As people responsible for worship planning in the local church, we usually get very attached to the “order of worship” that we have designed for a given worship service. Some people may not use that terminology, but a “set list” or any other plan for the time of corporate worship is still basically, “the order of worship.” As worship leaders, we often get so ingrained in playing out each element in the plan, some to the point of allotting so many minutes and seconds to each part of the “production,” that we can lose the entire purpose of our time together–to worship the One who alone is worthy of our praise.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the dedication of the temple in 2 Chronicles 5:

13 The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang:
“He is good;
his love endures forever.”
Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud,
14 and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God. (emphasis mine)

You see what happened here? The glory of God had shown up in such a tremendous way that the worship leaders, the priests, did not know what to do–they could not perform their service.

You probably have had some special encounters like that in your services. I would like to say that those special moments occurred every Sunday in the church I served, but that was not the case. There were, however, many times we glimpsed the throne room of God in such glorious encounters.

I remember one in particular. That Sunday, several of our musicians were away. I had decided to lead worship from the keyboard with a few additional musicians. There were several powerful worship songs that led into a vocal solo. As the soloist was singing, glory filled the temple. People were caught up in worship–the soloist was not seen at all–just the glory of God. When the soloist finished, my pastor and I were both somewhat stumbling about, because we felt we needed to do something, but the next item on the sacred “order of worship” just did not fit. My first inclination was to lead the congregation into another song, but that didn’t seem right either. We all needed to just basque in the wonderful presence of God for the moment as each person offered their praise, worship, thanksgiving, and delight in their Savior. We ended up altering the flow that morning, and it was one of the sweetest times of worship I have experienced.

I have also been in worship services where God was visibly at work among the congregation, and due to timing issues or the need to “get through” the “order of worship,” the moment was quenched by insensitivity to God’s Spirit at work.

What can we do as worship leaders to get out of the way of what God wants to do?

  • Be sensitive to what is going on in the congregation. One major problem of in-ear monitors and bright stage lighting is that it often leads to worship leadership that has no awareness of the people in the congregation. Remember that worship leaders are there to help the congregation along in the worship journey, not to do worship for them or perform for them. If God is moving among the people, be ready to go off the planned course. That might mean staying on the present song a bit longer if God is using the song to minister. It might mean moving to a time of prayer or repentance. It might mean opening the altar for people to come and lay their burdens down. Be sensitive.
  • Be sensitive to your pastor’s promptings. My pastor and I were great friends. We shared a strong heart for worship and a desire to see His church worship Him wholeheartedly. When leading worship, I tried to stay in tune with what God might be saying to my pastor. There were times he sensed the need to move off course, and we would change the flow of the service. Probably only the musicians with the fixed order of worship were aware of the changes, but we would seek to be obedient to what God was doing and follow Him.
  • Prepare with “planned spontaneity.” I know those words do not go together, but I would often put if/then plans into the order of worship. It might involve a few extra songs that the musicians and tech folk could move to on a moment’s notice. It might be thinking through options of additional elements of worship that could be inserted, if needed. Be careful not to require yourself to use these plans if God’s activity would lead you off of the original plan, but the planned extras do give you some other options that might be needed at times.

Do your times of corporate worship attempt to keep God in a box? Are you determined to go with the plan despite what God may desire to do in the congregation? Ask God to make you sensitive to the Spirit’s work among His people in the congregation you serve. Spend time getting to know the heart of your pastor and learning to be sensitive to his direction.

I invite your comments about times you have sensed God’s “interruption” in your order of service and a course correction that was made, or sadly a headstrong move to keep the service in order.