Recently I was directing my youth in a run-through of their Youth Sunday worship service. This was a full rehearsal so that we could work out the rubics, troubleshoot AV issues, and make sure every aspect of the service pointed back to the youth-chosen theme. Several times I was asked – since there were all-important lock-in games like Sardines and Mafia to get to – “Do I have to read my whole part? I know what I’m supposed to do.” And each time I replied, “Practice like you play.” (I guess that old desire to coach basketball still lurks in the back of my brain.)
There are some worship leaders who think that writing out liturgy and sermon manuscripts (if that suits your preaching style) and rehearsing worship prevents the Holy Spirit from moving in the moment. But I believe that good preparation is a sign that a worship leader takes seriously his/her responsibility to God and to the gathered body. It’s a mark of hospitality when a worship leader ensures important details are highlighted and good transitions are made, because otherwise visitors won’t know what to expect. Preparation and rehearsal also create muscle memory in a worship leader so that if he/she is having an off day, the advance work can fill in some gaps.
But perhaps most importantly – and ironically – practicing creates more space for the Holy Spirit to operate. The Spirit isn’t limited to influencing the worship hour but instead can guide all the planning, study, writing, rehearsing, physical space arranging, and recruiting of liturgists, musicians, and greeters.
Practice like you play…and invite the Holy Spirit to redirect you in the moment and to translate all that happens into the message(s) the people in the pews need to hear.