Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. - 2 Corinthians 3:17
One of the toughest parts of putting together an authentic worship experience is planning well, while still allowing room for God to move. This is something that becomes easier with time.
So how do you plan a worship service without putting up too many parameters that might block the movement of the Holy Spirit? First of all, this has to be a team effort made up of you, other personalities involved in the service, and the Lord Himself. Always assume that God has something special planned for your time together. Sometimes He will let you in on that ahead of time, and other times He keeps it a surprise.
This is going to look different depending on the age of the people you are planning for. The younger the crowd, the easier it is to plan. But when you’re planning for adults, especially for special events, make sure you plan in such a way that all the moving parts know where to be when, but keep the lines of communication open so that if something starts happening, you’re all on the same page.
Obviously the main part you’ll play a role in is making sure the music portion of worship is seamless but open ended. The best way to make this happen is to have a good relationship with your band members. Talk about these things ahead of time. If you’re rehearsing a song that could lend itself to provoking more of a response from the people than other songs, express to the band that they need to watch you. Give them some cues to listen for if you decide you need to keep singing that chorus a few more times. As you get used to playing and leading with certain musicians, you’ll be able to give musical cues (i.e. strumming your guitar harder) or body language cues that will let them know you’re going somewhere with the song.
How does all this play out practically in the planning process? It’s pretty simple actually. If you have 2 hours to fill, consider only planning an hour and 45 minutes worth of material. This way you have a buffer if God starts speaking to the person teaching, you see the people responding uniquely to a certain song, or your prayer time really seems to be moving people to action. Beyond that, as you’re planning the flow with the planning team, discuss different options for what you will do if you come to your scheduled end time but God is clearly doing something.
The first thing you might want to look at is your time frame. If you’re planning an event that could lend itself to a real movement of the Holy Spirit, make sure you allow plenty of time and if possible, don’t have anything immediately following that event or session. This way you aren’t pressed for time if things start taking off, and you don’t have to worry about whatever is next being pushed back or interfered with. If this is not a possibility, then talk about a Plan B if something unavoidable happens.
For example, when planning the annual women’s retreat at a church I used to serve at, it never failed that the Saturday morning session was jam-packed. We learned after a couple years to 1) eliminate anything unnecessary from that session, and 2) always be ready to call an audible with regard to what followed that session. One year our morning session was supposed to go until 11:00am, followed by a small group time, then lunch. Well it became apparent at about 10:30am that the session was going to go way longer than planned. So we decided to combine the small group time with lunch and just instructed the ladies to grab their box lunches and then sit together with the small groups to unpack the previous session.
Another option to have in your back pocket if a time of worship or prayer begins going longer than expected is to take a moment between songs and just acknowledge the movement of the Holy Spirit. Tell the people that you are going to continue seeing what He might have in store, but if they need to excuse themselves, they are free to do so. This allows those who are engaged deeply to continue, but opens up the chance for those who need to go to make their way out.
The most important thing to remember is that the only way to navigate these moments is by being in tune with the Holy Spirit. Know His character, and that He will always be true to that. Remember that He will never interrupt Himself, so be prepared to shut things down when they go awry. Be in constant prayer in those moments to sense when perhaps it’s okay to wrap things up or when you need to keep going. Move through the entire planning process with open hands. He will bless your humility.