Teaching Moments: Setting The Table


This is not a doctrine or a set in stone formula for worship leading, but just a small little insight that I’d like to share with you.

When I talk with worship teams/leaders about “purpose” one of the big things that I love to linger on is the idea that we exist to SERVE. Ultimately, we are doing what we do to serve God, to bring honor and glory to His name. At the same time, we do what we do to serve the body, the gathering, the collective, the congregation.

Worship teams and leaders: we are not here to pursue our own personal preferences, though at times God allows us to use our own personal preferences to shape the environment we serve in.

Who’s Hungry?

I like to think of the creative, musical portion of our worship gatherings with a little bit of food imagery. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good meal? I know I sure do!

Being that we’re a bit more civilized than the rest of the creatures here on God’s green earth, most of us find it par for the course to eat our meals on dishes with utensils created specifically to make our meals easier to find their way into our tummies and not all over our clothes.

What does that have to do with leading worship? Probably not much…unless you think like me!

Can Worship (Through Music) Be Messy?

I’ve found that sometimes our songs/setlists are like meals that contain “messy” elements in them. It could be a really hard-hitting truth that takes our people deeper than they’ve been recently. Or maybe it’s a lyric that contains imagery that makes people uncomfortable. Or it could possibly just be an added creative element that is out of the norm for your service environment.

Sometimes if you just barrel through those “messy” elements without setting the table, you’ll end up with a big mess! Sometimes you just have to add a plate to the table so that the “messy” element you’re serving up doesn’t end up spilled all over the place. The goal is to serve it up so that it can be ingested and used for benefit…not tossed on the floor.

Take a moment to set the table. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Set up that song with a brief, but concise, explanation of the big idea.
  • Read a pertinent scripture that moves people into the proper mindset.
  • Sing a song that sets up another song. I find it effective to string songs together that “reinforce” one another.
  • Don’t be afraid to teach a chorus or bridge, especially if it contains something that you really think people will benefit from.
  • Feel free to “dissect” a lyric briefly.
  • Share (or have someone share) a brief testimony/reading that reinforces the moment.
  • Use a simple, repetitive chorus to “concrete” a truth. Set it up by encouraging your people to “focus” on whatever it is you’re teaching. I like to say something like, “As we move into this next song and sing the name of Jesus, let’s linger for a few minutes and focus on Him.” It can be vague, but just a simple little vocal encouragement like that can help create a meaningful moment for some people.

Now keep in mind the idea is to use this to create short teaching moments…not artsy, over the top pseudo spiritual weirdo moments. We’re not trying to create mini-sermons here. We’re not trying to manufacture worship here. We’re not even trying to create a response.

What we’re after is an effort to set a table out so that the Holy Spirit can move freely (and He will) and that people can respond freely (and they will). We do our part in setting the table and serving the “dishes” and then we get out of the way! Our part really is to “be” the environment. To help create that space where people can come in and celebrate who God is as a collective body.

I’m not suggesting that we visualize our worship gatherings as some kind of shiny, packaged fast-food product. But in this particular analogy, I do feel it’s ok to envision certain elements of our worship gatherings as smaller parts of a whole, where it’s God who owns the restaurant, prepares the food, and allows us to “wait” on our congregations (and Him as well!).

I know this probably isn’t the “neatest” analogy ever used, but I find it helpful when thinking about BIG PICTURE purpose in our worship gatherings.

What are some ways that you set up those small (but important) teaching moments in your musical worship times?