Last week, I was talking to Matthew Williams, one of the pastors of Kingsway Community Church in Richmond, VA. They’re sending out a group of folks to plant a church in Fredericksburg, VA this fall. Matthew was asking me how I’d counsel a worship leader that’s starting out on a church plant. In the middle of our conversation I thought he might not be the only guy asking this question. So here are some the things I told Matthew I’d do if I was going to lead worship on a church plant.
1. Because people will be coming from different churches, backgrounds, and experiences, I’d plan to take extra time to explain our philosophy of worship. Every other Sunday I might take 3-5 minutes to talk about some aspect of what we’re doing. I’d want guests to understand that worship is more than singing our favorite songs. I’d cover topics like why we sing about Jesus dying for our sins so much, the importance of God’s Word when we sing, why we sing songs with lots of words, the place of physical expressiveness, and how the primary sound we want to hear on Sundays is the congregation.
2. I’d start with a list of about 60 songs that included hymns, meatier songs I thought we’d sing a lot (In Christ Alone, Before the Throne of God Above, etc.), and a few familiar songs (Passion, Paul Baloche, etc.)
3. I’d plan to repeat songs frequently so that we could build a “musical memory” together. If I was introducing a song most people were unfamiliar with I’d try to sing it 2 or 3 more times in the coming month.
4. I’d build music team membership slowly. I wouldn’t feel pressure to add people to the team because of musical gifting or past experience. Itʼs always easier to wait to add people than to have to remove them later for character reasons.
5. At some point in the first six months I’d invite any interested musicians over to my house for a meal. I’d lay out a vision of what kind of team we’re seeking to build, and then we’d probably jam and spend some time worshiping the Lord in song.
6. In that meeting (and there might be more than one) I’d want to establish a culture of biblical values, including humility, encouragement, servanthood, and excellence, all in the context of wanting to live a life worthy of the gospel. I’d stress that anyone who is front of the church on a regular basis needs more than a musical gift as a reason to be there. I’d also try to encourage every one I could in any way I could without making it sound like they were going to be playing on the team next Sunday.
7. While the church is small, I’d be willing to sacrifice a degree of musical excellence. What I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice is the pursuit of humility as a group.
8. If I was a pastor planting a church with an inexperienced worship leader, I’d mention all these things, but play a more pronounced role in song selection and what was said between songs, hoping to train my worship leader in the process. I’d also give a message or two to unpack the part congregational singing plays in the broader category of biblical worship. Probably use a passage like Col. 3:16-17 or Ps. 150.
These are some of the things I did or wish I had done when I helped plant a church in 1991. I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve forgotten. What’s your experience?