Planned worship. Prophetic worship. Structure or spontaneity? Beyond the wars of modern or traditional, rock band or liturgical, is another worship war. Do we allow the band to flow in the moment or do we create a tight plan?
If you lead worship, I'm sure you've wrestled with this before.
For some, corporate worship is nothing more than executing a plan. It's like hitting play on a worship album. No room to breathe, no seeming space for the Holy Spirit to move.
But for others, prophetic worship is often an excuse for lazy music, lazy production and lazy planning. It's just not done well.
Spontaneous worship done well is the result of disciplined practice, relational connection and intimacy with God. But so often it translates into something so poorly done it doesn't connect with anyone.
But if you want to do spontaneous well, let's define what it is.
You know what spontaneous means. It's doing something unplanned. It's having built up a repertoire of songs and chord progressions so you're prepared to go off the trail. Spontaneous works well the harder you work and the more experience you have.
Think of a seasoned explorer. They are able to go off the trail and find their way because they know how to read the sun, follow a compass, kill and eat, and build shelter. Without those skills, a spontaneous journey would be disastrous, potentially fatal.
I also think of Captain Sully and his spontaneous flight into the Hudson River. Without the necessary skills and intuition developed over many years, that spontaneous flight could have ended in many deaths.
While poorly-planned, spontaneous worship isn't fatal (not that I know of), it can be distracting and unhelpful for the gathered people of God. Rather than a well-rehearsed, well-practiced, well-planned worship set, everything is a complete mess. Wrong chords, random singing and poor theological expressions are unhelpful for the church.
The Difference Between Spontaneous and Prophetic
Spontaneous doesn't mean prophetic, though both can work hand in hand.
Let's break down prophetic worship. Prophecy is about speaking the truth. It's about delivering a word from God. From what I know about prophets in the Old Testament, it's not a career path I would have signed up for. Hosea had to marry a prostitute. Jeremiah dealt with severe depression.
Though it may not be that intense, prophetic worship is when you deliver truth—you speak or sing God's Word to people's hearts. That can be spontaneous or it can be incredibly organized and structured.
Prophetic worship gone wrong is when worship leaders boycott "organized worship." It's a problem when they are frustrated with their allotted 12 minutes and just want more time to "flow." Sure, there's nothing wrong with extended worship times. Those are beautiful.
But when you relegate the moving of the Holy Spirit to only a long, drawn out, spontaneous framework, you're "boxing in" the Holy Spirit just as much as a short, highly programmed service.
Here's what I'll say: God is in it all. God wants to inspire and speak into your Monday afternoon planning as much as your Sunday morning flow. My challenge to all worship leaders is to get good at both.
How to Make Spontaneous Work Well on Sunday
If you want to grow in your spontaneous worship expression, here are three action steps:
1. Disciplined practice – The structure of learning songs, learning parts and developing an intuitive sense on your instrument is what makes spontaneous or prophetic moments work. Also, the disciplined structure of learning sequenced songs and playing them over and over with a band is priceless. Playing to a click, listening to the other musicians, preferring one another. If you're not great at this, you're probably a lot worse in spontaneous worship.
2. Relational connection – Beyond the music, people who flow well together know each other. They know how to read each other on stage because they've spent time living life, pursuing God and going on a journey together.
3. Intimacy with God – Most importantly, prophetic worship leaders know God. Prayer doesn't feel foreign. The Bible is like breathing. They have a hunger not just for great tone and great music, but to know God. They're OK being patient and "wasting" a little time seeking His face.
So here's my challenge to you, reader. Strengthen what you don't prefer. Are you used to a highly programmed, airtight worship music production? You lean towards detailed planning and structured services? That's great. Develop your spontaneous side a bit.
Do you lean towards flowing? Just seeing what happens? Get in an environment where you can learn how to craft great setlists. Learn discipline with your music practice and how to craft a liturgy.
The worship leaders of the future need to be well-versed in both areas. They need prophetic imagination in their planning and prophetic intuition in the moment. Both happen with practice, knowing the presence of God more than the air you breathe.
How does this play out in your church? What lessons have you learned? Let's talk about it in the comments.
David Santistevan is a worship pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
For the original article, visit davidsantistevan.com.
Leaders are readers! Subscribe now and get 3 magazines for the price of 1. Get Ministry Today, Charisma and SpiritLed Woman all for $24. YES - I'm a leader!
Ministry Today Subscription Special - Subscribe to Ministry Today magazine today and get 12 issues (2 full years) plus Amplified Leadership, a free leadership book for only $24.