So what goes through the mind and heart of a worship leader when choosing songs for a Gathering? Many many things. I thought I would give an inside scoop to everyone on what goes through my mind when planning a Gathering.
Let me begin by saying this...I believe that God blesses our preparation. The same God that can lead you on a Sunday is the same God who can lead you on a Monday morning or Tuesday afternoon or whenever to prepare for a Sunday.
All I will say below is very practical and may not seem "spiritual." So do not be discouraged. All that will be said below falls under the umbrella of "trusting the Spirit of God to guide and direct the prep of services. For example, a great sounding band without hearts tuned to what God is doing is "clashing cymbals" in the ear of God. So for as much prep as you do musically/technically do twice as much prep with your heart.
The first thing I ask is "What is the direction?" At Keystone, I am blessed to get great direction from my pastor Brandon Thomas. I firmly believe that Brandon is the actual worship leader and I am a support worship leader. The direction God gives Brandon for the message series drives...let me say that again...DRIVES...where we go on a Sunday. It is important to be on the same page. At Keystone, Brandon leads a creative team and this team meets diligently to seek God and His direction for where we need to go in our message series. Since the message drives the sermon, knowing the direction of the message is of ULTIMATE importance to planning a Gathering.
Then I list all the songs I can think of that deal with the message direction. This can be easy or very time consuming. I gather songs from many sources. My main source is a worship planning software I use - song base pro. I have compiled worship songs for about the last 10 years with this software. It is one of the most important pieces of software I own. I can't live without it. I also gather songs on the subject from iTunes, friends, fellow worship leaders and the creative team.
I take those songs and look at some practical things...lyric, key, tempo, musical difficulty and is it new and if it is how hard will it be for the people to learn it?
Lyrics are the most important ingredient when choosing a song. Does the song enhance the direction of the service? Do the lyrics make sense to the average attender or do they need a concordance, dictionary or seminary degree to understand the song?
Tempo is important for energy's sake. I believe church should be a BLAST! WHY? I truly believe that we have the most to celebrate! So celebration is important. I also believe that church should be life-changing and moving...inspiring. I think that there should be special moments of inspiration. Most moments of inspiration are with songs with slower tempo.
When choosing songs you are providing opportunies for the SPirit of God to work in someone's life.
Key is important for FLO. FLO is also very important. How is Key important? It is easy to flo from one song to another if they are in the same key. For example...this past Sunday we sang "Home" (by hillsongs) and Chris Tomlin's "Enough" followed it. They are both in the same key. So it made the transition seemless from one to another. Even though the 2 songs were different in tempo, I was able to break "Home" down at the end of the song to a slower tempo and end up at the tempo for "Enough." This allowed my to go directly into "Enough." Not only did the key flo and the tempo flo but the lyric had flo. When we sang "Home" at a slower tempo, it also emphasized the lyrics..."Home is heaven, one day Lord I will live. In your courts you'll find me in worship at Your feet. Hide me now in the shadow of your wings. It's where I will be. It's where I will be."....cause..."All of You is more than enough for allof me, for every thirst and every need. You satisfy me with Your love and all I have in You is more than enough." This was a great great moment.
You see FLO is important because it shows preparation. Here's an example, everything on TV or the radio is done with excellence. Excellence only comes from good preparation. I believe that as the church we should do everything with the utmost excellence. That means PREP! God is excellent and He deserves excellence. When you have FLO no one notices (until you remind them) but when you don't have FLO everyone notices it. How? When there is FLO it is seemless. With NO FLO, the service is choppy....it looks like no thought was put into the transitions...it looks like a bad talent show. It looks like we are not giving our best to God.
Another thing is musical difficulty. I am blessed with a very talented band. They pick up songs very quickly. However, we only have 1 hour to sound check and to rehearse songs and transitions. So I will way my options by looking at the difficulty of a new song. If it is an 8 (on a scale of 1-10) then it will take about 20 minutes to rehearse. That leaves me with 40 minutes for the rest of the rehearsal. So if I really feel like a difficult tune needs to be in the service, I will make sure the other tunes can be rehearsed in the alotted time. Music difficulty has an impact on the prep of a gathering.
Don't do too many NEW songs! This is so stinkin important. The goal of a Gathering at Keystone is for everyone to participate. If we do 3 newer songs and only have 6 total songs then that means that the people were only able to participate half of the time. So I have a goal to only do 1 new song during a service and maybe 1 newer song (meaning you have done it a couple times.) If you do a new song...have a goal to do it several times in a row to teach it. After a few weeks, if it does not catch on then scrap it.
These are some of the things that go on in my mind when preparing for Sunday. After the service is planned I soak up the service. My mentor, Kim Noblitt, taught me to "worship" through the order. So I do. It helps me work through the transitions..."How will we get from this song to the bumper (video intro)? How will we get from the Ministry Time to the next song? How will get from this song to that song? How will we end a song? How will we end the service? This is a valuable time because it exposes holes in the service. Once all the adjustments have been made, it frees me to enjoy the service because I know it so well.
So why all this PREP? Why not just choose 5 or 6 songs you like and just do them? Why think about flo? Why think about keys and tempo? Why pursue excellence? Why? Because you are giving God your best. It frees you to let go during the service and let God do His thing. You have done all you can do to get ready. You have prepared your best and that is what God is asking of you. It actaully frees me more to enjoy the service and worship myself.
TO all the worship leaders out there: PREPARE so when God moves and works in your services YOU ARE READY.
So that's a little of what goes on in my mind...sorry for the rambling.