How Wrong (with audio)

1The bad thing about this blog is that it makes me feel compelled to share all of my worship leading bloopers with the whole world wide web. So, without further ado, here’s my most recent mess-up from this past Sunday.

For our offertory, we were going to sing Stuart Townend’s “How Long? (We Have Sung Our Songs of Victory)“. I would sing the verses, joined by the vocalists on the chorus, and then at the very end we’d have the congregation stand and sing a chorus. This is a great song for Advent (which is why I picked it), and was even more poignant following the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut last week.

So I started the song off on piano, and then began the first verse with no problem.

We have sung our songs of victory, we have prayed to you for rain / We have cried for your compassion to renew the land again…”

But then, instead of continuing with verse 1, my brain decided it would be a good idea to sing the second half of verse 2:

But the land is still in darkness and we’ve fled from what is right / We have failed the silent children who will never see the light.” 

The obvious problem is that it’s the wrong half of the verse. The second problem is that I’m the only person singing, so there’s no covering this mistake up. Yikes.

I was so confused and lost that I had no option other than to just stop and start over again. Here’s how it all went down. Enjoy.

My congregation responded to my little blooper with laughter, encouragement, and applause. How encouraging! This was another reminder to me that people in the room are quite happy to see that the people on the stage are just normal people. There’s no need to pretend that you’re amazing. Just be you.

I received an email that evening from a man I really respect who’s a member of our church and he thanked me for this little blooper and said it helps affirm that we’re not trying to draw attention to ourselves on stage.

So, I hope my bloopers are an encouragement to you that perfection and flawless performance are not our goals. Yes, excellence is, and this was a reminder to me that I need to do a better job of memorizing the words. But when you mess up (and you will), just get over yourself and move on.

Don’t Be Afraid to Laugh At Yourself

Every once in a while, while leading worship, you can’t hide from the congregation the fact that, at that moment, you don’t know what you’re doing. In these moments, you can either try to keep digging (in which case you usually make things worse) or just laugh at yourself.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Back in May (of 2012), my church had its very last Sunday morning service on its beloved property of over 275 years. I’ve talked about this before (specifically here). Sunday May 13th was the day, and at the end of the opening time of worship at our 11:00am service, after we sang “Behold Our God”, I had planned for our congregation say Psalm 95:1-7.

The problem was that I hadn’t checked to make sure it was ready to go on the screen. So after “Behold Our God” ended, and I said “let’s read together from Psalm 95”, nothing came up. Awkward moment number one.

The other problem was that I was depending on the words being on the screen so I didn’t have a bible or a printout close by. So I had to rely on my memory. Which at that particular moment, in front of 1,000 people, decided to fail me. Awkward moment number two.

By God’s grace, I had the presence of mind to laugh at myself.

After realizing that Psalm 95 was, in fact, NOT going to come up on the screen, I said “…maybe I’ll read Psalm 95“. People laughed. Phew. Awkward tension lowered a little bit.

Then, after fumbling my way through trying to remember how Psalm 95:1-7 went (and not doing a very good job), I said “(pause) that’s a paraphrase“. People laughed. Phew. Awkward tension lowered again. Then I quickly prayed before I made any more mistakes!

My point is that in those worship leading moments when it’s clear to you and to the congregation that you’ve made a mistake — it’s usually a good idea to just laugh at yourself. It gives them permission to laugh too. It lowers the tension, breaks the ice, and then everyone can move on.

Here’s the clip of the moment for you to enjoy. Feel free to laugh.

Top Ten Ways to Cover Up a Worship Leading Mistake

Last week at my church we hosted a dinner for worship leaders at other Anglican churches in the Northern Virginia area. Our ice-breaker question was to describe a worship leading mistake, or awkward moment, or an all-out train wreck. There were some great stories. Missed modulations, hornets attacking organists, a worship leader saying that we’re brought “out of darkness into shame”, and one of my stories which I’d rather not put online.

They got me thinking. What are the best ways to cover up worship leading mistakes? Here are some ideas.

1. Blame it on the sound guy. He didn’t have the processor on that handles the compression in the subwoofers and so the gating was all out of whack and that’s why you heard that wrong chord.

2. What mistake? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

3. Blame it on the drummer. Oh, those crazy drummers. You just can’t tame ‘em. He’ll get better with some more rehearsal. He just threw me off. That’s why I shouted like a cat before the bridge of “Happy Day”.

4. I was too busy worshipping to notice.

5. Blame it on the Holy Spirit. I just really sensed really strongly that the Holy Spirit was really leading me to take the song to the next level of worship and so that’s why we sang the chorus twenty-eight times. We were breaking down walls, man!

6. We were just trying to break the ice. That’s why we had to stop the song and start over. Didn’t it just really change the dynamic in the room?

7. Blame it on spiritual warfare. Why else would my D string always break when I lead worship? Maybe because you use cheap strings, or use the wrong gauge, or need the bridge to be smoothed, or never change them? No, it’s spiritual warfare.

8. The congregation just needs to get more into it!

9. Blame it on how smart you are. I’ve got the song lyrics to like 400 hymns and 4,000 contemporary songs all right here in my head. And I know the chords by heart too. When we got to that third verse of “O for a Thousand Tongues” I was remembering the other hymn that Charles Wesley wrote, “And Can it Be”, and so that’s why I started singing the verse from a completely different hymn. It’s because I’m a walking worship encyclopedia.

10. Seriously, it really was the sound guy’s fault. 

The Pre-Service Distraction

On each of the last three Sundays, about 15 minutes before the service was supposed to start, I was faced with out-of-the-blue things that had the potential of completely throwing and/or my worship team off for the whole service.

One Sunday as I walked into our back room to put my guitar cases away, I overhead a member of the congregation calling the service at which I lead the music the “shake your booty service”.

The next Sunday we wasted 10 of the 15 minutes we had for a sound check by trying to find those adaptors that let you plug a little headphone connector into a larger jack. Oh, and the sound guy couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t getting the bass guitar at the board. He finally figured it out but this meant we pretty much had no time to get a mix or our monitors settled.

The following Sunday we were rehearsing before the service and when we finished rehearsing one chorus of a song, I heard my drummer say, “there’s a mouse in here!” Sure enough, there were two mice running around inside the drum booth (or as we affectionately refer to it, the “space pod”), and when my drummer felt something underneath his foot, he looked down to discover a mouse. Lovely. Oh, and my singer that morning happened to have a phobia of rodents and was doing her best not to have a panic attack right then and there.

One Sunday it’s a critical comment. The next it’s an AV issue. And the following it’s something completely random like mice in the drum cage. They get me frustrated, tempt me to say short-tempered things, and make me feel tense and anxious. What’s going on here?

Well, some of it is just the way things go. People aren’t perfect and those imperfect people sometimes say hurtful things at bad times. Sound systems do funny things and adaptors disappear. And, I suppose if I was a mouse living in a church, the drum space pod would be a nice quiet place six and a half days out of the week.

But there’s a spiritual dynamic to it also. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that on the day that God’s people are gathering to glorify him, Satan will be actively seeking to steal that glory away. He has a history of that.

Whenever you lead worship, watch out for pre-service distractions (or even mid and post-service too!) since they can easily throw you off your game. You’ll need to keep your cool (I wrote some thoughts on this a while ago) and keep your focus. Don’t be surprised when they come up. Just deal with them humbly, prayerfully and light-heartedly and try to stay focused on the glory of God and the congregation that has gathered. Unless you feel a mice under your foot, in which case a scream might be appropriate.