A few months ago I shared some thoughts on how worship leaders will serve their congregations more effectively if they take time to prayerfully think through and write out anything they might say before or after songs during corporate worship. Oftentimes worship leaders will spend hours choosing and rehearsing songs, but spend no time preparing what they’ll say. They can end up rambling, fumbling over themselves, and confusing the congregation. (See “What Are You Talking About?” Pt. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Last night I was asked to lead 4 songs at the beginning of our monthly men’s ministry meeting. We sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (key of C and D), “In Christ Alone” (key of D), “Here I am to Worship” (key of D), and “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” (key of D and E).
As I was preparing to lead, I felt like it would be good for me to share an encouragement and also offer a bit of explanation before the first song. I spent a few minutes typing up what I would say to help me think through what I wanted to communicate and how. I read through it a few times, go comfortable with the basic gist of what I wanted to say, and had the paper on my music stand in case I needed it. Here’s basically what I said, and why I said it:
“Well, good evening everybody. In a moment we’re going to stand and sing together, and we’re going to begin by singing a line that’s probably so familiar that we’re in danger of just singing it without even thinking about what we’re singing.”
I wanted to draw their attention to what we were about to sing, especially since it was such a familiar song. It’s easy to get on auto-pilot and sing words without thinking about them.
“We’ll sing: ‘come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace’. What a great prayer! I almost wish we could start off every service and every meeting with this song just for that one line. We’re asking God, the giver of every good gift, the ‘fount of every blessing’ to ‘tune (our) hearts to sing (his) grace’, to help us to fix our eyes on what he’s done for us in Christ. He has lavished his grace on us, poured out ‘streams of mercy never ceasing’, and we’re asking him to help us to praise him.”
My goal was to make a simple point that what we were about to sing wasn’t just poetic imagery, but a helpful and necessary prayer to God. I explained the phrase “fount of every blessing”, and the idea of him tuning our hearts to sing his grace. Since “grace” can unfortunately become a churchy word without much meaning, I just tried to highlight it by reminding us all that God showed us undeserved grace ultimately in giving us Jesus Christ, and has shown us unceasing mercy.
“I know that for me, and probably for all of us here, our hearts get out of tune, we get weary, we sin, and we begin to worship other gods. When the music starts at a meeting like this we might stand with a heart far from God and no desire to sing to him, and no concept of his amazing grace.”
At 7:30pm on a Wednesday night, I knew that most of these men had come straight to church from a long day at work, a grueling commute in Washington D.C. traffic, and all sorts of situations and dynamics at home and the office. I also know that we’re all fallen and our hearts become set on our own glory, hardened by sin, and we become easily distracted.
“So as we sing that line, let’s ask the fount of every blessing to tune our hearts to sing about his grace, his streams of mercy never ceasing, and how Jesus sought after us when we were strangers to God. Let’s fix our eyes on our Savior and sing praise to him. We’ll sing about a ‘melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above’ – the song that the saints and angels are singing even now around the throne. We get to join in. So let’s stand together and sing.”
By this point I had gone for about a minute and a half, which is on the long side for a worship leader. I wanted to wrap it up, summarize a bit of what I had already said, and explain one more phrase that might be confusing to people. Then we stood to sing and I said very little after that. The songs flowed from one to another naturally and I didn’t really feel like I needed to add a whole lot.
I attempted to keep it brief, keep it engaging, keep it God-focused, and keep it helpful.
Generally, worship leaders shouldn’t talk very much. And if you don’t know what to say, it’s probably better to not talk at all. But if and when there are occasions when it might be appropriate for worship leaders to say something, it’s always a good idea to be as prepared as possible.