Set Prep : The Lyrics

Hi you guys! I’m suuuper stoked this week as we complete final preparations to lead worship at a women’s conference where I was invited to join my worship pastor and some friends of ours in leading worship for some precious sweet sisters. These godly guys are super talented and I’m so excited to be joining them!

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If you’re a worship leader then you know there is a ton of work that goes into preparing to lead. I’m not talking about all of the considerations that go into song selection. That’s critical and there’s lots to unpack there so I’ll leave it for another conversation. But after the songs are chosen there’s a lot of prep and planning that should take place so that, when the time comes, we can lead effectively and with excellence. For this weekend, as I won’t be on my guitar for this one, I’ve had more time than normal to really focus on the lyrics and vocals, and am reminded once again how important that part of the process is to effective leadership. I also know that it can tend take a back seat to other pieces of the process!  At least I can be guilty of that.  There can be so much to do in regards to: logistics, communicating with and preparing resources for the band and tech teams, rehearsing/learning melody lines, determining tempos and working with the click, deciding on arrangements, then practicing all of that on an instrument, exploring and planning the transitions between songs, rehearsing with the team…..and etc, etc, etc….  All of these things are so important! But what I find is that I can sometimes fail to stop each week and take a fresh look at the lyrics we’ll be singing and leading.  Which is such a bummer! Not to mention a lost opportunity.  Because let’s face it…as amazing and emotive and dynamic as it can be…the music is ultimately the vehicle. It’s the lyrics and the vocals that really communicate the heart of what’s being said.

We can sing the lyrics accurately and nail the melody lines, but if we’re disconnected from the content and heart of what the song is communicating that will generally come across and can diminish our ability to lead well. Here are a few of my thoughts on ways we can approach the lyrics each time as we prepare to lead God’s people in corporate worship.

  1. Consider this a devotional time and invite the Lord to give you a renewed perspective and clarity on each song’s message.
  2. Print out the lyrics, in particular for the songs where you will be the lead voice (or better yet typing or writing them out.. if you have the additional time).  And exclude the chords and other musical notations. We just want the lyrics.
  3. Now read the lyrics. Don’t sing them. Just read them. Out loud even if you’re able. I know this sounds elementary but what can happen with songs we know very well is that over time we become desensitized to their meaning.  So read through them slowly and intentionally, not by rote. This is partly why removing the melody is important. That will force us to view the lyrics entirely on their own, outside of the musical context. Take your time and ponder the words and truths being expressed! And thank the Lord while you’re doing it!
  4. Re-read the lyrics with your Bible handy. For each phrase or section, pause and look for corresponding passages in Scripture, and jot them down next to the lyric lines.  This is admittedly time-consuming, at least initially, but sooo worth it.  This process has left me in tears on more than one occasion as I’ve sat and been ministered to by the Lord as He has reminded me of the truths in a particular song that I’m preparing to lead. And I’m convinced that this impacts our effectiveness. When we have a fresh understanding of what we’re singing and when we engage with the Lord in that moment in genuine worship, those we are leading can sense that and the Lord uses that to draw them into worship as well.  If you do this step regularly, you can keep your notes and refer back to them the next time you lead the same song. (A little side note: There was one time where I knew the lyrics were going to be printed, not projected on a screen, and we included the Scripture references for each song on the printed lyric handouts. I explained this at the start of the service.. and got a lot of great feedback afterward. People appreciated being able to take the lyrics and corresponding Scriptures home with them for their own personal devo time.)
  5.  Prayerfully consider ways you might reinforce the truths you’re singing during the service. This might be by adding a related Scripture reading somewhere in the set, or referencing key lyrics as a way of praying or transitioning between two songs or during the interlude of a song. You might also consider a very brief personal story that relates to the lyrical truths in some way that you could use as you intro the service or a particular song.  Thinking this through ahead of time is especially helpful if you find speaking in front of people more difficult than singing in front of them. You can plan in advance how you might use or reference the lyrics during those brief moments when you’ll be speaking, so that your words contribute to the worship, rather than detract from it.

I hope these thoughts are helpful! In addition to these planning-phase steps, there are also some things that as vocalists we can do (or avoid doing) during the service itself that impact the effectiveness of our ability to communicate, interact with and lead the congregation. But I’ll save that for another post!

Blessings on you all as you plan and prepare to lovingly lead the people God has placed in front of you!

~ Michelle