Leading worship in a youth service can be intimidating and frankly, pretty scary. I’ve led worship quite a few times in our youth services over the past 15 years in youth ministry and picking songs can just be difficult. But over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to have people pour into me and help me understand Biblical principles of worship and also logistical and practice sides of worship sets which I would like to try and consolidate and share with you.
First, lets take a look at some Biblical grounds for building a worship set. I love using the tabernacle plan when discussing how to chose worship songs. Psalm 100:4 says “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” The tabernacle was setup in several different stations, as the Israelites would head into the temple, they had to enter through the gates and as instructed in Psalm 100:4 they did so with thanksgiving, then they made their way into the outer court and they were instructed to praise when they did so, then they made their way (only the priests were able to do so) into the temple which was where the Holy of Holies was located and this is where the priests would talk with God.
You first had to enter into His gates with thanksgiving, so this would be step one. With this song I try to pick a generic worship song that is what I call a “gathering song” this is to try and start getting everyone to focus and quickly become focused on worship. This song is not “deep” but definitely “wide.”
Secondly, we start getting ready to enter into the Holy of Holies by praising Him and by doing this I try and chose a song that is more of a vertical song that incorporates talking about how awesome is our God. This song would be in the middle of being deep or wide.
Lastly, the final song I pick is where I am dialoging with God, speaking directly to Him, closing a song that is the congregation individually saying “Holy Spirit You are welcome here” or giving Him the highest praise. It’s a song that says “You tore the veil, You made a way when You said that it was done!” Such a powerful moment of worship can be entered at this point in the service so choose wisely. This is “deep.” This is the presence of God, this is where we want to talk to Him and more importantly we want to hear Him speak to us.
If you could imagine a funnel, a very wide opening at the top and a very narrow opening at the bottom, this is what we are trying to accomplish in worship. Gathering everyone with all their distractions and baggage, focusing them in and by the end, have their focus and hearts directly engaged with what God wants to do in the service and through the speaker. We, as worship leaders, have to pick songs that can guide the congregation on a journey from confusion and disengagement to full on worship to the King of kings!
As far as picking songs, I do not listen to the radio and I only chose songs that I find through iTunes, Spotify or Youtube. I also look at new material that is being released on popular sites like Multitracks.com, but I only chose a song that I’ve listened through and like the lyrics and the message and know it’ll work in our services with our group (know your audience). There are a few Facebook groups out there that can offer suggestions when you’re stuck on choosing a song, but be careful about using that as a crutch!
Make sure you understand what is expected of you in a worship service! If it’s a youth convention I usually do 1 opening song then later come back with a 3-4 song worship set (2 fast, one medium, one slow). If it’s our youth service, I normally only do 3 songs. In our main sanctuary the worship set is three songs and later one choir song.
I love finding ways to segue from song to song! One method to try is putting songs in relative keys or even in the same key. Sometimes I’ll chose the first two songs because they are in the same key and make the transition extremely smooth. When I’m working on relative keys, I won’t chose a song that goes from Eb to D that can be a weird transition. If i’m in Eb i’ll look for a song that fits the “funnel criteria” and also is sonically appealing for instance, Eb to Ab.
Never have dead space! Try to fill up the transitions using synth pads or guitars, and I’m a big fan of starting a new song immediately out of a prior song with less than a two second pause. This just causes the worship atmosphere to flow from song to song.
Songs that fit your band’s capabilities can be very tough to do. If your church relates more towards gospel music, but the band can only play on a contemporary music level, don’t attempt to try the latest J.J. Harrison song because failure is imminent! Try something that crosses the different styles like an Eddie James song or a BJ Putnam song that has the vocal appeal of a gospel choir but usually the musical appeal of contemporary music. Be mindful of your team and they will appreciate it!
My Dad is a pastor and the line that has resonated with me for years has been “I’m the preacher, you’re the worship leader.” In other words, don’t get the two confused. This is not your time to read 20 scriptures before a song, or share what’s on your heart, or do what us worship leaders do best, go off on a bunch of tangents. You have a job to do, get those kids into the presence of God through worship and singing. Encourage them vocally throughout the worship set and constantly exhort, but leave the preaching to the preacher, and HOPEFULLY they’ll leave the singing to the singers!