let’s try this again…

One of the common challenges facing us worship leaders is the issue of time. Very often our services are crammed with other things; offering, announcements, communion, sermon, baby dedications, baptisms… baby baptisms (two for one!). When a service is filled with other great elements, the first thing to go is usually the amount of time alloted for congregational worship through song (which I will henceforth call “singing”). So the question for us worship leaders becomes “How can I get the congregation from point A to point B emotionally in a short amount of time?”.

A couple of weeks ago I led a short 15 minute set that I think accomplished just that. I was actually quite proud of it. Here it is:

Still (Hillsong)
God of Wonders
Majestic (Brewster)
Let My Words Be Few (Redman)

This is why I feel like it worked:

1. The songs were familiar – the age group was 40 something, but they weren’t recently overdone songs so there was a bit of a freshness to it.

2. There was a specific thematic thread that progressed through the set. What I mean by “progressed” is that the idea was developed and there was a destination that was reached. Sometimes when we as worship leaders work with themes we get stuck on the word and neglect the journey (ie. if the theme is “grace” we do songs that mention grace, which is fine but then by the end of the set all you’ve done is said the word grace a lot and in different ways and then I’m kinda numb to the word by the time the pastor gets up to speak). But, in this case I started with Still as a call to “be still and know” the God who is King over the storm and the flood. And then I went from there to God of Wonders which used grand words of praise (hallelujah, holy, etc) to praise a very large and “galactic” God. I then brought the focus “down to earth” so to speak with Majestic, continuing to praise and worship God for the creation around us (I also accidently said something about “praising creation” instead of “praising God for creation” and then made a crack about my pagan ways). Then I took a sharp turn, as a response to all of this grandeur surrounding our very big God and “let my words be few” which felt like a really appropriate response.

3. Musically, it flowed really well, though not in the usual “start-big-and-then-funnel-down-into-the-quiet-moment” way. Dynamically there were some sharp turns, but that helped keep people engaged because they didn’t know what to expect. I think we sometimes get too formulaic in the “start big, funnel down” thing. One of the things that I notice when I go to see concerts or listen to a really great album is how they pace the “experience”. Rarely will an album (or concert) follow the “start big, funnel down” pattern; they will almost always mix it up; break up the different moods. Good albums and concerts take you on an emotional journey through the highs and lows of life and, as the audience, you never really know what’s next (much like life). We often don’t like to mix up the fast and slow songs like that because we are afraid that we’ll lose the congregation; that they’ll disengage, but I have found that the opposite can be true… if you do it thoughtfully and skillfully. Sometimes variation is the best gift we can give our congregations.

You might have heard the old adage “familiarity breeds contempt”. Basically it is the idea that the more you know someone, the more likely you are to find fault with them. I think the same can be true with how we structure our worship experiences – although in this case I would say “familiarity breeds complacency”. The more predictable we become in our planning, the harder it will be for us to take people with us as we journey to the throne of God.

So, yeah… it was a really great time. 15 minutes well spent.


One Comment Add yours

  1. joshua says:

    Hey Shawn. So it’s true, then, what everyone whispers of in dark corners: Shawn Baran does have an wicked insight into leading worship. Honestly man, I think your post here is absolute brilliance. Sweet Sweetness. (Oh, you’re not into that?) I’ve always connected really well with your worship leading style and this post is a great example of why.Dude, you’re invaluable. For Real.- Josh

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