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Simple is usually best when it comes to leading worship. In this article, we'll explore the biblical reasons why and some practical applications.

When our musical arrangements get too complicated or we try to do too much, things get unclear and as we lead. As leaders, we want to aim for clarity and simplicity in our leadership so that people can see Jesus and worship him as fully as possible without the trappings of our worship getting in the way.

Simple Worship In The Bible

While there are many passages in the Bible that refer to simplicity in relation to worship, a couple stand out.

Micah 6:8 What can we bring to the LordShould we bring him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

This passage is essentially describing what it means to have a lifestyle of worship rather than just offering God mechanical deeds in worship. In other words, God doesn’t want us to check off the boxes in worship, he wants our hearts. We start by giving God our heart by abiding in Jesus and spending time getting to know him and letting him teach us his ways. We see this in John 15 where Jesus tells his disciples to abide in him for all true and lasting fruit can only come from this union. We also see this in the story of Mary and Martha:

Luke 10:38-42 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

If there’s truly only one thing that counts for a life of simple worship, it’s sitting at Jesus’s feet, receiving from him, loving him, and spreading that love to others. This posture of receiving from God influences every aspect of our lives and is central to why we were created: to be loved by God, to love him, and to spread that love to others. Jesus himself tells the religious leaders of his day that the two things God is looking for (or the two most important commandments in the Law) are to love God with all you have and to love others as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). We can’t do this without first receiving God’s love and grace ourselves.

Applying Simplicity to Worship

So if living a life of worship is supposed to be simple, how do we demonstrate this simplicity and communicate this principle in leading worship? Let’s look at practical areas we can work on in order to make worship simple for others.

  • Choose simple arrangements. As musicians, we can gravitate toward complexity in music, but it can be difficult for others to follow us. We have to remind ourselves that we are here to serve others in allowing them to pour out their praise and love to God by following simple arrangements.
  • Choose simple melody linesObviously, picking songs to lead that have simple melody lines is a good starting place for this to happen. In line with this, don’t deviate from the melody line of a song that is simple melodically unless there is a good reason for it. Your congregation will follow the melody line of a song above all else. If it’s not clear, the direction of the worship set will be unclear.
  • Choose simple harmony lines. If you are supporting the team with vocal harmonies (or any instrumental harmonies for that matter) keep them simple. You are there to support the melody line, not distract from it. Consider staying on the tonic note of a scale (in the key of A, that would be the A note) and then branching out sparingly on certain notes in the scale (like the 4th or 5th) to add flavor at the right time. Simple is best when harmonizing.
  • Choose appropriate chord voicings. If you’re an instrumentalist, find chord voicings that will add to the song arrangements and not distract from them. Just because something sounds good on its own doesn’t necessarily mean it will sound good when all the parts are put together with the band. Use your ear to discern what is too much and what is tasteful. Above all, serve your leader by doing what they desire for the set. This is one practical way you can serve God by honoring your leaders.
  • Choose simple rhythms. Find rhythms that are not inherently complex in themselves but rather complement the rhythmic “theme” of the song as a whole. There can still be layers of rhythmic interest without being too complicated in a distracting way.
  • Use simple prayers. As crucial as prayer is in our lives as Christians, if it is too complex or long in the moment of a worship set, we run the risk of losing people along the way. Remember your job is to lead worship. Use prayers to support that process and not distract from it. Know the desired outcome of the setting you’re leading in; if it is a prayer and worship night, then longer prayers are appropriate. If not, you will want to consider condensing and simplifying your prayers. Most of the time, this is the way you will want to go because they are simply easier for those you are leading to follow and will help you lead people well in worship.
  • Speak simply. Remember again that your role is to lead worship. Usually you will not want to unpack Bible verses for your congregation or give your long thoughts on them, as that role usually falls to your Teaching Pastor. Use scripture and spoken encouragement to support the worship set and point to Jesus, not to become a platform for your own theological opinions. Remember, we are here to serve people and God and the best way we can do this is to be God-focused rather than focused on what we can do to encourage the congregation through our knowledge, words, experience, etc. Simple speaking helps us accomplish this.
  • Use simple transitions. While amazing musical transitions which might go on indefinitely might inspire the musician or the concert-going music lover, in a worship set complex transitions might draw too much attention if we’re not careful how we execute them. Transitions are implicitly designed to help smoothly transition the focus from one song to another. If a transition becomes an area of focus in itself, it moves more into the category of an interlude and defeats its own purpose of being a rather invisible connecting element between two other musical elements.

Growing in Simplicity

Being simple in leading worship isn’t easy at first. In fact, it’s a lot of hard work to get good at it. It’s a bit like good writing; the best sentences are descriptive, but not more than they need to be. They are simple and they are clear. Leading worship is like that. If there’s too much going on, we run the risk of getting in our own way of leading others in worship. Practice simplicity, think simplicity, look for opportunities for things to be more simple but all the while, look for how you can make that simplicity excellent. Before long, you’ll begin to notice that the two are inextricably linked.


Article for this topic by Ashton Abbott.

Key Points:

  • The simple life of worship is a powerful tool and we see that clearly when applied to leading worship.
  • God doesn’t want us to check off the boxes in worship, he wants our hearts. We start by giving God our heart by abiding in Jesus and spending time getting to know him and letting him teach us his ways.
  • If there’s truly only one thing that counts for a life of simple worship, it’s sitting at Jesus’s feet, receiving from him, loving him and spreading that love to others.
  • We have to remind ourselves that we are here to serve others in allowing pouring out their praise and love to God by following simple arrangements.
  • Your congregation will follow the melody line of a song above all else. If it’s not clear, the direction of the worship set will be unclear.
  • If you’re an instrumentalist, find chord voicings that will add to the song arrangements and not distract from them. Just because something sounds good on its own doesn’t necessarily mean it will sound good when all the parts are put together with the band.
  • Choose simple rhythms. Find rhythms that are not inherently complex in themselves but rather, complement the rhythmic “theme” of the song as a whole.
  • Pray simply. As crucial as prayer is in our lives as Christians, if it is too complex or long in the moment of a worship set, we run the risk of losing people along the way. Remember your job is to lead worship.
  • Speak simply. We are here to serve people and God and the best way we can do this is to be God-focused rather than focused on what we can do to encourage the congregation through our knowledge, words, experience, etc.
  • In a worship set, complex transitions might draw too much attention to themselves if we’re not careful how we execute them.

Quote This:

Micah 6:8 No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

See Also: Worship Teams

Talk About It
  1. What is your initial reaction to this topic? What jumped out at you?
  2. Are there any other bible stories you can think of that focus on simplicity as it relates to a life of simple worship? 
  3. What do these Bible passages say to you about the importance of simplicity in worship?
  4. Which of the application points listed above for being simple in leading worship do you think you’re doing well in? Which do you think you need to grow in?
  5. How can you practice simplicity in your own life for leading worship from your instrument, vocally, etc?
  6. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

This is part of the Worship Leader Training 301 series.