A few months ago before one of our Sunday morning services, my pastor, John Yates came to me and asked me to give a little introduction to one of the songs we were singing to help the congregation understand why we were singing it.
He said something that struck me: “just say something briefly that will help people know why this song is being sung. But sometimes you sound apologetic when you speak. Just say it firmly and confidently”.
I thought about that for a long time. And I’ve thought about it a lot since then. He was right.
Rewind to seven or eight years ago. I was leading worship for a small church’s yearly retreat in a little town called Orkney Springs, Virginia, and the pastor had given me permission to offer encouragements and exhortations to help his congregation grow in worship, and so from time to time I would.
On Saturday afternoon, he came to me and (notice a theme here?) said something that struck me. With a loving gentleness he said: “you have a gift for helping people feel comfortable to worship God freely. But when you speak, you need to just look them in the eye and speak more confidently. You sound like you’re sorry you’re saying what you’re saying. Speak more boldly.”
When two totally unrelated people say the exact same thing to you eight years apart, it might be a sign that they’re onto an area in which you need to grow. For me, this area is speaking more confidently to the congregation.
I don’t usually have a problem leading worship confidently if I’m prepared and prayed up. I’ve been doing it for a relatively long time. But even though I feel confident speaking to the congregation, I (apparently) can come across as timid.
It’s a bad habit I’ve developed – and my hunch is that other worship leaders have developed it too because I’ve seen it in them and it reminds me of myself.
In our attempt to be humble and gentle, we take on a particular tone of our voice and cadence of speech that is meant to sound non-threatening but ends up sounding apologetic, a bit immature, and unconfident. We don’t sound like ourselves. We sound like the diet-version of ourselves. Our voice is higher. We add in “ums”. We fiddle with our glasses. We repeat ourselves. We stumble over ourselves. We use “just” a lot. We keep our eyes closed.
Think about the four or five speakers/preachers you really enjoy listening to. They have different styles and approaches but I guarantee you they share one attribute: they speak with confidence.
Steve Brown, the guy whose class I took a month ago, likes to ruffle feathers, but one thing he said about his advice to preachers really struck me. It applies to worship leaders too. He says that every time before you preach (or lead worship) you have to do some “self-talk”. Say to yourself: “I’ve been commissioned by the High King of Heaven… and you WILL listen to me!”
That can rub us the wrong way. But strange as it sounds, it actually helps. If we’ve been called and equipped by God to serve in a ministry capacity, then we have to believe that he’s put us on the very platforms we find ourselves and in front of the very microphones pointing at our mouths because he wants to use us.
So it’s a good idea to talk like it.
The more I think about this whole issue of not sounding apologetic when I speak, the more it seems like the key is balancing three God-centered attributes: love (1 Corinthians 13:2), humility (James 4:6), and power (2 Timothy 1:7).
Maybe you have the boldness and humility down but need to grow in loving the people who are listening to you. Maybe you’re confident and loving but you’re awfully arrogant about it and need to be more humble.
But maybe your (my) problem is that you need to feel released by God to be more confident and bold when you speak. He’ll help you do this if you ask. It’s not about you flexing your muscles – but about you leading with Gospel-centered humility and Spirit-enabled power.