This post (like the previous one) was also inspired by my emerging worship leader friend whilst unwinding after a game of tennis. He made the remark that he really doesn’t like it when worship leaders make a habit out of changing songs at the last minute (e.g. on the morning of the worship service).
I have to admit: in my younger days as worship leader, I used to make last-minute song changes quite regularly. For me, it was a mark of great spiritual maturity. It gave the image of my being “tight” with God and being able to respond quickly to his promptings (those promptings usually happened in the shower on Sunday morning whilst getting ready to go to church).
I think I must have also had this sadistic bent to keep my worship team in suspense and “on their toes” because if they were really as spiritual as me, they would be able to pick up the surprise new song without any problems.
On reflection, I no longer think it’s a good idea for the worship leader to change songs at the last minute.
Think about it: all the musos have prepared and practised based on the songlist and charts that you put together. The dancers (if you have a dance team) have already put moves to the lyrics. And now, all of that practice has (on its face) gone to waste and everyone is going to be put out of kilter by trying to figure out how to deliver the new song instead of preparing their hearts for the upcoming session.
There’s a flip side, to be fair. Last minute changes can be good if they are not made into a habit.
In a particularly memorable worship service I led in my old church, we had just gone through a really intense time of worship singing “One Desire” by Joel Houston and then I felt really strongly not to proceed with the next song but instead to sing “Heart of Worship”. I didn’t warn anybody about this; I just took the step of faith when the music died down. My then awesome music director Darren Woon simply accompanied me on the acoustic guitar and much of the congregation ended up on their knees. It was a really powerful moment because I was flexible enough to respond to the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes, when you feel the need to change songs midflight, you just need to take the step of faith and do it.
But most of the time, I would suggest that good worship leadership means that we look out for our team members more than our own need to look awesomely spiritual.
Perhaps one day, when I have a team like Kent Henry’s or a band that just plays together week-in/week-out or a group of accomplished jazz musicians, I might dispense with a songlist all together! But for now, I want to encourage worship leaders to avoid the temptation of changing songs too late in the piece. You can hear from God weeks in advance of the worship session if you want to! And it takes just as much faith to go with your prepared songlist as to spring a surprise song on your unsuspecting team!