Gospel Centered Worship

Five years ago I moved to Bend, Oregon, to help lead worship for a young church plant. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what I was getting myself into, but I was convinced that God had led me there for a purpose. 

Five years later, I can say that leading worship in a church plant is both good work and hard work. It is humbling and flat out exhausting at times, but also joyous and life giving. Most of all, it’s a privilege to have a front row seat watching God build his church.

One of the unique aspects of leading worship in a church plant is that you have the opportunity to develop a ministry from scratch. In many ways, you are laying a foundation that will impact your church for years to come – so it’s crucial that you start well. 

While there is a wealth of resources and training for pastors who are planting churches, I have found a lack of materials for equipping worship leaders in those same contexts. Therefore, I’d like to offer ten pieces of advice for leading worship in a church plant. I’ll address the first five here and the next five in a subsequent post.

1. Preach the gospel to yourself regularly.

I cannot overemphasize this first point enough. Your identity and worth is not in your skill, ability to lead, or how many musicians you have. You have nothing to prove because your new identity is found at the cross of Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:20). 

You are a son or daughter of God who has been washed clean and made new (1 John 3:1-2, Ephesians 1:5). Let the glory and goodness of Jesus shape your heart and mind as you point others to him.

2. Serve your lead pastor.

God has called your lead pastor to the difficult work of church planting, and one of the best things that you can do as a worship leader is to come alongside and serve him (Philippians 2:3-4). 

Ask him what his vision and dreams are for the church. Ask him what he hopes the worship ministry will look like. 

Look for ways that you can take tasks off his plate so that he can focus better on preaching. Guard his back, encourage him, listen to his feedback, and enjoy the ride together.

3. Build deep relationships with your congregation.

The best worship leaders are pastors at heart, so take initiative to get to know the people in you congregation (1 Peter 5:1-4). Whether through community groups, bible studies, sharing a meal, or just hanging out, your worship leading will benefit greatly from investing relationally. 

Listen for your people’s hurts and heartaches, their victories and celebrations, and their idols. Knowing where your people are at spiritually will be incredibly valuable as you craft liturgies, set-lists, readings, and prayers.

4. Cultivate a culture of congregational singing.

Scripture places a high emphasis on the entire church singing when it gathers, so take the time to help the congregation find their voice (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, Psalm 92:1-4). As the church grows and you add more musicians, this will take more work and effort – so start early! 

Use scripture to encourage and exhort them in their singing and teach on it when appropriate. Share music resources, teach new songs, and create playlists to help them become familiar with your songbook. Keep arrangements simple and have the band drop out occasionally to help the congregation hear itself better.

5. Lead songs that stand on their own.

One mark of a strong worship song is that it can fit into a variety of formats and contexts. Because church plants tend to have fewer musicians at the start – and therefore have a more stripped down sound – it’s helpful if you can sing songs that stand on their own. 

This type of song works just as well with an acoustic guitar or piano as it does with a full band. Its melody makes sense when sung a cappella and stays within a comfortable range for the congregation. Its lyrics are sufficient in of themselves and don’t overly rely on repetition or dynamics in order to function. Of course, not every song has to meet all of these criteria, but it’s a good starting place as you craft your church’s songbook.

Click HERE to read Part 2! 

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by Calvin Hemphill

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