The Magic Formula for Worship Leading

I am a proud father of three beautiful children, Levi, Zoe and Milo. My daughter Zoe has the personality of her father big time. When she was younger she produced this high pitch scream when she wanted a certain toy, a certain piece of food or just attention. For a time, Zoe thought the more she screamed in her daddy and mommy’s fragile ears the more she got her way. This was Zoe’s little formula for what she thought could produce results…. and in all honesty…..sometimes it worked!

We all have these tendencies in our life right? We want to control the results so we default to a formula we know.

We become comfortable with the actions we think will produce a certain response or gratifying reaction. It’s as if we think there might be a magic formula.

For Worship leaders; maybe one week it looks like this:

Great opening set + teaching that stirs the heartstrings + invitation with acoustic/piano or pad in the background = people come to the front in response. In the context of corporate worship within church today, I really believe we’ve developed lots of these formulas that generate baked up responses we as leaders look for in our community.

For me, from time to time I notice it is hard not to default into the formula of always playing certain songs, building up the music at the right time then saying a little word or prayer at just the right place in the set, already knowing what this will probably evoke from the people I’m leading. Being a worship leader, I used to think this is what the church expected of me. This is what I’m on the payroll to do…to use my pocket-full of formulas to generate a response through musical worship, then get off the stage.

Now I’m not saying that formulas are “evil,” per se, but it does feel a bit like manipulation, right? Rather than relying on the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of his people and creating space for response, we shape the response we have already dictated we want them to give.

You see, a formula will always stage manage the Holy Spirit’s leadership.

I’m beginning to rid myself of this formulaic approach to leading worship. I don’t want that kind of control anymore. I don’t want to be the person generating the response anymore.

Here’s what I’ve found as a worship leader: 

A framework rather than a formula will always empower the Holy Spirit’s leadership. I remember growing up as a kid playing in the backyard watching my dad pull out the tools to start another summer garden. We would plant tomato vines, squash and a variety of other vegetables. For each tomato vine he would place a circular trellis around the base. The trellis would do the following.

  1. It would give the vine a path of freedom to grow and produce more fruit at an exponential rate.
  2. It would keep the fruit away from potential weeds/bugs.
  3. It would give the vine more of an opportunity to receive nutrients from the sun.
The trellis, as you can see, provides the framework for the vine to produce fruit. It empowers the vine to do what it was intended to do: produce fruit.

The framework for corporate worship looks very much the same. The framework of our worship preparation and design should be very much submissive to the Holy Spirit. When it’s not, it becomes a formula. The general framework I often work with looks a bit like this when creating a set list for the order of worship.

  • Songs of Thankfulness and Praise
  • Songs of Prayer and Confession
  • Songs of His Character and Holiness
  • Songs of Intimacy

Of course all of this is submitted to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We could be led to move right into the “Holy of Holies” corporately if there is a revelation of that in the room. It’s allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us through who God is and our identity in Him time and time again.

Here are my questions for you if you’re a church and/or worship leader:

  • Where have you decided what you want people’s response to be in advance?
  • Are there ways in which you’re manipulating people to get this response?
  • What might it look like to leave this kind of leading behind?

We'd love hear your thoughts in the comments below!