Leading Worship With Recorded Music

By John A. White
Contributing Writer
January 25, 2023

Read more from John A. White
If you lead a small group and don’t have a worship leader, this paper is for you. I intend to show you how to lead worship, in five easy steps. You might be saying, “that’s impossible” but it is not. Leading worship is a combination of both artistic talent and skills that can be learned. Before you say, “Hah! I’ve got you, John. You’ve never heard me sing and I can’t play an instrument so I can’t lead worship.” I intend to show you how you can lead worship successfully by complimenting your artistic weakness with previously recorded worship music. In fact, there are large successful churches that do exactly that – they worship using CDs instead of a live band. Although some might argue that you loose spontaneity, the reality is that most worship performances are following a strict script and 75% of what appears to be spontaneous is actually preplanned. So now that I dispelled the myth that only musicians can lead worship, let’s begin with step 1

STEP 1 – Gather Worship Tools.

A carpenter needs a hammer and saw. A mechanic needs wrenches and screwdrivers. A nurse needs a thermometer and blood pressure cuff. A worship leaders needs music and wordsheets. Choosing songs that your group is already familiar with help you succeed. Consider songs that your church is currently using. I emphasize currently because in my more than 20 years of leading worship, I have played more than 500 different songs. If I used songs that I played only 5 or more years ago, most people would have a hard time remembering how the song goes. Most churches have about 30 songs in their current repertoire. Ask for a list and choose at least 75% of your churches songs to create your own 30 song repertoire.

Once you get the list of your churches current repertoire, you need to get your hands on the music. I think you would be best served by buying the CDs that have the music you are looking for because you have more options for searching for and arranging the music. Nevertheless, audio tape suffice but require a little more work. Unless you are comfortable with your singing voice, buy the recordings with the singers (some worship music publishers do provide music without singers). You can ask the churches Worship Director what CDs or tapes to buy. Other resources are WOW! Worship, WorshipTogether.com Music, Integrity’s Hosanna, Vineyard Music and Maranatha Music to name a few worship music publishers. Another possible resource is the sound engineers. Ask them for a tape or CD of your church’s Sunday worship.

The other worship tool is wordsheets. A wordsheet is simply the words to the song arranged by verse and chorus. Even though most of the people you lead will know the words to the songs, wordsheets thend to comfort people and allows them to sing with confidence. They also help a new person to feel comfortable. Usually the worship CDs and tapes have words. You might be able to get the words from the church’s worship library too.

That’s all tools you need. Just familiar recorded music and word sheets.

STEP 2 – How to Prepare a Worship Set

Now that you have a 30 song repertoire, what do you do with them? It is easy to get overwhelmed with the possible combinations. In fact, if you lead a 4 song worship set, that gives you 405,000 unique combinations with your 30 songs. Let’s talk about how one prepares a directed and meaningful worship set. Basically there are two ways to develop a worship theme:

1. The intuitive way... by gathering all the information you can and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you through the intuitive processes to assemble a worship set.

2. The spiritual way... spending time with the Lord to gain knowledge concerning what you should prepare and allowing the worship set to immerge out of your dialogue with the Holy Spirit; in essence, take dictation from what God instructs you to present in your worship set.

Most worship leaders use a combination of both methods. Ultimately, how you assemble the worship set depends on what graces you’ve received from your relationship with God and the method that God speaks to you.

Once you have an idea about what you would like to accomplish in your worship (i.e. to Love God, to thank God, to exalt one of God’s attributes (holiness, glory, blessedness…) to repent, to motivate toward mission…) then chose some songs from your worship repertoire that speak of your theme or that can be paired with another song to speak of your theme.

Once you’ve selected some songs, hopefully one or two songs more than you need, think of how the arrangement of the songs can reinforce your theme. You’ll notice that many worship sets start with up-tempo songs with general theme and end with slower-tempo songs with more specific themes. This is not accidental, it is an arrangement rooted in biblical worship theology. When you consider tabernacle worship, you find three fundamental processes relating to the gates of the tabernacle, the court and the tent of meeting. The worship processes are shown in Figure 1. The green arrow shows the general direction of the flow of worship; starting from the busyness of everyday life (at the gate), then entering in a place of spiritual preparation and specifically of cleansing oneself and repenting of sins (in the court) and finally meeting God face to face (in the tent of meeting). Musically, you attempt to match the tempo of the music with these three processes as well. The call to worship is generally upbeat because we are calling people to take a break from their busy lives, the music slows down a bit during the spiritual preparation process to match the process of stilling ones thoughts and preparing themselves to meet with God and finally slows again as people are ushered into God’s presence of peace and stillness.

To keep your worship moving toward your goal, roughly ¼ of your songs should be calling people to worship, 1/3 to ½ should be dedicated to spiritual preparation and the balance dedicated to meeting God.

Here’s an example. Let say we wanted to remind the group of God’s holiness and we had time for five songs. Table 1 gives a possible arrangement of song and the reasons for choosing these songs and Appendix 1 is the wordsheet for the worship set.

Once you’ve selected the songs and have the wordsheets of each song, try out the worship set. Sing the complete set without stopping to yourself. At the end, note your own worship experience and ask yourself if you worshipped the way you expect your group will. If so, you are ready for step three. If not, make only small adjustments (like changing the order of only two songs or replacing only one song) and test drive the worship set again. Every worship leader goes through this same iterative process so don’t feel defeated if your first go around doesn’t quite work the way you expect.

Step 3 – Preparing the Music

Once you’re satisfied with the song selection, you’ll need to prepare to play the music and prepare wordsheets.

The music you already have but probably on several different sources. I think its best to burn a CD or record an audio tape of the songs you select in the order of the worship set. There is a legality you should be aware of. Copyright laws allow you to make duplicate recordings for your own personal use. This means that you cannot give the burned CD or audio tape to someone else for their enjoyment. If you are using CDs and have a multiple CD changer, then you can program the CDs and tracks instead of making a new recording. The goal in preparing the music is to have transitions from one song to another without distractions. In this sense, it is undesirable to be inserting different CDs or tapes into your player throughout the worship set. Not only does it distract you, it will also distract your group.

Step 4 - Preparing the Wordsheets

Please take a look at the wordsheet example in Appendix 1 again. Notice that every song has the title, author, copyright information and a CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) number (CCLI is a licensing administrator for many worship music publishers. Different licensing is available for different fees). Legal permission is required for each wordsheet you create. The example show a CCLI number under each song but one number at the bottom of the page is permissible. This standard copyright information form is:

c) Publisher © Copyright Date

Used by Permission CCLI ######

Please verify your church has copyright licensure before printing and distributing materials. If they do not, you can obtain permission by the individual publishers or by calling CCLI at http://www.ccli.com/Index.cfm or (503) 257-2230.

You’ll also notice on the sample worship wordsheet in Appendix 1, I put all the songs on one page. I found this is preferable to a book of wordsheets because a single sheet is easier to follow. Also, books require a lot of maintenance and are intimidating to new comers to your group.

Step 5 – How to Lead Worship

Up to this point, all the work to lead worship has been in the preparation of the worship set. Here we will talk about how to be an effective leader. Before your meeting, review the songs being mindful again what you which to accomplish. I save the sets I prepare using the topic and date as a file name (e.g. Holiness – 9-6-03). After reviewing the worship, the best advice I can give you is lead by example. If you want people to raise their hands during worship, you raise your hands during worship. If you want people to sit, kneel or stand during worship, you sit, kneel and stand during worship. In other words, your own worship expression will empower the same expression in your group.

At first, you may feel uncomfortable leading the worship expression you would like to see in the group. It can make you feel overly conspicuous or overly enthusiastic. That is normal. It is a result of breaking from the group’s unspoken tendency toward conformity and to resist change. Every leader faces this same pressure and you have probably already sensed it in different ways in leading your group. It therefore takes a conscious decision to act according to your goals rather than according to your comfort. In a short time, the discomfort will diminish.

Closing Thoughts

While being thrilled with this new information you might have been saying to yourself, “I am up to my eyeballs with things I need to do to get my lesson prepared, house picked up a prayerfully prepared to receive guests let alone any traffic delay or surprises my kids have for me. Where am I going to find the time to do this preparation?” I am glad you asked. To prepare to lead worship as I’ve described, can take between 2 and 4 hours on average, about the same time you might spend preparing a bible study. The good news is, just like leading a bible study, you will get better at it the more you do it. To lead both the bible study and worship is an extraordinary time commitment which few people have the luxury to afford. Therefore, find someone who might be willing to lead worship (as I described above) for your group.

Being unique in your Christian walk and your ministry is a difficult thing. In Ps. 139, David discusses how God knows him through and through… from beginning to end. In David does not ask for forgiveness for being unique, instead, he glories in the fact that God knows him full well; in all David’s uniqueness. Therefore don’t be dismayed if the worship you lead is different; its uniqueness is a blessing that God is using to communicate His fullness.

Lastly, always be mindful of the worshipper and try to make it easy to worship and comfortable. You might experiment with the volume – usually you will find people more inclined to sing loud when the music is loud – but not too loud. Room temperature can affect how comfortable people are to worship; too hot and people will be lethargic too cold and they will be tense. Usually a little cool (68°F) is ideal but it depends on the demographics of your group. I have also found that dim lighting is preferable to brightly lit places, unless the light is sunlight. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Church, promotes the use of things the remind people of nature like plants.

Example of a Wordsheet

Come, Now is the Time to Worship

Brian Doerkson

Come, now is the time to worship

Come, now is the time to give your heart

Come, just as you are to worship

Come, just as you are before your God

One day every tongue will confess You are God

One day every knee will bow.

Still the greatest treasure remains for those

Who gladly choose You now.

(c) 1998 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing

Used by Permission CCLI ######

He Reigns (Holy Holy Holy)

Jannet Grossman

Holy, holy, holy

Is the Lord God almighty

He alone is worthy

Awesome Lord; Mighty King

He reigns through all the universe

His glory covers all the earth

His power displayed in mighty works

And we proclaim Him

As our Lord and King.

Worthy, worthy, worthy

Is the Lamb that was slain.

Worthy, worthy, worthy

Bears the name above all.

(c) 1992 Marantha Music

Used by Permission CCLI ######

Holiness is What I Long For

Scott Underwood

Holiness, holiness

Is what I long for

Holiness is what I need

Holiness, Holiness

Is what you want from me

2. Faithfulness…

3. Righteousness…

Take my heart, and form it.

Take my mind, transform it.

Take my will, conform it

To yours, to yours, oh Lord

©1995 Mercy/Vineyard

Used by Permission CCLI ######

Sing of Your Great Love

Darlene Zschech

All that is within me Lord

Will bless Your holy name

I live my life to worship You alone

You brought me out of darkness and

Into Your glorious light

Forever I will sing of Your great love

Forever I will sing of Your great love

I love to see You glorified

To see You lifted high

I yearn to see all nations bend their knee.

It’s You alone Lord Jesus who

Can cause the coldest heart

To find Your love and everlasting peace

To find Your love and everlasting peace.

Holy, Holy
Holy is the Lord.

(c) Hillsong

Used by Permission CCLI ######

You Are a Holy God

Brian Duane and Kathryn Scott

You are a Holy God

An all consuming fire

You’re robed in majesty

Bright shining as the sun

Your ways are not our ways

Your thoughts are high above

You are the fountain Lord

Of mercy truth and love (and we cry)

Holy, Holy is the Lord God most high

Holy, Holy is the Lord most high

(c) Vineyard Songs (UK) © 1999

Used by Permission CCLI ######

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