"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

Adding Creative Elements to Worship (Part 1)

Techniques and Taboos

Steve Miller

It's so easy to get in a rut with our worship! The longer we stay in the rut, the more our people can simply go through the motions of the service without thinking…without truly worshiping. This article presents scores of specific ideas to help you in worship planning. It can also help you weed out elements that distract from worship.

Our Creative God

We have to look no further than nature to see that we serve an infinitely creative God. Had He chosen to create a black and white world, what human would have suggested, "What this world needs is a little color!" We'd have never conceived the possibility of color. The incredible variety of form and color among plants and animals shows that our God delights in creative diversity.

Concerning worship through song, we again find our creative God presenting us with a huge palette from which to choose our colors. In the context of worship, Scriptures present us with

  • A variety of instruments (harps, stringed instruments, horns, trumpets, cymbals, harps, lyres, timbrels and tambourines - Rev. 5:8, Hab. 3:19, I Chron. 15:28,29, Ex. 15:20)
  • A variety of body language (e.g., leaping, clapping, dancing, lifting hands, standing, bowing down, kneeling - I Chron. 15:29, 23:30 Ps. 47:1, 28:2, 95:6, 134:2, Ex. 15:20)
  • A variety of directions (directed to the nations, to one another, to all the earth, to God - Ps. 117, 100, 138, Eph. 5:19, I Sam. 16:23)
  • A variety of content (teaching, praying, praise, thanksgiving, relating a testimony, exhortation - Ps. 1, 8, 18, 134, 136, 138).

Could it be that we misrepresent our creative God when we restrict our worship to a few overused forms?

Purpose Driven Music: How to Choose Forms and Techniques

From the Biblical data, I conclude that God has left open to us a huge variety of possible techniques to use in our worship services. How do we choose among the abundance of possibilities? If Bubba and his less than talented brothers volunteer to lead the metro youth group in a rousing Polka song, would my denial smack of creative censure?

I suggest that we first seek God as to which function He wants the music to perform in each part of a service. For example, here are some functions of music I find in the Bible:

  • To teach (Col. 3:16, Ps. 27)
  • To admonish (Col. 3:16, Ps. 131)
  • To praise God (Ps. 43:4)
  • To confess sin to God (Ps. 51)
  • To petition God (Psalm 3)
  • To relate a personal testimony (Ps. 116)

If our purpose in one service segment is to teach a biblical truth, I must ask the question, "Would Bubba's Polka band effectively communicate this truth to the group?" If not, I must seek a song that's filled with the right content and clothed in an effective style to achieve my God-given purpose. Schedule Bubba for the annual talent show instead.

Our goal is not to "wow" our audience, to show off, to make people think we're professional or cool. Our goal is to fulfill the purposes God has given us, whether they be teaching Scriptural truth or drawing people to worship God. Clarifying your purpose for a song is your first step toward choosing the best song and the most effective styles or techniques with which to present it.

Getting the Most Out of These Ideas

You can't digest all of these ideas in one fell swoop. I suggest first reading through all of the ideas and putting a check mark beside the ideas that you'd like to implement. Second, go back to your checked items and circle two or three that you'd like to try now. Third, keep track of new ideas as you get them, adding them to the list below. Fourth, keep coming back to this list each month to spark your creativity. Our lazy tendency is to keep falling back into our comfortable ruts.

Allow For Cultural Differences

Techniques are perceived differently from culture to culture. While revealing your emotion may be perfectly appropriate in Italy, that same display of emotion would likely be interpreted as character weakness among the Fulani in Burkina Faso. The same flute that may lead an American congregation to worship causes confusion in a tribe that associates the flute with possession rituals. Slow music may generate reflection in one group, boredom to another. The very styles and techniques that make your spirit soar may bore your youth to tears. Thus, many of the ideas below are culturally bound, working in one cultural context but failing in another.

So who are the final authorities for deciding if a technique works for you? Your worshippers. As the apostle Paul did, become all things to all men (I Corinthians 9). Don't expect them to adapt to your personal tastes. (Link to article on idea-driven, also on purpose-driven music) Never, never assume that the techniques that bring you personally to worship will also work with those you lead. Always humbly ask for input. Ask one on one, in anonymous surveys, in a focus group, among your band members and singers. Find out what's working and what's not. Especially ask those who come for the first time. They are yet unstained by our peculiar insider traditions. Then, of course, you have to take seriously what they say. As Proverbs instructs us:

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But a wise man is he who listens to counsel. (Proverbs 12:15)

Make the List Your Own

Finally, add your own ideas to this list. I got my ideas from my own worship leading experiences, other's leading experiences, and observing others lead. Wildly successful novelist Stephen King says that he learns as much or more about writing from reading poorly written novels as reading the good ones. The mistakes are so glaring! So learn from effective worship leaders and learn from the ineffective.

Again from Proverbs, it's only those who "diligently seek" wisdom who will find her (8:17). But those diligent seekers will find wisdom to be "better than jewels; and all desirable things can not compare with her." (8:11) Observe, read, get candid input from others and seek God in prayer. As long as one person has yet to be awakened to authentic worship, we must be restless seekers of excellence in leading worship.

So without further adieu, here's the list of techniques and taboos.

Click HERE to read Part Two.