A Guide to Leading Effective Praise and Worship
Over the past few years, we have been blessed with the opportunity of seeing hundreds of Praise and Worship leaders in action. We have observed them carefully, making mental notes of the things they did that worked and the things they did that didnít, and putting the more effective methods into practice in our prayer groups to great success. These guidelines are a result of those observations and practices..
Please be clear that these are not "rules". All Spirit-filled Praise and Worship has to be Spirit-led and rules prevent the Spirit from blowing where He wills. But there are certain good practices that will enable the Spirit to blow effectively, and the accompanying reasons provided for these "good practices" will help us understand why. Do note, however, that the nature of our ministry is primarily evangelical, and some of the explanations reflect that.
This guide uses the prayer structure and prayer elements described in the HSI Guide to Personal Prayer and you would do well to go through that as well.
Some things to understand before you begin
- Understand that you are there to guide people into prayer, not to stand in the spotlight. Act accordingly.
- Understand that your task is to draw people to Jesus and the prayer meeting is a way of doing so. This will help you keep every single person who attends in mind and avoid doing things that might put them off and keep them from returning.
- Understand that the best way to lead people into prayer is by praying yourself, rather then trying to make them pray.
- Understand that you need to be in a state of grace when you lead Godís children into worship, so if you are struggling with sin and failing repeatedly, please do not accept the role of prayer leader.
- Understand that a worship leader has to have a life of consistent and committed worship.
Make it a point to find out what the preacher will be speaking about on the day and prepare to build your session of prayer around it.
- It prepares the people for the Word of God when it is finally broken and results in more powerful results.
- A themed session is far more interesting because it offers integrated prayer rather than a prayer session with two distinct acts separated from each other.
Memorize Scripture verses to go along with the theme.
- The Word of God is a powerful instrument and using it in your prayers will not only enhance the power of your prayer it will also touch the hearts and minds of those listening to it. (cf Ephesians 6:18; Hebrews 4:12; Isaiah 55:10-11)
Try to fast during the day, or if eating, keep your meals extremely light.
Try doing anything on a full stomach and see how well you fare!! Seriously, though, prayer sessions tend to be very powerful if the leader has been fasting and praying. (cf Matthew 4:4; Mark 9;29)
Ensure there is no unrepented sin in your life.
- Sin prevents you from approaching the throne of grace, and if you cannot approach it, yourself, you cannot expect to take others there. (cf Isaiah 59:1,2)
Make sure your support partner, if you have one, is in sync with you.
- If you are depending on somebody to lead with the singing, etc. and he/she is not in sync with you, you will find yourself stranded.
Make sure the keyboardist or guitar player is in sync with you.
- For the same reasons stated above. Ensure that they know which cues to pick up so that they can begin playing the music for a particular song even as you are praying.
Before you even get anywhere close to taking the floor, spend a few minutes by yourself, surrendering yourself and the prayer session into the hands of the Holy Spirit and inviting Him to lead you. Better still, pray with a group of people if possible.
- Quite simply, you canít lead prayer effectively without the help of the Holy Spirit.
- It will help you remember that you are not in control, so you need not be nervous about being good!
- He will anoint you.
Get everybody to stand, sign yourselves in, and take off with at least 10 minutes of lively praise songs (for a 60 minute prayer session).
- It gets people to relax and helps them to open their mouths.
- When people open their mouths and sing, their focus shifts from themselves (tiredness, office problems, home worries, etc.) on to God. That helps in a better prayer session.
- It take the pressure off you and help YOU relax.
- It gets the Spirit moving.
Do not start with a prayer unless it is a short bouncy one.
- A prayer is usually meditative and instantly lowers the tempo. It is always easier to climb down from a height than climb up from a depth. All you will be doing later is saying prayers so donít let this bother you.
Take a medley of popular songs.
- So that everybody can join in; your goal is to get everybody participating in the prayer.
- The medley doesnít leave space for any awkward moments of silence or steering into the next song.
- Take medleys with the same scale and tempo to avoid abrupt changes to the music
Take "action songs" with discretion
- Newcomers who are not used to exuberant praying might get totally put off with the idea of behaving like little children. Scan the crowd, and if you see too many newcomers or a couple of them who look very wary, skip the action songs. It doesnít make sense to lose a soul simply because you feel like jumping around.
Practice the actions for the "action songs" so you are prepared
- Youíre going to look like a clown if you donít know the actions to the songs you are "performing".
Please be seated
At the end of the praise session, tell people to be seated. Donít make them stand longer than 10 minutes.
- There are sometimes older people in the audience who canít stand for too long
- If you make people stand for too long, they eventually stop listening to what you are saying and keep waiting for you to tell them to sit!
- It is easier for people to concentrate on what is being said if they are comfortable.
Invite the Holy Spirit
You can make a short prayer, referring to the theme of the prayer session, and inviting the Holy Spirit to help everybody pray well. A short song welcoming the Holy Spirit wouldnít hurt at this point.
- The short prayer serves to slow down the tempo and tells people that we are getting serious now.
- Just as you canít lead prayer effectively without the help of the Holy Spirit, people canít pray effectively without the Holy Spirit either.
If you plan on inviting people to thank God for His blessings, this is the time to do so. (Please note that it is not always necessary to ask people to join in the thanksgiving. If you are short on time, thank God yourself.) Begin with a brief thanksgiving yourself, then invite others to thank God one or two sentences.
- Because people are a little charged from the singing and might be more inclined to voice themselves at this stage of prayer.
Ensure there are a couple of people among the participants to get the thanksgivings started.
- People are inherently reluctant to be the first to open their mouths, but once somebody starts they donít mind following suit.
Do not come up with thanksgivings of your own.
- You already had your chance at the beginning, remember?
- This is possibly the only chance that others have to say anything during the prayers. Let them have it.
End the thanksgivings within five minutes, or when the silence becomes extended.
- Once people get started, there is sometimes no stopping them. You have other things on the agenda. Extended silences can get very awkward too. So the moment it looks like everybody is going to start thanking God or it looks like nobody else is going to say anything break into a song and move to the next element.
All these three elements are vital to good prayer and it is a good idea to touch upon them briefly, though once a month you could spend extended time in all these three elements, if nobody has done so already. Keep the prayers short and sing a relevant song at the end of each element. Refer to HSI Guide to Personal Prayer for more on these elements.
A must in every session is a prayer for an infilling of the Holy Spirit. (Note that this is different from the earlier prayer to the Holy Spirit, which was merely an invitation to Him to be present.)
- We get spiritually depleted at the end of the week and need refuelling just like a petrol tank needs refuelling when it is empty.
- We need the Spirit to help open the hearts and minds of the people, especially in preparation for the Word.
- The person preaching needs the special anointing that comes from the Holy Spirit.
Ensure that you can spend at least ten minutes in worship, compressing all the other elements if there are time constraints.
- Worship is the main purpose of prayer. Everything else is icing on the cake.
- The anointing is further enhanced in good, prolonged worship.
Encourage participants to spend a couple of minutes of silence, and be silent, yourself, when you have done this. (A couple of minutes equals two minutes, not two seconds.)
- The silence allows God to speak to us.
Do not be silent for longer than two minutes with an immature audience.
- Extended silences can be extremely discomforting for people who arenít used to praying in silence. There might also be children present who will begin to get restless and noisy.
Conclusion (after the Word has been broken)
End with brief announcements, birthday wishes, an inquiry about new members and a fast, peppy song. You can take an action song here, if you want!
- By now, all the new people are very possibly hooked and an action song wonít turn them off. On the contrary, they might enjoy it.
Greet everybody present. Hug only if you are comfortable hugging.
- Everybody knows you now, you should get to know them too. It will also make it infinitely easier to lead prayer if you know the people you are praying with.
- If you are not the hugging type, donít go about hugging people. You will look fake. A handshake will do. Ditto when you meet somebody who seems reluctant to hug.
After the opening praise session, kneel if you can.
- It will help YOU pray better.
- It will help others feel more prayerful.
- It inspires the people who watch you to pray with greater intensity.
- It always makes for greater anointing.
Keep your eyes closed.
- It helps you avoid distractions.
- It helps the people you are leading less self-conscious that they are being observed.
- It helps you be more in tune with what the Spirit wants of you.
Avoid asking people to do anything other than to sit and to stand and cue them in correctly.
- When people are comfortable, they pray better. A lot of people might be unable to kneel because of physical problems and not kneeling when everybody else is kneeling can a cause of embarrassment. Space constraints might also make it difficult for people to kneel.
- When you want people to sit or stand, say softly: "Letís be seated" or "Letís stand". Do not make these postures optional, which means, do not say, "Those who want to sit please sit." You will assuredly have an awkward moment.
Do not go on for long periods of time in extended monologues! Keep your talking time for about two minutes between songs, unless there is an important message you want to deliver.
- You could get very boring! Be alert for signs of restlessness like coughing, creaking chairs, murmuring, etc. They are indicative that you might be operating independent of the Spirit and losing the participants.
Avoid using "you" and cultivate the use of "we." For instance, donít say, "You need to repent" but "Let us now repent for our sins."
- Using "you" in your talks suggests a certain degree of superiority; "we" suggests you are praying as a part of everybody else, which is what we do when we lead prayers. :)
Do not encourage screaming and shouting.
- As mentioned earlier, the purpose of these prayer meetings is to bring people to God, not chase them away, and loud praying turns many people off. It is also unnecessary. God can hear us fine if we speak in normal voices.
Songs and Lyrics
Get a good singer to support you if you donít have a sense of singing.
You can destroy a prayer session by starting songs on a false note. Get a good singer to support you. Cue him/her in with words that lead onto the song.
Do not take more than one new song in a session.
- People like to participate in the singing, not listen to you sing alone, or to listen to a few people.
Introducing one new song in a session still results in a total of 56 new songs in a year!
Use the time at the beginning of the session to teach people the tune and the lyrics of the new song.
- There is invariably some time at the start of a prayer meeting when a few people have come in. Rather than waste this time chatting, teach the early arrivals the new song. Consequently, there will be a sufficient number of people present to be able to sing the song along with you when you lead into it.
Do not distribute sheets with lyrics on them.
- Never give people anything they can fidget with, especially when there are children around. The rustle of paper can be very distracting.
- At some points in the prayer session, like during worship, you may have the lights dimmed. If people are to read from the paper, the lights will have to be brightened, which breaks the atmosphere that has been built.
- People often close their eyes during prayer. They will have to open their eyes to read the words on the paper. Concentration is broken and once again, atmosphere is lost.
Do not display lyrics on a screen. (The exception to this is a large prayer gathering comprising many people who are unfamiliar with the lyrics. Even then restrict this to the opening session of praise.)
- For the same reasons as mentioned above; it makes people open their eyes, breaking concentration and atmosphere.
- Not displaying lyrics also helps people memorize the verses faster.
Cue people in on lyrics when the song is being sung. Do not improvise.
- It is always a good idea to cue people in on difficult or confusing lyrics and also let them know of variations in words that you will use. For instance, in a song like Welcome Holy Spirit, one of the lines goes "Live inside of us" or "Live inside of me". Letting people know whether we are going to use "us" or "me" in the song will prevent an unnecessary mix up.
- Playing with the words (mostly done for effect) can confuse people, especially those not used to the words. Improvising with the tune can similarly throw people.
If somebody else can lead in the singing of the song, you cue with the words of the songs.
- It is hard to both narrate the lyrics and sing the song; you miss your place in the song or you have to rush with the words.
Repeat verses a few times
- Repetition of the verses will also help people memorize the lyrics. Repetition is also a good idea if you notice that people are enjoying a particular song. It is ALWAYS a good idea to repeat verses during worship several times.
Some Advice for the Rookie
If you are leading for the first time, don't get too adventurous!
- The temptation to get creative and show how special you are can be overwhelming for the first time P&W leader, but avoid this temptation because it can spell disaster.
- People, inherently, resist change. You are the first change that they see and their defenses go up.
- When you start getting innovative they face further change and they begin to close up further.
- To add to this, if you add something totally new, they will totally lock you out.
Do understand that this doesnít mean you have to be a clone of every person who has led the prayers before you. Your personality itself will constitute a sufficient change, and the Holy Spirit will make sure that there will be enough uniqueness about you to get noticed in a good light, not bad. Eventually, as people get comfortable with you, and you, yourself, get comfortable with leading people in prayer, you can experiment with a few changes to the format, always making sure you keep the basic guidelines in place.
Don't read from notes
- It doesnít hurt to carry notes, but donít read from them, because it can get immensely boring. Try to be spontaneous, depending on the Holy Spirit, and use the notes to remind you of where you are if you get lost, or what to do next.
Don't go solo if you feel uncomfortable
- You don't have to do everything on your own so donít be embarrassed to ask for support from team members.
Go Easy on Yourself!
Donít feel bad if you feel you didnít do too well the first time around. We all make mistakes, but that is how we grow. The best P&W leaders in the world all made mistakes - and tons of them - which is why they became the best!
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