Encouraging Spontaneity in Your Church

While at the Christian Musician Summit this past weekend I taught a workshop on Encouraging Spontaneity in Your Church. We had about 200 folks crammed into a room that held about 150, so it was, shall we say, a cozy setting.

At one point, I led the group in singing spontaneous responses to different sections of Psalm 100, similar to what we did at the WorshipGod conference.  It’s a form of meditating on God’s Word through song. It was moving to hear how God spoke to different individuals through that exercise.

Here’s a general outline of what I shared in the seminar. You can download my complete notes here.

Cautions About Spontaneity
1. Don’t pit spontaneity against planning.
2. Don’t pursue spontaneity because you’re lazy and don’t want to prepare.
3. Spontaneity isn’t more “spiritual” than planning.

Some Reasons to Pursue Spontaneity
1. We gather to meet with a living God and a risen Savior, not simply to carry out our plan. (Heb. 12:22-24)
2. God’s Spirit is actively present among us when we gather to magnify Christ and his Word. (1 Cor. 12:7; John 15:26; John 14:26)
3. Spontaneity gives us freedom to respond to present needs and promptings.
4. God wants to care for his people in every situation. The natural effect of Spirit-led spontaneity is being more aware of God’s presence and his care.

How Can We Pursue Spontaneity?
1. Dependence resulting in prayer.
2. Expectation resulting in wise planning.
3. Responsiveness resulting in action and follow-up.
4. Have a clear understanding of who is ultimately responsible for leading the meeting. Trust must be earned.

The Practice of Spontaneity
See my notes on this section

Evaluating Spontaneity
1. Was what we did helpful? Did it exalt Christ? Did it deepen our love for God’s Word?
2. Don’t exalt impressions over pastoral leadership.
3. Don’t become over-dependent on spontaneous impressions.
4. Don’t over-analyze. God is sovereign and will lead us as we remain rooted in his Word and the gospel.
5. Thank God for what he has done and will do in the future to reveal his active presence in our meetings.

Your church may excel in this area. Then again, how many of us ever experience the kind of situation Paul describes in 1 Cor. 14:24-25?

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,  the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

Whether or not you believe in the present day gift of prophecy isn’t the point. Let’s expect God to do mighty things in people’s hearts and lives every time we lead, planned or unplanned, for the glory of the Savior.

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7 Responses to Encouraging Spontaneity in Your Church

  1. Lynette Low November 19, 2008 at 4:41 PM #

    Bob, First, thank you so much for the incredible session you led at CMS. I was one of the 200 people crammed in that little room. I specifically learned how to teach the women that I lead how to worship spontaneously. I love spontaneous worship – but have never known how to teach it. I was also touch by your words of knowledge and so many other things that I would love to share – but I only get this much space!:)
    Thank you again!

  2. Andrew Gosden November 20, 2008 at 12:11 PM #

    I’ve enjoyed reading Worship Matters very much and listening to some of your talks recently (as well as listening to the Valley of Vision and Come Weary Saints albums and using a couple of songs at our Church. Were these recent talks recorded, do you know, and are they available anywhere? Also, are you coming to the UK anytime soon to speak? If not, you should :-)

  3. Aaron Campbell November 20, 2008 at 1:59 PM #

    Reason 2 under “Reasons to Pursue Spontaneity” is especially helpful. It is very easy to approach a time of corporate worship with an attitude of “this is what we do for God” and completely ignore the gracious action and presence of God. Thanks for the reminder.


  4. Jim Pemberton November 21, 2008 at 11:57 AM #

    Sometimes spontaneity just happens. The brothers and sister at my church are pretty orderly and many will lift hands, clap, stand or “amen” when so moved. Sometimes the service takes turns that we don’t expect and we are blessed. For example, I remember an anthem the choir and orchestra was offering during which the congregation was moved to stand in acknowledgment of the impact of the truth of our song on them. The worship leader with his back to the congregation was unaware of this. As we drew to the end of the song his wife, from the choir, made eye contact and spun her finger to indicate that something was going on. He looked over his shoulder and as we hit the final note, he indicated a reprise, turned to the congregation and led the reprise as congregational singing without missing a beat.

    Another example. This summer I led worship overseas during a mission trip with a team that consisted mostly of Americans, South Africans and Arabs. The only equipment I had available was a laptop loaded with some worship songs connected to portable speakers and a projector. This worked well. One day, the system stopped functioning so the team prayed as a couple men tried to get the machine to work. As the prayer closed, one South African broke into Amazing Grace. It’s a typical standby for such occasions, but you can only sing so many verses from memory before people don’t know what verse to sing. So I grabbed an Arab brother who had a stringed instrument with him. I had heard him sing How Great Thou Art in Arabic earlier at breakfast so I had him lead the Arabs in Arabic for a verse. He continued to play a second verse as the South Africans sang in Afrikaans. On the third verse as many as knew English sang it in English. What a blessing!

  5. Jake November 21, 2008 at 7:53 PM #

    As a worship leader with young adults as primarily filling the seats, I have often been thrown the choice of either spontaneity or planning… which is ridiculous!

    I am learning that we HAVE to anticipate and prepare prayerfully with an expectation that the Spirit of God will meet us AND at the same time hold all of man’s plans loosely in our hands and listen for God to speak.

    It is that both/and tension that comes into play here. Execute as BEST we can and listen and be waiting upon the Lord with our whole hearts!

    Thanks for your ministry Bob.

    Fargo, ND

  6. Thomas Clay December 1, 2008 at 2:52 PM #


    I am someone who has lead music at an Assemblies of God church (with much spontaneity) and now in a SBC church (where there is little spontaneity) and I have taught much the same thing.

    I like to describe it this way. God leads in both the planning stage and the spontaneous stage. If it was all planning and no spontaneity, then after the plan was given we would be prone to tell God “Ok, thanks for giving me the plan. Now leave me alone.” If it was visa verse, we would be sloppy, lazy, and chaotic and develop no plan at all. That’s why we need both. It keeps us dependent upon Christ the entire time!

    Excellent info as always, brother!

  7. Luan Els December 4, 2009 at 3:11 AM #

    I think when it comes to spontaneous worship you can’t force it and I think we need to be so sensitive to Holy Spirit that he needs to lead us, I am learning that at the mo, where He creates that moment where comes and invades our set of songs and planning so that His kingdom can be advanced.

    these Blogs I find really challenging and encouraging as young worhip leader.

    Thank you for the use of your resources.

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