Ski Lifts and Set Lists (3 Things They Have In Common)

In my opinion, riding a ski lift is loads of fun.  I’m not sure what I enjoy more, the beautiful view from the 40 feet elevation or the rush of adrenaline from knowing how easy it would be to fall those 40 feet to the ground.  Whatever the reason is, it’s an enjoyable experience.

Lately, I’ve reflected on the similarities between ski lifts and the set lists we use in corporate worship.  I’m not sure why, though, because I haven’t been skiing in over 15 years!  Nonetheless, here are a few of the things they share in common.

1. No One Goes Skiing for the Ski Lifts.
Imagine having coffee with a friend who just returned from a week long ski trip.  Upon inquiring about their trip you learn that all they did was ride the ski lift up and down the mountain for a week.  Your thought in that moment? What a waste!

Why?  Because no one takes off of work and spends hundreds of dollars to simply ride up and down a mountain in a gondola.

Unlike our fictitious friend, no one goes skiing for the ski lifts.  They go skiing for the exhilarating experience of racing down powder-packed mountains at 20+ mph.  Not to mention the breathtaking views from the mountain tops.

Similarly, whether they realize it or not, most people don’t come to our churches to sing our set lists.  As great as they are, I’m sure, they are looking for something much more substantial.

They come for the exhilarating experience of encountering God in a fulfilling, transforming and empowering way and for the breathtaking views of His glory and truth.  They come hoping to lay hold of the joy, strength, pleasure, peace, comfort, encouragement, healing etc… that can only be found in His presence.

2. A Ski Lift Is a Vehicle.
The whole purpose of the ski lift is to get people somewhere.  Technically, it’s not even necessary.  Before ski lifts were used people “simply” hiked up the mountain.  Thankfully, however, some really nice people invented ski lifts to expedite the process for the rest of us non-Bear Grylls types.

Likewise, the whole purpose of a set list is to get people somewhere.  And yes, just like the ski lift, it’s really not necessary.  However, a group of “filled and skilled” musicians with a good set list sure can expedite the process of getting a large room full of people up the mountain of worship.

3. There Comes a Time to Get Off of the Lift.
It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve ridden a ski lift, the “dismount” at the top of the mountain still feels a bit awkward to me.  But, if I’m going to ski down the mountain, I’m going to have to push through the awkwardness and just do it.  Otherwise, I’ll have to ride the lift down and catch up with my friends later.

Similarly, there are many times in worship when, in order to really go somewhere and find that exhilarating God-encounter, we need to “get off of the lift.”

As worship leaders, this means moving beyond the boundaries of the planned set list.  This may look like repeating a part of the song, a moment of silence, an unplanned song, musical space for the congregation to pour out their hearts using their own words, responding to a prophetic word, a spontaneous song, reading a Scripture etc…

I imagine some of you are like me in that getting off of the lift/moving beyond the plan can feel a bit awkward at times.  The reward, however, makes it so worth it.

In conclusion, let’s keep doing the work of preparing engaging, truth-filled set lists for those we serve.  But let’s fix our eyes on and lead our communities to what lies beyond them:  exhilarating experiences of encountering God’s fulfilling, transforming and empowering presence.

 PHOTO:  Lifting by Chris Martino

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3 Things Incredibly Effective Worship Leaders Do

One of my deepest desires as a worship leader is that others would find it easy, effortless even, to encounter God in the worship environments I create.  The following are 3 things worship leaders can do, by the grace of God, to help others more easily encounter God in worship.


It was the thirsty Jesus invited to come and drink (John 7:37).  It is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness that will be filled (Matthew 5:6).  Hunger is essential if we want to encounter God.  However, it’s not just hunger that’s required, it’s conscious hunger.

Jesus’ grievance with the Laodicean church in Revelation 3 wasn’t that they weren’t hungry but that they weren’t conscious of their hunger.  They were starving to death but by binging on “worldly junk food” they had convinced themselves they were full!

We are all hungry for God’s presence but we aren’t always conscious of it.  Here are a couple ways we can awaken hunger in ourselves and in those we lead.

Pray for it.  Conscious spiritual hunger is a gift from God that we can ask for.  Pray for your spiritual community that the Father would awaken hunger.  Ask Him to show them (yourself included!) their true state.

How many times did you think you weren’t hungry until you saw someone else eating?  The mere sight and smell of food awakened your body to its true state.  Likewise, spiritual hunger can be awakened by the sight and aroma of true spiritual food.

Declaring the hunger-satisfying attributes of God in our prayers, declarations, and songs can awaken hearts to hunger in worship as we lead.


Scripture makes it clear that, in general, faith is prerequisite to encountering God.  Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the case where Jesus returned to his hometown.  Mark 6:5 records that because of the corporate unbelief, “he could do no mighty work there.”

Conscious hunger is not enough.  We must have faith as well.  If the starving man is ignorant of the lavish banquet spread out for him in the other room, he will go on hungry.

One of our jobs as worship leaders is simply calling attention to the feast that’s been laid out for God’s hungry people.  Here are a few ways we can do this.

“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  According to Romans 10:17, God’s word is one of the primary instruments He uses to kindle faith in human hearts.  Therefore, it behooves us as worship leaders to fill our corporate worship times with the truth of His word.

Similar to the patriarch Jacob who said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:17) we are susceptible to going unawares when His presence is at hand.  One of the most powerful things a worship leader can do is look others in the eye and declare that God is in the very room and He’s here to speak and engage with us.

For one, this declaration is always true anytime Jesus followers are gathered together in His name (Matt. 18:20).  Secondly, this declaration can increase faith in the room for what God wants to do, thus, positioning our hearts to receive.


As essential as conscious hunger and faith are to meeting with God, sometimes these two are not enough.  If our starving friend from the earlier example is aware of both his hunger and the lavish banquet in the other room, his feelings of unworthiness could prevent him from approaching the table.

The author of Hebrews was cognizant of this and wrote, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).

Often God’s people need to have their confidence restored before they can run into the throne room and climb into Daddy’s lap.  More often than not their lack of confidence is based on a lie.  After all, we have an accuser who does not relent 24/7 (Rev. 12:10).

As worship leaders, we often need to remind our fellow brothers and sisters that our confidence to enter the holy place is not based on how we did last week but on how Jesus did 2000 years ago when he shed His blood for us.  “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).

Awaken hunger, increase faith and restore confidence.  I encourage you to make a conscious effort to do one of these things the next time you are privileged to lead God’s people in worship.  And let me know how it goes!