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Leading Worship for All Situations

By Jen Testroet

This afternoon I am heading to a local women’s prison to lead worship for their yearly Christian retreat. As I have been preparing my song lists and exhortations between songs, I have tried to think of what someone in prison would need to express to God. To be honest, I have a hard time relating. I have zero experience with prison.

Worship songwriter Bob Kilpatrick tells this story:
        My son, who is a writer, was visiting an Asian Communist country and was attending a clandestine Christian gathering in a jungle clearing. He didn’t know the words of the song these oppressed Christians were passionately singing so he asked his guide to translate for him. They were not singing about how good it is to be in His presence, or how blessed we all are, or how God breaks every chain and sets us free. They were singing together “How long, O Lord, will you forget us?”*

As worship leaders, how can we effectively lead people who are in a completely different setting? When discussing timeless truths of the Bible, we can often easily relate them to our own culture and situation, but how do we express them from a situation we’ve never experienced?

Here is what helped in my preparation for prison ministry.

  • A Theme – A ministry that frequently works in prisons is organizing the retreat, and they are focusing on the theme “God’s Timing.” This ministry group knows what is relevant to prison inmates, and the theme gave me a filter for choosing songs. I no longer had to guess and hope my songs related.
  • Prayer – I meditated on the idea of “God’s timing.” God, what do these people need to understand about your timing? What has your timing shown me about you in my own life?” I also focused on God’s timing as I worshiped through dozens of songs. Through this process, God gave me three words that express how we should respond to God’s timing: trust, surrender, and waiting. I can find many worship songs with those ideas!