I grew up in a church that really valued spontaneity in worship. We were a small congregation of about 70 with a small band. However, some of the most powerful worship times I’ve experienced and led were in that church of passionate, devoted followers of Jesus.
Since then I’ve been in lots of different church and conference settings. I’ve sung my heart out at big events, played alongside some very talented musicians and had the privilege of honing and perfecting new songs in the studio.
However, in the pursuit of musical excellence, sometimes that spark of spontaneity and leading of The Spirit can be lost. The good news is there are some really simple ways that we, as worship leaders, can leave a bit of space for those beautiful and inspiring moments when we have a really strong sense of what God is wanting to say in the moment; outside of the planned song.
Continuing after the main body of the song
One very simple thing you can do is wait a little bit after you’ve finished the song. If you’ve been singing a faster song, sometimes it’s great to do the chorus again much slower so that people have more time to really engage with the lyrics. You could also play chord 1 or chords 1 and 4 and encourage people to sing out simple things that they love about God; leading them in the same.
Increasingly, small congregations are using apps like iSingWorship which provide backing tracks that allow you to move around each section of a song spontaneously. This is already a great way to avoid getting stuck in the rut of singing the song the same every time, but this approach of continuing after the end of the song can provide you with even more spontaneity. Once the backing track has finished you can break out of the structure of the song completely, strip it back to just guitar and vocals, and wait on God for a little bit.
Not all prophetic songs need to be written in the moment
Sometimes in these moments of space, I’ll feel inspired to sing something new - a simple refrain that everyone can join in with. However, I’ll often find that as I’m waiting on God that a song will drop into my heart that the congregation already knows. It might be a truth that’s already been expressed in the previous song, it could be something that was preached on. What’s great about this is there’s no need to sing it a few times until the congregation pick it up. It’s also easier to be confident with it as there’s no risk involved in terms of it being hard to sing or theologically dubious!
Recently we’d planned to sing the old Vineyard song Hungry. We sang it through but after the sermon we’d had it felt like we weren’t quite responding. I realised we could go into singing “Great is the Lord” from delirious’ song Thank You For Saving Me. We hadn’t practiced it, but it’s only 3 basic chords and we were already playing them in Hungry. We sang it and the congregation really started to sing out. It was fantastic opportunity to just respond to God’s greatness in light of what we’d just heard and because it was a result of revelation and not a planned theme, there was a real excitement in the air.
Sing from scripture
I’ve been in quite a few scenarios where people are stepping out in this kind of leading and end up singing something a bit strange, unclear, or scripturally dubious! I’m sure their intentions are good but it’s really important to make sure we’re leading people in worship that is both inspired by the Spirit, and truthful (John 4:24).
I’d encourage people to step out in this kind of worship, but to do so in a way that’s influenced by scripture. Knowing God’s word is so fundamental to the Christian life, and as worship leaders we have the opportunity to lead people in worship that comes as an overflow of what we’ve learned from the Bible.
Matt Redman sang “worship starts with seeing You”. This is the right way to prioritise our times of worship. We see something fresh of who God is from scripture, and then we respond in worship and lead others in the same. Some of the most powerful times of worship that I’ve experienced have come from singing simple truths from scripture until they go deep into my spirit. Music is a great gift for memorising and responding to the word.
I hope this encourages you to step out in leading spontaneous worship. Done in a wise and easily accessible way, it can be a really powerful tool for engaging God’s people in a fresh way.