I am incredibly grateful to serve in a church where, week after week, God’s word is preached strongly by those who tremble at it, and where the teachings are consistently biblically sound, convicting, and Holy Spirit-empowered. In this environment, the songs I’m choosing and leading are helping people hear and respond to what God is saying through his Word and by His Spirit.
In contrast, many worship leaders serve in churches where the teaching is weak and ineffective, or worse, heretical and unbiblical.
What’s a worship leader to do in that environment?
I recall one occasion when I was asked to lead worship for an event held somewhere away from my church. I felt I knew enough about who was hosting the event to feel comfortable saying yes, so I did. I prayerfully chose the songs, prepared for the event as well as I could, prayed a lot, and rehearsed with the worship team. The event finally arrived, the opening time of singing went really well, and then the teaching came. It went on for over an hour, and, as my British father-in-law so kindly described it, it was “diffuse”. I might describe it as “lousy”.
Leading songs after a lousy teaching can be awkward. Here are some ideas on how a worship leader can handle it, particularly if it’s unexpected.
If you’re listening to the teaching and beginning to realize it’s going off-track, pray and ask God for wisdom about what to do. Especially if your songs come immediately after the “teaching”, how you respond will be critical.
Ask for advice
If you’re near anyone you know you can respect as someone who loves God and his Word, just ask them: “what do I do?” I did this at the event I mentioned above, and the advice I received was the way God chose to answer my prayer for wisdom.
Be prepared to call an audible
In American football, the quarterback will call “an audible” (a last-second switch to a new play) when he sees that the play he had originally chosen just won’t stand up against the defense’s formation.
If you’re leading songs after a lousy (i.e. weak or heretical) teaching, you’ll most likely need to call an audible. You’ll need to communicate this to your musicians, the lyrics operator (if you’re projecting them), and the congregation (more on that later).
You have an opportunity to infuse the truth of God’s word into a service in which it’s lacking. You do not want to do this in an arrogant and preachy way, but in a humble and gentle way. I would gravitate towards songs that preach the Gospel. Some ideas are “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”, “In Christ Alone”, or “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”. Anything that presents the Gospel clearly would be one of my first choices.
Hopefully, by responding to a lousy teaching with Christ-centered, God-glorifying songs, I can help people walk away from the service with at least some measure of truth being planted in their hearts.
Do it pastorally
When I stepped onto the platform after the “diffuse” teaching I mentioned, I looked out on a congregation that looked really confused. It would have been the worst idea in the world to say what I was thinking, which was: “how in the world did (so-and-so) let that just happen?” Instead, I said something like: “We’re going to spend some time now responding to God by singing to Him, and celebrating what he’s done for us in Christ. Our ‘hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness’, so let’s stand and proclaim that together.”
It’s easy to call this kind of audible when you’re projecting lyrics and you have musicians who are comfortable being spontaneous. If you don’t have either of those things, you can still infuse God’s truth into the service by turning to a different hymn in the hymnal (just call out the page number), singing a song of response all by yourself, encouraging them to a simple (but truth-filled) song sing from memory, reading from scripture, repeating a good song from earlier in the service, or just continuing on with what you’ve planned.
(If you serve in a church where this is a weekly occurrence – not just once in a blue moon like it is for me – plan ahead and choose music that will subtly yet clearly, correct error in the teaching. Also, check out this clip of John Piper answering a worship pastor’s question along these same lines.)