Freedom Within Structure: God in our Planning

Andrew Stanley —  October 3, 2013 — Leave a comment
Part 3 of 3 in the series Freedom Within Structure

Blueprint Blog

Finally, let’s get into the details of how I find freedom within structure.

I had this conversation with my band at rehearsal on Tuesday: “So, this Sunday is communion Sunday. We normally have a little bit of flexibility within our service times (our lead pastor and I give and take time from each other every week), but when it comes to communion, we pretty much need to be scheduled to the second.

Do you remember me talking about that church in Texas that schedules their services so tightly because every minute they go over affects the whole city? Well, every minute I go over with my music set on communion Sunday is a minute less the tear down teams have to clear out at the end of the service; it’s a minute closer to the time that movies start in those same theatres. We need to hit our times and it needs to be precise.

So, how do I take my 9 minutes, ensure I land the set to the second (or close to it), and yet still make it feel like we’re not rushing through to a clock? 

The solution: LOTS of planning ahead while keeping your options open …

I believe that there are moments in our sets that God tugs on our hearts and says, “we need to hang out here for a little bit!” Missing out on those opportunities will lead to missed moments for our church community. Abusing those moments will lead to something we talked about in last week’s post.

But, I would say that God is just as active (if not more so) in my planning, tugging on my heart and leading me in different directions when I’m sitting down on my own, praying and singing through the set as I’m planning it. We cannot limit the movement of the Spirit in our planning. If we’re waiting until Sunday to follow the Spirit’s leading, it may catch you off guard. You may be saying, “Andrew, I’m ready and I’ll go anywhere I feel like we need to go. I’ll turn on a dime and shift gears in second!” I would say that I would walk onto stage feeling the same way. But then I realize, I’ve got 6 other people on stage with me that might not be in the same place – or if they are, how do you jump to a song that you hadn’t even talked about in rehearsal because you feel like you need to go there. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I think we would all agree that it’s a LOT harder to change directions the more people you have in your band.

So, plan ahead.

This is more than setlist planning too. I know the 2 songs that I have chosen for communion this Sunday and I know I have 9 minutes.

First things first, I grab my guitar and play through the song(s). If I had all the time in the world, what are the potential ‘power moments’ in this song? Where can we find moments to belt it out together and where can we find moments to take a deep breath and relax?  I’ll make note of where I went naturally with me and a guitar on my own. Once I do this for all the songs in my set, I time how long it takes to sing through each of those songs in the way that I naturally felt like I needed to go.

Does it match the time that you need to hit?  If so, awesome!  Keep it, run with it. Enjoy the lack of work ahead of you 🙂

Are you under your alotted time? That’s not a bad problem to have at all. Maybe there’s something that you could say, or pray between a couple songs? Maybe there’s a moment that you can find an instrumental break to extend a song a little bit – why not throw a scripture up on the screen for people to reflect on as your band is playing that? Maybe this is a case where planning for things to end short is necessary. And then within the service itself, maybe then you’ll find the window that you need to jump through to fill the time. Planning less than your allotted time and leaving space for you to flex on the fly is a great way to make sure you’re not giving a feeling of rushing in your set.

More often than not, however, you’re going to be over your allotted time when you time out your natural flow on your own. It’s in that moment that you need to be intentional about the big picture. When you look at one of the songs in your set, you may find that one of the verses fits well within the context of the song itself, but maybe isn’t the greatest fit (thematically) to the rest of your set. Maybe that’s a verse that you can cut out. Maybe it means finding a creative transition between the two songs to save time by chopping out an intro.

Most worship songs that we sing have a climax somewhere within them. A point in the song that you’re working towards, that everyone is looking forward to, an opportunity to belt it out! It may be a bridge, a chorus, who knows – each song is different. But when you look at the songs within your set, maybe the climaxes within your songs should work together, pointing towards ONE gigantic climax.  Viewing your whole set as one long song with ups and downs but with one (maybe two) moments of, “Yes, this is what we’ve been working towards!”.

For example, this communion set that I’ve worked on, we’re going from Hillsong’s “I Will Exalt You” into Matt Maher’s “Christ is Risen”.

Those two songs have big builds in them.  The way we’ve worked out the set, we won’t actually land into a full out groove in the whole set until the Chorus after the bridge in Christ is Risen. That’s 7 minutes and 30 seconds into the set. The rest of the set is building to this climax of, “Christ is risen from the grave …” I’m not saying that “I Will Exalt You” is just a filler, but instead it’s setting people up to join together and belt out this truth.

If we did these songs exactly like the original recording, the total length would be around 12:30. By viewing these songs as one big song, moving some parts around, cutting and intro and still planning for some space, we timed this set at 9:01 on Tuesday night.  And then we joked about having to find somewhere to cut 1 second off the setlist.

Here’s a scratch sheet on my desk that I needed to have in order to make that happen:


When you’re planning your set, find where you naturally want to go, time it out, move pieces around to make it fit, but never sacrifice the movement and natural flow of the set for the sake of time. Make sure that the pieces you are cutting from your songs are not integral to the overall experience of the set. And don’t forget to schedule time for space – instrumental breaks in there to make sure people have a chance to take a breath.

Enjoy the freedom that comes from leading in structure!

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Andrew Stanley


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