Leading A Praise & Worship Session

Image showing guitar in chapel

Age Range

Whether you are leading for the first time or are a seasoned veteran, it is always important to prepare a praise and worship session. Here we will go through the practical and spiritual steps of preparation that should help you lead more effectively.

PART 1: Prepare Your Heart

Before you even begin to pick up your instrument or prepare your voice, it is vital to prepare your heart first. You are getting ready to help lead Gods people to the threshold of the heavenly courts. This is no small thing and the enemy, the devil, will hate the idea of you planning to do so. You will need to cover your heart in prayer and protection to receive the graces you need to lead a defended heart.

Try and find a quiet space in order to…

  1. Sow deeply into a sacred, silent space with Christ.
  2. Be still in that space.
  3. Discern in your heart what God is wanting to say to you.
  4. Respond to God with a prayer (or even a song of your own improvisation)

This final response stage may be a catalyst to spill over into the session you are preparing for. Maybe the prayer or improvised song is to be included in the session, or it may be a certain theme, flow, word or phrase that you think needs to be emphasised during the worship session. At the same time, don’t force this. It may be that your response is just to simply keep resting in that place with God. Whatever it is, a set of songs or a theme, hold it lightly and allow your response to source from a place of prayer. This will help harvest a style of worship that is authentic and reflective (whilst also sounding as good as possible). It is possible, especially after many years of experience, and as confidence sets in, to lead without an authenticity of heart and still get away with ‘winging it’. You may sound very slick and polished, and this may even fool others, but it will not fool God, who, in the end, is the one who we are truly worshiping. They must be worshipers who lead worship, not just leaders of worship.

As you reach the end of your heart prep take note of some of the songs or themes that come into mind as you pray. Don’t hold too heavily to them, just bear them in mind.

PART 2: Consider The Space

Next, start to get a mind-set of the space of the event itself. Consider, is it a simple, small gathering of peers, or is it in a chapel or sacred space? Will there be Eucharistic adoration? What are the age ranges?  Will there be any non-churched people there? Some of these dynamics will have a greater affect upon your song choice, delivery and style of leading than others. Having the Blessed Sacrament exposed for example should naturally lead to a slightly more sensitive approach and style and may even adapt your song choices. You don’t have to dumb down your worship for non-church goers but you should be aware of the varied dynamics of receptivity in those you are leading.

Also bear in mind that the physical space you will be in. Consider, are you are in a small house lounge with lots of soft seating and carpets? Are you in a school hall? Is it an echoey building like a large stone walled church? Very often there is little you can do about the physical space itself but you might want to adapt the style and choice of songs accordingly. If you are in a small, cushioned room you might find the more majestic type songs (Mighty To Save, Oceans etc) do not  have as much space to work. Upbeat and energetic songs might fit more in a space like this, whereas in a space with a bit more reverb these aforementioned songs might travel the room better and the upbeat faster songs get lost in the reverb. This does not mean you should only do these types of songs in theses spaces but its important to be aware of them and recognise that rooms play a huge part in how the songs sound. There are ways in which you can adapt to the space you are in and accommodate for atmosphere (we will talk about this later)

PART 3: Song Choices

With the groundwork laid down you should now have a solid base on which to build. Maybe return to your thoughts and prayers again from the start and see if any of the songs that came to mind still resonate with you. How might they work having also considered the space you will be using? This is not about being rigid. It might be that The Holy Spirit seems to be leading you to a set of songs that don’t seem to fit the aforementioned considerations such as space and audience type. Sit with this gently and consider going along with it. Leading worship isn’t always about feeling comfortable, rather its about feeling used to being in a state of abandon, and having confidence that you have laid the groundwork in prayer thought practically.

It is also a good idea to have too many song options rather than too few. When you come to lead the session you may find it moves faster than you expected or certain songs fall flat, so if you have a broad selection of songs to fall back on this can be useful. Aside from this, The Holy Spirit may start to move you to a totally different place altogether and a song might come to mind that is not even on your list at all. Be prepared to dive into these moments. The longer you gain in experience the more intuitive and capable you will become in this, but don’t ever be afraid to leap into this at any stage. This attitude helps you practice a more dynamic form of worship leading.

PART 4: Put On The Armour

Finally,having laid the groundwork, you are ready to lead… BUT… believe it or not, this is also a time to pray again. This is a new stage of your worship journey and new territory. You need armor before you venture forth into it, so wrap yourself up in prayer. Pray for the band, the congregation, for open hearts and for a spirit of receptivity among all involved.

PART 5: Prepare The Ground

Now you should be ready to take your place in the space you are leading. Try and get there before everyone starts coming in. It is helpful to begin the session in a state of relaxation and focus rather than rushing in with everybody else.

As much as possible try and set up a space that is conducive to worship, making the space you are using feel like no other in the whole building. If you are leading the session in a church then this will already be a perfect space but it becomes a bit trickier in a non-church environment. Things such as lamps, fairly lights, drapes, candles or prayer altars can help create a space that feels a bit more intimate and special.

If you are leading in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament then that of course should be the focus. Otherwise some form of religious artwork, crucifix or icon is the most preferable or some form of prayer display. It is by no means illicit if you simply lead with your instrument and a room full of people with no other things around, just be aware that icons and symbols can help enhance a spirit of devotion and encourage a worship filled experience.

It can also be useful to have reflective music playing in the space as people come in, whether that be on an iPod or just playing your instrument, humming quietly. This helps establish an atmosphere that says ‘worship is in progress’ as people enter

PART 6: Keep It Smooth

If you can, try and move seamlessly between songs. This can help provide a sense of rhythm, pace, dynamic and atmosphere, giving you space to let everyone reflect and be consumed by the presence of God. This is not totally essential so don’t  avoid times of silence if you feel that is appropriate, but a seamless feel can help prevent distractions between songs and gives a sense of each song being part of a whole session of worship rather than just singing individual songs.

This does not mean you have to be singing constantly without ceasing. You can drop the tempo and bring the volume down, leaving space for instrumentals, spontaneous melodies, sharing of scripture and internal reflection.

A great solution if you are struggling to find the right atmosphere (particularly if you are leading on your own) is to get some synths gently playing in the background . There are lots of resources out there to provide this. PADS series from Worship Tutorials are a good example of this. They  play out a gentle sytnh tone (in all major and minor keys). You can download the PADS to your Ipad, Laptop or mobile phone as a music file and play it though some Bluetooth speakers. It helps provide an unobtrusive, background melody that fills the room.

PART 7: Open Your Eyes

Be attentive to how the congregation are engaging with the session. Depending on the setting this can be more difficult, especially if people are facing away from you towards a worship focal point (like an altar for example). However, it is possible to gain an insight as to where the hearts and minds of people are with a simple glance outwards. What is the overall body language like? Do people seem engaged? Are they singing? There could be many reasons why people might not be engaging, it might be nothing to do with how you are leading, but these are just some clues which you can pick up and discern as you go along.

PART 7: Leave Space For Grace

Finally, always allow yourself time to respond, shift, adapt and change at any moment to something totally out of left-field. Sometimes you will be called upon last second or without much warning. Maybe you have been begged up to the front just before the session starts because the original worship leader has been caught in traffic. It is up to you in that moment to discern whether you will respond to this invitation, however, if you have allowed God to shape you as a worship leader, and you are already a worshiper that just so happens to lead worship, then feel secure that you should still be able to run through the entire aforementioned process in your head in quick succession in order to formulate some form of plan for this surprise commission, even if you haven’t had time to lay the groundwork with as much depth and time as you normally would have.

This comes with time and practice, but it is important to try and leave space to cast your song choices to the wind and go with where the Spirit prompts you. This includes running with any hiccups that happen along the way and accepting them with dignity. If you happen to find yourself in the worst situation imaginable where none of your band have turned up, you have broken your instrument, and the speakers have all blown then simply sit in a circle and sing songs to God acapella. This is equally valid worship and can often sound stunning

Conclusion: It’s Not About You 

At the end of the day, remember, it is just a group of God’s children in a room singing praise to God. It’s not about you, it’s about God. This is liberating as it means the pressure is off us. We are merely practitioners of worship trying in our imperfect ways to praise the one who is worthy of all praise. We do so in spirit and in truth, with an attitude of prayer, putting on the garments of praise and entering the heart of worship that beats in time with our Creator. He welcomes the sincere, contrite heart of all worshipers. As a worship leader, you have the humbling task of leading those hearts in song.

We wish you all the best in your gifting’s, to lead people to Christ through sung worship and to sing the song of your heart. God be praised.