Prayer in Worship Planning and Preparation
Simply stated, when it comes to planning and preparation for worship services, prayer is easy to under-utilize. Neglect. Forget-about. Dismiss. Ignore.
We hire the most talented and experienced, godly, hard-working musicians the church can afford and task them with leading our worship ministries. We recruit the best volunteers the congregation has to offer and provide the best tools the budget can handle. When worship ministry is going well, and has been for quite a while, it’s the easiest thing in the world to forget to pray about the arts aspect of ministry. Over time, human effort can begin to supplant the work of the divine. One cubic centimeter at a time, our effectiveness tends to replace His. As with many areas of life and ministry, our enemy is perfectly fine with gradual decline, just so it’s decline. Failure will come eventually, and when it comes to subverting God’s endeavors, failure is all he’s concerned about.
If you’ve seen the movie The Patriot, you may remember the scene in which militia leader Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is confronted by General Cornwallis and others, and ordered to stop targeting British officers with militia sniper-fire. Deliberately killing ranking officers was against heretofore accepted protocol. Officers were to be spared so they could command their rank and file. Martin refused and in scenes following we see the debilitating effect it had on the British army.
Similarly in Christian life and ministry, our adversary has leaders in focus. As much as we would like to think he’d agree to at least leave our leaders alone, in truth he targets them first, and prayerlessness is a key ingredient in his battle plan. Crowd pastors and lay-leaders into situations where prayer is inconvenient, will take too much time, will seem awkward, anything. The enemy doesn’t mind how exactly, just so leaders neglect to pray and lead in prayer.
In a word, prayerlessness results in powerlessness; just the thing the enemy wants.
So how do we ensure prayer plays a key role in preparation for the hour or hour-and-a-half God’s people will be gathered to worship, praise, learn and apply?
Easy to say – tough to do- but in a word, intentionality on the part of the leaders.
Prayer must be well-maintained if we’re going to take the congregation anywhere in this vehicle we call public worship. It’s more important than tire pressure, oil level, periodic maintenance and an adequate supply of gasoline, albeit expensive, to get the family car from home to church every week.
Here are a few ideas to get you started. Talk it over with your team, your choir, your orchestra, the people in the tech and media booth. You may be surprised how many readily agree that prayer needs to play a key role in getting ready for Sunday, but no one really knows how or when it stopped being important, if that’s the case.
Don’t scold, don’t chide. Lead in an encouraging way, start fresh and enjoy the renewed right focus.
— In Planning —
Pray first. Don’t touch your pen or your keyboard to choose a song, a drama sketch, a Scripture reading, a solo or ensemble piece without praying first. Ask God to help you plan the upcoming service intended to bring Him honor.
Prepare with an awareness of your need for God’s approval. Ask and re-ask the question as the possibilities find their way onto paper or your spreadsheet/worksheet: What would God want to hear from us Sunday morning? What would He say to His people and want to hear His people say to Him? God’s approval is most important, even in the selection and ordering of service segments. When it comes right down to it, God provides the funds that enable your ministry to exist. Please Him first, please Him last, please Him only.
Pray readily. Ask for help at the first sign of trouble. He responds willingly and readily to “Lord, I’m having trouble here; can you help me?” He gives good gifts to His children – including little solutions for the service you’re working on.
Pray thankfully. When you see the end result, when you know it’s from Him and was prepared with Him in mind, the gratitude kind of bubbles over. Thank Him from a sincere, appreciative heart. The quiet confidence that comes from knowing He approves will be evident when you gather the musicians together to rehearse.
— In Rehearsal—
Pray first. If it’s important, take care of it first. The further down you schedule prayer in rehearsal the greater the chance something else will crowd it out. In my experience it’s always something more urgent but less important. And in our culture, urgent usually wins. Schedule it first thing and give it ample time. The Lord has a way of helping people who honored Him at the beginning of the hour.
Tune. There’s a phrase in the hymn Come Thou Fount that says “tune my heart to sing thy grace” Prayer does precisely that. Tune your hearts, then tune your instruments and voices. There’s a subtle confidence that comes with knowing everyone is in tune.
Practice hard. Part of the reward of music, media, and drama is the satisfaction that comes with bringing the best we have to offer, and giving it to our Savior in sincere acts of worship. Skill. Effort. Precision. Heart. THE best – for the only One Who deserves our best. Go hard.
Pray readily. When things start to come apart – or it looks like they might – Stop and pray. Where else in the world can those who will prompt the worshipers on Sunday morning come to the Audience ahead of time and ask His help in getting ready?! Only in worship ministries. To stop and ask his help is as well-received as when a tenor raises his hand and asks about measure 89. “Thanks for the question; let’s fix that.” God is the same way. Let’s ask.
Practice some more. Diligently.
Pray thankfully. Just as in planning and structuring, when you see the end result, when you know it’s from Him and was prepared with Him in mind, the gratitude will bubble over again. Thank Him from sincere, appreciative hearts as rehearsal or level-checks come to a close. The quiet confidence that comes from knowing He approves will be evident when you gather the people together to lead them in praise and worship.
Next: Prayer in the Worship Service