Leading Worship with Scripture

About 10 years ago I started my first job as a worship leader in a church. I was 24, green and eager to grow. I went to my first music conference shortly after, and it wasn't that great. It was pretty old school and very irrelevant to the vision God had given me regarding worship ministry. But just like most things in life, you can always learn something. As bad as the conference was, I walked away learning something that has been very vital to my ministry. I attended one of the workshops they offered, and the teacher said something that stuck with me. He said that the most impacting thing we could give our crowd every week, during the music, was scripture. He challenged us to make sure we used scripture, somehow, someway, during every worship set we lead.
I took that advice, and it has become a huge part of my worship set every week since that conference.

A few years ago, I was introduced to another idea that also has been a big part of my philosophy. It's the idea of planning the times when I use scripture during each worship set ahead of time. For me, it's felt right to plan out one moment during the set where I'll stop, share my heart with the church, and that's usually where I'll read or quote a scripture. I've watched worship leaders that have either talked too much or not talked enough. Learning the balance of that can make a big difference in the impact. I definitely don't recommend talking after every single song. That can be major over-kill. Anyways, I've found that planning those times before I lead worship to be a very positive thing. Being Spirit-led doesn't exclusively mean spontaneous. Some of the most Spirit-led things that I've experienced in worship services, I had prayerfully prepared ahead of time.

All that being said, I thought I'd share a few ways I've learned to use scripture while leading worship...

I love to hold the Bible and read it. There's nothing like it. It's the best visual you can have in church, while giving them the best thing they'll ever hear.

The Word of God is not restricted to pages bound together. The Word of God is much bigger than that. We live in a day and age of technology. It's not going away. There's times when I've used my Blackberry, iPod Touch or iPad to read scripture, and guess what? It's still powerful, because its still God's Word. Most of the time that I've used a device, it's been because its last minute and convenient. I definitely embrace the use of technology.

Psalm 119:11 tells us to hide God's Word in our hearts. Scripture memory is a very important discipline in the life of a follower of Christ...not to mention, worship leaders. There have been times where it was more appropriate to quote the scripture from memory, instead of taking the time to hold a Bible and read it. Taking the time to memorize scripture ahead of time is something I've never regretted.

One thing I've taught my churches is to worship God while reading scripture together, just like we would while singing a song together. I've had them raise their hands as we've said scripture out loud. There's nothing like worshiping God with His own Words.

This is a very old method in liturgy and its still relevant today. One example of this is when I do the song "Forever" by Chris Tomlin. I love to start that song with Psalm 136. As the worship leader, I'll read the first part of each verse and have the crowd say "His love endures forever." Its an awesome way to start that song.

This is a very creative way to use scripture. Sometimes, it's been more appropriate and powerful to put scripture on the screen and not say it out loud. Just let the crowd read it quietly. I usually do this during an instrumental at some point during a song. Here's an example of how I did this recently:

There is truly nothing more powerful than God's Word. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, and it's certainly more powerful than the latest greatest worship song, or anything we could say, for that matter. I have seen the Holy Spirit move through a crowd and move people to worship with a song, but it's never been more powerful as when scripture is used with it.

I'm sure there are other ways to lead worship with scripture. If you have an idea I haven't mentioned, please comment and share.


Six Days and a Rest said...

Gary: I am far from being a worship leader although I have always wanted to do that but God has given me my band Six Days and a Rest. We write originals, they are nothing spectacular musically and our vocals and recordings can be improved but the two things that I make sure to do is write the songs from scripture and let the holy spirit take control of what comes out and as a group and remain humble and not boast about anything. I have attached a link to our latest song we wrote called "It's in You". It is based on John 15. I love the idea of scripture based worship...it is what teaches you through music....other than that it's just another song. Just felt like sharing....God Bless .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kvi7fvxuFE

Six Days and a Rest said...

Gary: I am no worship leader or have a stellar band but one thing we always agree on as a group is that we will write songs with scripture in mind. I am sure you already know this but I just felt like sharing. Our last two songs, which aren't fully done yet are based on John 15. We are nothing spectacular musically and our vocals and cheap recordings just scrape by, but the shows I have played, I have seen the Holy Spirit work in people in the audience. Here is a link to one of our new songs on youtube (not mastered yet) and I will email you the other. Let me know what you think as it relates to John 15. God Bless

Russ said...

Great post Gary. Just last night wer were doing Matt Redman's 10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord) and I really felt a prompting to read Psalm 103:1-2. Sometimes it just sets up the moment "just right" to open with a song...or even to "concrete" the concepts in the song by reading a passage after the song.

Great advice!

Chris Estes said...

Great insight Gary! Reminds me of my other favorite verses (you already called my all-time fav psalm 119:11) in John 1:1 and 1:14....in the beginning was the word, and it was God...and it became flesh and dwelt among us!

We need to worship in spirit and truth...His word is a big part of that.

Thanks for sharing,

Chad Jarnagin said...

Good timely post Gary. Scripture is essential to centered worship. Reading (from whatever medium), is a great way to flow thru a collective time. We need to rest in scripture. Read it over us. Sing it over us. In between songs, scripture can also build during the worship sets.

You should know this... using visual liturgy is a brilliant way to incorporate the Scripture, readings, and Liturgy into any collective worship time.

Examples / Resources:



Looking forward to the great conversation at Luminous to come.

Shannon Lewis said...

Bro... very good stuff. Agreed.

My weekness is over-talking it. I tend to need to overrehease what I'm to say else I'll meander.

However, I suggest you sign up some day for Aaron Keyes worship school. That dude quotes the Word like no other I know, & he imparts his gifts freely during his school. Excellent stuff.

Chad - great point... for the newbees, particularly, liturgy can be a good resource.

Rich Kirkpatrick said...

This is why I am a Gary Durbin fan. Very good points and thanks bringing us into the 2010s, too.

Adam Johnson said...

This is a great post, my pastor recently asked me to start using more scripture in worship and this is a great resource for me. thanks for sharing this :)

Gary Durbin said...

Adam, I'm glad it's a help. Be thankful you have a pastor who wants that. He gets it. Thanks for sharing.

Cameron Watford said...

Thanks for this post Gary. I often try to use the direct scripture (when possible) that a particular song was drawn from. For instance, this past Sunday we sang "Give Us Clean Hands" and I used Psalm 24:3-6. It helps my people to know when they are singing scripture and, while meaningful, not just the ponderings and longings of our own hearts.