or what to focus on the most. I think this method suites us pretty well!!

    Any cons or suggestions on what to keep an eye for?

  2. Thanks David for your article.
    Can I ask what role your pastors direction plays in this? It’s something I often wonder about…I guess, when we ask God what He is doing and where He is going, are we also saying where is God going through your pastors sermon and how can our songs help lead people there? Or I that a different question?

    • Travis, I believe it involves both. As a worship leader, I want to seek God for my song list. I also want to be submitted to the vision and direction of my pastor. I believe God has appointed him to lead us so I trust his judgement. Does that make sense?

      • I think so! I hear you saying it’s a both/and…we listen to what/where God is doing/going in our set-list, but it’s always with the understanding that part of that is knowing that God is present in the direction of the pastor. We ask how God would have us shape our selection so that we help lead people to encounter Christ through our songs and also so that our selection would help to make the Word we will hear from the pastor resonate more.

  3. I do this with a song….I listen to the song several times and see what it is saying and who is playing. …..listening is such a great tool for alot of things…….thanks for the info and the reinterest in this idea. I love the posts….

  4. Great post again, David!
    I so agree with this and find that this listening to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit lies at the core of my role … and then I get the joy of seeing what God is doing in our worship times in a way that I don’t think anyone else in the congregation sees – cos I get to see how He pulls my part with my Pastor’s part together with the heart of His people. And the odd thing to me is that this seems to happen most with the songs that are chosen not according to my own personal preference but which I really feel led to include .. and often they are more traditional in style. We had a Sunday like this just last week. We ended up with this wonderful focus on Thankfulness. It was also a AGM Sunday – and this theme was picked up many times by others in the congregation in their comments, and throughout this next week too. And now I can see how important this focus is for us as a congregation at the moment. God always knows what He’s doing , and what we need!

  5. Well said. Personally, as there seems to be a tendency in churches for people to choose songs that fit in with the theme/talk, which isn’t always a bad thing, I try to encourage new worship leaders to ask two slightly different but similar questions.

    1. God what do you want to say to Your church today?
    He can and does use all parts of the service to speak to us but its not always the same message for everyone. He’s having many conversations with many different people at the same time, why wold he only have one thing to say today?
    2. God what do your people need to say to You today?
    We’re all at different stages on our walk some joyful others depressed someone struggling with doubt another in awe at His mercy… It’s entirely possible that that song you’ve no idea why you’ve chosen other than it feels right God is going to use to enable one person to express the feelings in their heart in a way they wouldn’t have been able to with a talk.

  6. Brendon, this opened my eyes to a new way of understanding how God communicates with his people, thanks!

  7. Wanted to say thanks for this article, David. I stumbled upon it and it was an eye-opener and an encouragement to me. I’m not a worship leader myself, but I’m part of the band, and I feel God is calling me to start writing worship songs. So far I’m finding that the temptation as a musician is to get distracted by the desire to write something that’s “fun to play”, and to forget that the entire point is what God has to say through the song. It seems similar to the temptation a worship leader might face to choose songs for personal reasons. Anyway, thanks for the reminder to focus on God’s voice.

  8. What would it make possible? How about first hand experience? :) Well I’d say when I read your artice a week ago, I applied it to my quiet time when selecting songs for the next service and guess what! God showed up! like super strong…our church could NOT stop worshiping!! we went on and on…the pastor, even though he instructed me previosuly that we were on a time constraint, went on worshiping! Its was like our singers couldnt hold on to their mikes. The presence was so strong that they felt their hands shiver…I just remember thinking…”if this is only a taste of what is to come of heaven,,….I am in eager anticipation of worshiping with the angels when we go home to Jesus!”
    Thank you David! I love this blog btw…May the lord bless you abundantly for this dear brother in Christ!

  9. David,
    Here we are on a Friday night, trying to narrow our choices for Sunday worship – 2 days away. We are not pro musicians and not pro worship leaders. We are raw, a keyboard (old Heintzman in our home) and electric guitar.
    I bumped into your email blog while searching for our song list and it helped me clarify my sense of trouble over song order and whether to do a hymn. So here you are addressing the set list, and the fact that it is not so much a mechanistic thing – to choose the pieces and the order – as it is listening to the heart of God. Yah, I knew that but somehow I needed to read it tonight. Also was just sitting with hymnal and old gospel tunes book wondering how to do these ‘my way’, and I followed the link to find your tips for rewriting hymns.
    Thanks so much.

  10. I bless God for this article. I can share with my team so we can go on a different level of worship. Thanks David

  11. i know that God will going to motivate myself in leading his people thanks a lot for that very important information GodbleSs!

  12. Thank you ffor the good writeup. It iin fact was a amusement accont it.
    Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! By
    the way, hoow caan we communicate?

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