Some Sundays after church you get in your car and think to yourself: “what was that all about?” You had planned, prepared, rehearsed, prayed, and prayed some more, but everything seemed to go wrong, the songs didn’t seem to “work”, the congregation didn’t seem to be engaged, and you even broke a string on the first song. A new string!
That was me yesterday afternoon. By the time I reached my car after lunch with friends, I was singing the Sunday blues to Catherine and didn’t stop for hours. “Why did my stupid string break? I had just replaced it!” “My monitor was terrible the entire service. Could you even hear my guitar in the room?” “The guitarist didn’t understand that the last song wasn’t supposed to be played syncopated! We had even rehearsed it!” “The announcements went on for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes!” “No one even wanted to be there. It was terrible.”
Literally, I didn’t stop for hours.
Do you ever sing the Sunday blues? If you’ve ever led worship you know what I’m talking about and you could probably sing me your own personal version. It’s a tempting to song to sing and sometimes it even makes us feel better for a while. The Sunday blues is sung in the key of pride and written out of selfishness. It’s a song we shouldn’t have in our repertoire and there’s a better way to handle our disappointments after a service.
The 24 hour rule
John Yates, my Pastor, has a rule with his wife, Susan, that if he has preached on a Sunday morning, they won’t say anything critical about it for at least 24 hours. This is a good idea for many reasons and it’s one that worship leaders will adopt if they’re smart. The main reason is that you’re too emotionally invested in a service immediately afterwards to give it good objective criticism. Waiting a day allows you time to relax, get perspective, and realize that it’s only one service.
Learn from your mistakes
I learned yesterday that I need to make sure my back-up guitar is in tune. I also learned that if the sax player stands 2 feet behind me, I won’t hear anything out of my monitor. Learn from your mistakes and thank God for helping you grow and mature.
Forget what needs to be forgotten
Don’t dwell on the insignificant. Broken strings, forgotten lyrics, wrong notes, hurtful comments, messed-up PowerPoint slides, etc., all have a way of standing out to us as huge, service-ruining disasters. But they’re not. If it’s happening every week, address it (see next point), but there is no way you can control every little detail. Things will not go as planned sometimes. It’s normal, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad worship leader. Just forget about those things and laugh.
Address what needs to be addressed
There are some aspects of leading worship that aren’t so fun. Sometimes you just have to address issues that present themselves in a worship service. Don’t wait for someone else to, or for the problem to go away. It will most likely keep presenting itself until you address it. First, instead of diving into the Sunday blues – write down what the problems were. Secondly, underline the three or four issues that really should be addressed. Third, don’t procrastinate. Make a few phone calls, grab five minutes with someone when it’s possible, ask questions first and then explain your concern, and do it all humbly.
Before you lead worship again, make sure you’re not carrying any bitterness or frustration from the previous week. This is a recipe for disaster and burn-out which will result in you leading the band and congregation harshly (without even realizing it), straining relationships with those around you, and over-reacting to any new problems. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:1,
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (ESV)
Noisy gongs make lousy worship leaders.
Grow in humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit
Services that don’t go so well are opportunities for us to remember that our hope is not in our abilities or skilled leadership, but in the cross of Jesus Christ. My afternoon of singing the Sunday blues was a glaring example of a sinful trust in myself, and a proud desire for perfection. As a worship leader, I need to humbly admit that my complete trust is in Jesus and that my skills and abilities are not what will make a service go well or not – but it’s the Holy Spirit’s work.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20, ESV)