Preparing for the Unexpected

February 16, 2022 |

Bottom Line: When you prepare well––technically and spiritually––you will be ready to facilitate an unexpected moment in a service.


We've all been a part of a worship service in which something unexpected happened. Maybe the
power went out in the middle of a song, and you had to finish the set with an acoustic and belt
the lyrics from memory. I remember once when our drummer was running tracks, his stick flew
out of his hand mid-song, spun through the air, and just happened to land on the button that fired
tracks for the next song! True story.

I've been a part of some services where the unexpected happened in the form of a powerful
response, and we needed to extend our worship set because dozens of people were coming
forward for prayer. There have been times when God was moving powerfully in our worship
service, and our pastor has stepped up in the middle of a song to lead us to pray and respond.
Those are the best kind of interruptions! But they are interruptions, no less. If you're like me, you
have handled those interruptions well at times, and others, you've missed entirely. As a worship
pastor, I'm not called to lead flawlessly executed worship sets; I'm called to lead people to value
God above all things, with all that we are, by responding to all that He is. So, how can I better
prepare myself and my team to respond well to the unexpected interruptions––whether that's a
rogue drumstick firing a track or the Holy Spirit moving unexpectedly?

Preparation is worship.

I experienced a shift in my mindset when I began to understand that I don't spend time practicing
and preparing for worship, but my practice and preparation is worship. 1 Corinthians 10:31
challenges us to do everything for the glory of God. Our eating and drinking and parenting and
cleaning and practicing and leading and singing and serving - all of it is for God's glory. In light
of this, my preparation to lead our church on Sunday holds a different weight. I'm not just
learning chords, lyrics, and transitions to execute that moment without making mistakes. I'm
when we're leading a moment, and God moves beyond our plan, I can respond and not freeze.

You may be thinking: "That sounds great, but I don't have a team full of professional musicians.
What does that look like practically with a team of volunteers?"

1. Challenge your team to learn sections of a song, not just the whole song from top to bottom. When your drummer memorizes the form of a song and plays his part from beginning to end but doesn't know what the second chorus should feel like as a separate section, he limits his ability to flow through an unexpected moment. If you need to extend a response song and your worship leader or music director calls for the bridge section, the hope is that your guitar player knows the song so well that he can instinctively adjust his tone and parts to serve the moment.

2. Communicate changes with hand signals. If you don't already utilize hand signals with your band and worship leaders, come up with a few simple, clear hand signals that a worship leader can throw up behind their back to signal to the band or music director what section of a song they want to play. Practice some spontaneous worship moments in a rehearsal and put your team to the test! It's a safe place to fail and learn from it.

Spiritual preparation is vital.  

Confession time: I've led worship before when my hands were playing the right things, my
mouth was saying the right words, but my heart was distracted and not engaged. The reality is, I
can know the songs perfectly and be prepared in a technical sense while leaning on my gifting
instead of the power of the Holy Spirit and completely miss what God is doing in the room.
Taking time to prepare spiritually is essential for my preparation process.

Two things I'm learning about being spiritually ready to lead worship:

1. Your best worship leading comes from the overflow of a private, daily walk with Jesus. My pastor often says, "If you stay ready, you don't have to get ready." I agree! When you are walking with Jesus daily, listening for His voice, exchanging your way for His, responding as He prompts, you don't have to scramble to get in the right "headspace" on Saturday night. I'm learning the importance of drawing near to God, knowing that as I do, He promises to draw near to me. (James 4:8) Watchman Nee has a great quote; "It is possible to follow the Lord secretly at a distance, but it is impossible to minister to Him in such a way." You could be headed in the right direction and doing the right things, but until you draw near in intimate fellowship with the Father, you will be missing out. You cannot minister to the Lord from a distance. One of the most valuable things you can do you doing right now, and how are you leading us to respond?"

2. Take a moment before soundcheck and rehearsal to pray a simple prayer of surrender. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can serve others. Ask Him to give you a sensitivity to His voice as you lead. We're not asking God to bless our Planning Center plan. We want to, as Henry Blackaby wrote, "watch to see where God is working and join Him." Remain open to what God wants to do in you and through you as you lead through your plan and the uncharted waters of the unexpected interruptions.

As we learn to honor God through our preparation, the goal is not perfection. The aim is not to
sound as good as the demo on Planning Center. Our heart as worshippers and pastors is to lead
people to glorify Jesus because he is worthy and for us to encounter the life-changing presence of

As you lead your team and your church family to encounter God through worship, I pray that
you lead with a confidence that only comes through diligent preparation and a reliance on the
Holy Spirit to respond as he moves. Practice the spontaneous moments. Anticipate them. Stay
ready so that you can lead with confidence and authority when the unexpected comes.

Jon Gilley

Jon Gilley is the Worship Pastor at Pinelake Church's Reservoir Campus in Brandon, Mississippi. He is happily married to his wife, Heather, and has two sons, Graham and Baylor.