The Importance of Leaving Space

open_field_homepageOne common mistake that worship leaders make is failing to leave space either during or after songs. Instead of viewing that space as something that is biblical and helpful, it’s seen as either being awkward or a waste of time. So where the worship leader could just play for several measures after a chorus and allow room for the congregation to consider what they’ve just sung – he jumps in and talks the whole time. Or where there could be a time of silence after a song, the worship leader rushes on to the next one.

It’s helpful to leave space for a variety of reasons:

Sometimes I don’t know what else to do
Oftentimes I’ll get a sense as we’re singing that we should move in a direction I hadn’t planned. This could be going back to a verse we sang earlier, offering a word of encouragement, a prayer, skipping a song, singing a different song, highlighting a line we sang, etc. Other times I’ll get a sense that we should do something – I just don’t know what. I’m learning to not be afraid, when this happens, to just pause (I’ll usually play quietly) and wait for clearer direction. This gives me time to consider where the Holy Spirit might be leading, how to smoothly transition in that direction, and how to communicate it to the congregation and worship team. If some time has passed and I still don’t have a clear sense of what I should do, I’ll just move on in the direction I had planned.

Sometimes we need to think about what we’ve just sung before moving on
We can be singing amazing truths but be thinking about whether or not we like how the drummer is playing. Our minds can wander so far off during a song that we can get to the end and realize we weren’t even paying attention to the words that were coming out of our mouths. Leaving space after or during a song is one way to help re-focus on what we’re singing. A little bit of direction can be helpful, such as: “before we sing that verse again, let’s take a moment to allow the truth we’re singing – that all of our sin, every single one, is ‘nailed to the cross and (we) bear it no more’ – to sink in to our hearts”. A little of space here could go a long way.

For many people, the only time they’re ever “still” is on Sunday mornings
I would suspect this is true around the world – not just for people who live in the crazy pace of Washington D.C. Many people who walk into the service on Sunday morning have been going non-stop, making no time to be still and quiet before God since they left church the previous week (if they even made time for that!). I can serve these people by giving them an opportunity to experience a few minutes of stillness and quiet on Sunday morning.

After we’ve sung 4 or 5 songs, and before we sit to hear the scripture readings, I might say something like: “let’s be still for a few moments and allow God to speak to us” or I might not say anything at all.

If people aren’t comfortable being still before God in a church service, how can we expect them be comfortable with it at home? Intentionally leaving space is not only a good way to stretch yourself as a worship leader, but also a good way to stretch your congregation.

Leaving space is certainly a biblical value. In Psalm 62:1, David wrote: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” And throughout the Psalms, the word “Selah” appears, which was most likely a direction to stop and consider what was just sung. David prayed in Psalm 131:1-2, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

It’s good to leave space in our times of corporate worship to “calm” and “quiet” our souls before God. Rushing through the songs does a disservice to the congregation in the long run because it makes periods of “calm” and “quiet” look like wasted time.

The main reason why I think most worship leaders make the mistake of failing to leave space is that it makes them nervous. We think that if we leave some silence at the end of the song then everyone will either be really bored or staring at us wondering how long it will last. We’re afraid that if we pause after a verse then everyone will think we’ve forgotten the lyrics. If this is you, I’d suggest two things: First, pray that God would fill you with his Spirit when you lead – reminding you that “…God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (I Timothy 1:7) Secondly, practice stillness with your congregation. The only way people will get used to “space” is by experiencing it. It might be awkward for some at first, but through your sensitive and strong leadership, they’ll grow in it and learn to value it.

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Leaving Space

  1. Andrew AV August 24, 2009 / 7:17 pm

    Good thoughts. I’d add a fourth reason, albeit more pragmatic, is for the congregation to catch their breath so that they can sing more strongly. Some songs leave space for breathing within their lines, but many do not. This is often why organists will play an interlude before the final verse of a hymn. Loud singing is very physical and people who don’t sing often can easily get winded if they don’t come up for some air periodically.

    Also, your second reason is one which I have appreciated, as I often need some time after singing to let the words sink in. Being a visual person it helps me to re-read the words too — which means, if using projection, the words from the previous verse need to be left up on the screen during the pause, rather than going blank or moving to the next verse. Do you have any thoughts on what the projection should reflect during these pauses?

  2. John Forbis August 25, 2009 / 1:04 am

    Hi Jamie, I recently found your blog. I’m the worship pastor at Mesa First, in AZ. This post was for me. I’ve been leading worship now for almost 20 years and I still have issues with “leaving space” in our worship encounters. You have challenged me to work on this aspect of my ministry…thanks so much!

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