It is sometimes assumed that spontaneity (interpreted as a complete lack of planning) is the only way to be truly dependent on the voice of God as we lead. This assumption, however, is not an accurate reflection of God’s movement throughout Scripture.
It’s a strange leap of logic, at best, to assert that the God who planned out the tabernacle in intricate detail and provided complex plans for tabernacle worship would want us to lead his people in worship of him with absolutely no planning or forethought.
New Testament worship also seems to have been quite structured and thoughtfully planned. While we don’t have a lot of details regarding the planning of gathered worship in the early church, many of Paul’s instructions (including some of his most troublesome and debated instructions) are concerned with order in gathered worship, and reflect a thoughtful working through of what gathered worship should and shouldn’t look like. So I would suggest that we need to employ the same level of thought as the early church – we need to plan carefully but we need to do so while actively listening for the Spirit’s voice.
Setting that debate aside, however, even those who argue for complete spontaneity in worship at least recognize the need for prayer as preparation. And prayer is the primary means of listening to the Spirit during planning, so that you can serve the Spirit as you lead.
So whether you like to plan every detail, or whether you prefer to leave things loose – pray. And don’t fill your prayer up with words, either. It’s the Spirit’s job to point us to Jesus – so ask the Spirit to point you to Jesus in the text or, if there is no text, in the topic for the week. When you begin to see Jesus in that text/topic, ask what needs to happen in order for you to point the congregation toward Jesus. What needs to happen for them to be prepared to see Jesus in the week’s text/topic. How will they need to respond to Jesus when they find him there? Spend time in silence. Read the text. Ask the Spirit to speak to you, be silent again, then re-read the text. Keep praying as you choose songs, as you order them, as you consider your transitions.
I realize that this isn’t earth-shattering advice. But it’s very, very easy, even tempting, to rush ahead and “get planning” without silence, without cocking your head and tilting your ear.