Moving through the parts of a worship service has become more complex in recent years, particularly for churches that do not follow the same order of worship every Sunday. Also, using a variety of worship leaders calls for taking even greater care that the congregation be led in a way that helps them do what they have come to do: encounter the living God. Part of the task of a worship leader is to help the congregation move from one action to the next, to help them know what is coming and why it is coming. Words of transition—planned carefully before the service—can help the people move wholeheartedly from a hymn to a creed to a prayer. As you plan a worship service, consider some of the following suggestions for creating transitions:
1. Spend time with the Scripture and theme of the service.
The whole service becomes more cohesive when the Scripture and theme are woven throughout. For example, to introduce a service theme based on the cosmic rule of Christ that calls all people and nations to worship, consider beginning the service with two songs of praise, perhaps one from Africa (see p. 35) with these words connecting the songs: “Today we come with our brothers and sisters around the world to worship God, who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Hear these words from Revelation 15:4: ‘Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.’ Come, let us praise our holy God.”
2. Write transitions out ahead of time.
While you may not read transitions exactly as they have been written, writing them out helps to clearly focus your thoughts and helps you avoid unnecessary or inappropriate words.
3. Listen to a recording.
Listen to a past service and write down all the transitional statements. Ask yourself what was necessary, what was helpful, what might have interrupted rather than prepared the people to enter into the next action.
4. Determine where transitions are absolutely necessary.
If the movement of worship would be hampered by a verbal transition, don’t use one. For instance, if a prayer is followed by a sung prayer response, verbally introducing the sung response, “Let’s sing . . . ,” may interrupt the sense of prayer.
5. Try to avoid colloquial language.
Avoid using statements such as “I feel . . . ,” “I think . . . ,” “Why don’t we . . . ,” or “OK, let’s see, let’s say the creed now.” Instead use phrases that connect us to the coming action. For example, introduce the creed with “Let us say together what we believe.”
6. In writing transitions between sung parts of worship, look for a way to weave together the text of each of the songs.
Sometimes two or three songs are sung in a row. Perhaps the keyboard player can make the necessary transitions, and no words are needed. But perhaps the reason for linking these songs together can be made clearer with a few well-chosen words, not more than one or two sentences. Take the time to study the texts, find the common threads, and then connect them to the message of the day. Even then, during the service you may choose to skip what you had prepared—pay attention to moments when the worship of God’s people is enhanced by seamlessly flowing from one song right into the next.
7. Remember to speak slowly, clearly, and articulately.
Take time to say what is necessary without feeling the need to rush through words. Allow some space between actions rather than rushing from one thing to the next. Especially if leading worship is new for you, take time to rehearse with the microphone before the service. If you have your statements written out, don’t look down while speaking; make eye contact with the congregation. Think of a child, an older person, a visitor, someone seated in the last row—they all need to hear you.
8. Ask God to shape your thoughts and words as you plan and as you lead.
Pray, but also trust the Holy Spirit to use your words to help each person encounter God in worship.
MORE EXAMPLES OF WELL-PLANNED TRANSITIONS
- Some of us gather for worship this morning with great joy. Some of us gather with tears. Our opening song is based on a psalm that expresses both joy and honest pain.
- The sermon ended with a call to confession. Our song of response enables us to do just that.
- Next, we state precisely what we believe, using the words of the Apostles’ Creed. These words are printed in your worship folder. If you are visiting with us today, we would be happy to explain the joy we have because of these statements. Feel free to ask one of the greeters at the door at the end of the service.
—From So You’ve Been Asked to . . . Lead the Worship Service by John D. Witvliet
(see inside back cover for more information).