Prophetic or Planned Worship? Mutually exclusive?

Prophetic or Planned Worship? Mutually exclusive?

One thing that has challenged me recently is watching iHop and the ‘prayer & worship’ (‘harp and bowl’) type of worship. I’ve found it incredible and inspiring, with highly gifted musicians and passionate worshippers. This kind of worship is becoming more common – worship where we have our planning but are open to what the Holy Spirit wants to do. It’s certainly impacted our worship team.

One of our worship leaders recently made this point, ‘I think it can help when we’re disorganised for worship, because it gives the Holy Spirit space to move’. I thought about this statement as something about it troubled me slightly. This kind of comment is often made and then enacted in charismatic circles, either directly or indirectly (by lack of organisation) in worship, in services and in teaching. Sometimes it’s an excuse for poor or no planning, but usually it’s a genuine desire to be open to the Holy Spirit. But does being disorganised really encourage us to be more open to God? Is this God’s plan?

When God created the universe, he created a universe of order. Science (thanks to Chuck Missler for pointing this out) has found that our world is digital in its makeup. Being digital means it is highly ordered. We know from Psalm 139 that God knows our inmost being, he formed us and knitted us together. This was no random accident; it was planned. When we read our Bibles, we know that the Holy Spirit moved men to write down what the Spirit was saying. These texts were written by men but inspired by God. They may have been written hundreds of years ago, but they have complete relevance to us today.

When the Old Testament Temple was built (surely a model but in a spiritual sense for us in worship today), God meticulously planned and designed. He was the architect (the author and finisher), using men and women, but it didn’t happen by chance and wasn’t planned ‘as it happened’. Instead, the plans were drawn up, revealed and then acted on. God was central to the process before the actual building of the temple, as well as being in the building process itself.

Let’s take the idea of being ‘disorganised’ in order to give the Spirit freedom. I would debate the effectiveness of this. In the Septuagint, the words used in Genesis for ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ when describing the days of the week have been seen by some Biblical scholars to have originally also meant moving from ‘disorder/entropy’ to ‘order’. When God created the world, it became ordered. Unfortunately sin corrupted God’s order so that left unattended, all things become disordered (a garden, a relationship, a worship time??)

My point is not that we should be so tightly ordered that we don’t give the Holy Spirit space to breathe. None of us want that! But rather a challenge to us that as God is a God of order, surely we have a responsibility to allow God to lead us before the worship time, as well as during. In fact, is it this organisation that enables us to be free in our worship, and flow with the Holy Spirit? I would argue it is, just as it was with the building of the temple and in our Christian lives. God sets the boundaries in order to give us freedom. The Holy Spirit is as intimately involved in the choosing of songs as we seek him, pray and practice – as He is during the time of leading and playing in worship. We must be alive to the Holy Spirit beyond just a Sunday meeting, otherwise our sensitivity to him will be dulled.

Let’s not become disorganised or lazy, thinking this gives God more freedom. Disorganisation can often restrict freedom and the flow of the worship. Ever been somewhere where people didn’t know the music, didn’t know the song order, or didn’t know when they were playing? Did it add to the worship? Ever been to a service where the person leading it through didn’t really know what was happening? Did this enable the flow or improve the service? Usually not! A visiting speaker once came with a lot of technology. He was reliant on this tech but it broke down. So he had to ‘wing it’ because he hadn’t planned a proper talk. It was dire – instead of bringing freedom and life, it became laboured and dreary.

All this does have a caveat of course… Like with the Spirit speaking to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 and like the men of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12.32), we must be careful to hear what the Spirit is saying to us, now. And like Jesus (John 5.19), we must only do what we see and hear the Father guiding us to do. And of course we all in work different ways!

However, being open to the Holy Spirit in worship is to recognise that God is guiding us every day and not just on a Sunday. Our Sunday worship should be a culmination of a week and a lifestyle that is led by the Holy Spirit – and as worship leaders, seeking God specifically for our worship. That way, when we choose songs and play, we can truly say that the Holy Spirit has led us and is leading us. Thinking that our worship time will necessarily be more spiritual if we are unplanned, is to risk denying the power of God to be leading us in the planning – just as he leads us from his ‘pre-written’ Word and just as he planned the building of the Temple beforehand, the universe or the course of our lives. You don’t go into battle without a war plan, you don’t take a test without revising, you don’t play a worship set without seeking God in the week. Planned worship doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be prophetic worship. Be open to the Holy Spirit, be prepared to lay down any agenda but God’s agenda, but don’t simply expect God to lead if you haven’t played your part.

Steve Hayes is a worship leader at City Community Church in Exeter (UK) as well as a school youth worker. Steve has a great youth work resource website at

Steve’s previous posts for Musicademy were a series about empowering young people into worship.