Worship Leading: Minutes, Moments, and Memory
I have prayed. I have planned. I have practiced. I have equipped our team of volunteers. The countdown clock has started. Five minutes until go-time.
It’s at this point that the service coordinator approaches to inform me that one of our camera techs has still not shown up. I have to check the schedule to see who is on the rotation (I find myself a little frustrated that I can’t remember that off the top of my head). That’s when my phone buzzes to let me know that the camera tech is sick and can’t show up. We scramble to figure out a backup plan.
3:37 left on the clock.
I’m quickly absorbed in a deep conversation with someone sitting on the back row. It’s where they always sit. They are excited to share what God has been doing in their lives. Soon I find myself half-listening, aware that my internal countdown clock is ticking.
2:15 left on the clock.
I approach the platform to give my guitar and my heart a final tuning. I’m about to lead and serve in the weekly practice with which God’s New Covenant people have engaged for 2,000 years. I’m confident the Kingdom will thrive no matter how well I serve today, but I’m also hoping I don’t mess up!
:05 left on the clock. Go time.
Worship leaders are managers of minutes and moments. In doing so, we disciple the people of God through being prepared, as well as being flexible to God’s prompting.
We manage minutes by being mindful of the myriad of service elements, the way they flow from one to another, as well as other programming throughout the building that might be affected by our worship service. In managing minutes, we pay attention to countdown clocks, chords, keys, camera shots, and video cues. It’s about being prepared.
We also manage moments by being mindful (both ahead of time and in the moment itself) of how the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding the Body in worship. In managing moments, we pay attention to the message, prayers, responses of the people, and the prompting of God’s still small voice. It’s about being flexible.
Years ago, Jack Hayford wrote about this in the book, Mastering Worship, where he pointed out two tracks of leading worship. He referred to the two tracks as the Worship Track and the Leadership Track. In a nutshell, the Worship Track is represented by the intimate moments of worship where one feels the nearness of God. The Leadership Track is manifested in the practical and proactive things we do to serve and lead the Body of Christ in worship. If leading worship were a train, then both tracks would be necessary to stay balanced and not get derailed.
In a similar way effective worship leaders are mindful of both tracks: minutes and moments. As we lead worship in our various capacities, we naturally lean to one track or the other. Both are needed.
But only one is typically remembered by the people you lead.
I have been leading the Body of Christ in worship for over 20 years, and I can’t recall a time when someone in the congregation approached me after a service and unsolicitedly commented on how smoothly I was able to cut the third verse and chorus from the song to save 90 seconds. Even though that was a necessary management of minutes so we could stay on track, it would not be the thing that was remembered.
People do, however, remember moments.
That’s why, as worship leaders, we are most effective when we facilitate moments that help people remember what God has done. This is the goal of managing a moment in worship: facilitating a memory of God.
A worship leader who only manages minutes simply chooses elements (i.e. songs, prayers, etc.) and puts them in a pre-selected template. A worship leader who manages moments will arrange those elements in a way that moves people (both emotionally and theologically). But the goal of this is to create a memory; not a memory of the worship experience, but a memory of what God has already done on their behalf.
Psalm 9:1 says, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all your wonderful deeds.”
In order for worship leaders to continue to make disciples well, we must help our people to recall and celebrate what God has already done. Help people remember. By bringing people back to what God has done, our hearts will often be slingshotted forward in heart-felt worship.
I want to encourage worship leaders to prioritize managing moments in worship, rather than simply picking songs and throwing them into a template, counting the minutes and calling it good. One of the best ways to help people recount the wonderful deeds of the Lord is by pointing to the memorial that Christ established Himself, as He told His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
Rather than standing on a platform and playing the role of a cheer leader, just trying to get people “pumped up” (whatever that means), perhaps, we’d be more effective if we continued to recreate a memory of Christ and what He has already done for us.
In planning worship services, use the elements that fill your minutes (songs, prayers, Scripture readings, videos, etc.) to remind people of the cross and empty tomb. Remind and revive those who have forgotten. Inform and inspire those who simply didn’t know. This is how we manage moments in worship. This is how we remember.
 Hayford, Jack; Killinger, John; Stevenson; Howard; “Masting Worship,” 1990 Christianity Today, Multnomah Press; page 44