What Jason Bourne Taught Me About Leading Worship

One of my favorite scenes from the Bourne Identity takes place in the diner where Bourne is sharing with his new friend and hostage, Marie, his perplexity with his extraordinary situational awareness. You can view the clip here if you’d like.
He couldn’t understand how someone who didn’t know his own identity would know things like where all the diner exits were, the license plate numbers of all the cars parked outside and where the most likely place to find a gun was. This enhanced situational awareness was second nature to him.
Jason Bourne’s situational awareness inspires me as a worship leader. Specifically when it comes to navigating through a set list. Seriously, when I am leading a song I want to know what all my options are at any given moment without even having to think about it. Here’s why…
A lot has been said about excellence in worship and I’m a huge proponent of it when it comes to bringing our best in our service of God and others. However, I don’t  just want excellence, I want excellence that breathes.
Worship is a relationship so, in my opinion, it must be free to breathe. Like with any healthy relationship there needs to be space for spontaneity and flexibility. Excellence that doesn’t breathe can come across as plastic, disingenuous (that word would tank me in a spelling bee) and, at worse, lifeless.
However, I don’t value spontaneity and flexibility for the sake of spontaneity and flexibility. I value them inasmuch as they enable us to respond in the moment to the Lord or a congregation of worshipers.
Here are a few questions we can ask when preparing songs that will increase our “situational awareness.”
1. What’s the best “space vamp?”
The space vamp is the chord progression that will be played and repeated in the case you feel the need to create some, well, space within a song. There may be times when you sense a need to create space in order to pray, share something, or simply have room to breathe in what the Lord is saying or doing in a given moment. It’s important that everyone on the team knows what to vamp in these moments.
If the purpose of the space is to allow the congregation to pour out their hearts in spontaneous song, it might be a good idea to use a simple progression. A “one-four” progression, for example.
2. Where can we camp out?

In other words, what part(s) of the song is conducive to camping out and repeating? The most obvious answer would be the chorus but I’m more interested in the less obvious places.

For instance, in Leeland‘s song “Lion and the Lamb,” the bridge is an obvious place where you could camp out but a not so obvious place would be playing the IV and V chord and repeating the phrase from the chorus, “And every knee will bow before Him.”

There’s no telling what specific truth the Lord might highlight or the congregation might really latch ahold of within a specific song. My goal is to know how we could highlight that truth by camping out on a specific part of the song. It could even be a part of a verse that is repeated.
3. Is there another song that could be woven into this one?

Sometimes a song can be taken to a new level when a part of another song in the same key and similar tempo is interwoven seamlessly.

Something like this happened last Sunday in our worship time. At the end of the song “Resurrecting” by Elevation, we seamlessly added the bridge of Hillsong’s “Stronger” (“let your name be lifted higher”). It just happened in the moment and because it was the same key and similar theme, it fit really well.  It added something to the song.

Just because Jason Bourne knew the location of all of the exits in the diner didn’t mean he was going to use all of them. However, he could use any one of them if needed. Similarly, my goal is simply to know my options, not necessarily use all of them.
Knowing our options can help us respond in the moment to the Lord and the congregation. Worship is a relationship and relationships need room to breathe.

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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