If planning is classical music, spontaneity is jazz. Both are important for serving the church faithfully with our gifts.
Pursuing spontaneity isn’t simply about breaking our routine or being creative. We want the Spirit to manifest his power through us in as many ways as possible so people’s hearts and lives can be affected. Spontaneity can be a means to that end.
From passages like 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, we see that the early church exercised spontaneous spiritual gifts that were “manifestations of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Martin Lloyd-Jones encouraged preachers in such Spirit-directed spontaneity, and his comments can easily be applied to those who lead congregational worship:
“Do you expect anything to happen to you when you get up to preach in the pulpit?… [S]eek His power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when this power comes, yield to Him. Do not resist. Forget all about your sermon if necessary. Let Him loose you, let him manifest His power in you and through you.” (As quoted by Tony Sargent in The Sacred Anointing, 57)
Freedom to Respond
Spontaneity give us the freedom to respond to present needs and promptings and can increase our awareness of the Spirit’s active presence. This could include an unplanned comment, a prayer, or a Scripture reading. Smaller churches may be able to do this more frequently, but even in a large church we can make room for unplanned moments. Whether your church is big or small, it’s important that contributions are evaluated by a pastor. Valuing spontaneity doesn’t negate the need for wise leadership.
Charles Spurgeon shared these wise thoughts about spontaneous impressions:
“I have been the subject of such impressions myself, and have seen very singular results. But to live by impressions is oftentimes to live the life of a fool and even to fall into downright rebellion against the revealed Word of God. Not your impressions, but that which is in this Bible must always guide you.”
(From Sermon #878, A Well Ordered Life)
However, “to live by impressions” is different from simply being receptive and responsive to them. If our feet are firmly planted in the sufficiency of God’s Word, we are then more prepared to benefit from listening for the voice of the Spirit as we lead.
Here are a few practices and principles that have helped me grow in spontaneity, both spoken and musical, over the years:
1.Don’t plan to do too much. Too many items on the agenda limits interaction with the Spirit and the congregation. If this happens, we can’t repeat songs or parts of songs for emphasis, and we certainly can’t expect anyone to have time to actually think about what we’re singing.
2.Practice musical spontaneity alone. Sing your prayers or Scripture, make up a new melody to familiar words, or make up new words to a familiar melody. Break out of your routine.
3.Practice spontaneity with your team. That sounds like a paradox, but it’s helpful to work out with your band how and when to listen for your direction. Some musicians do this naturally, others don’t have a clue.
Spontaneity isn’t an end in itself. But it can open doors that will enable us to regularly experience a fresh awareness of the Spirit’s presence when we gather.