What Are You Talking About? – Pt. V

pewsEvery worship leader has a mental checklist of what needs to happen before they get up to lead worship. Some worship leaders’ checklists are a bit fuller than others, but we all share certain responsibilities that have to be fulfilled prior to the beginning of the service.

Most of us wouldn’t ever think of standing before a congregation to lead worship without first choosing the songs. To be so glaringly unprepared would have terrible ramifications and would be such a bad idea in so many ways.

Most of us (hopefully) wouldn’t ever consider replacing the strings on our guitar and then plugging in to lead the band without tuning the strings a few times. To be so careless would be a huge distraction to the other musicians and to the congregation.

Most of us would never show up on Sunday morning two minutes before the service is supposed to start, ask a few people from the congregation to play along on the spot, tell them to guess what key the songs will be in, and tell the congregation to sing along if they know the words. To be so last-minute would be incredibly foolish and dishonoring to the people you’re supposed to be serving.

Yet how many of us never give any thought to how we’ll introduce a song until the moment comes? Or how many of us decide at the last minute that we want to encourage the congregation in some way and start talking with no notes, no idea of where we’re going, no scriptural basis, and no approval from our pastor?

Too many of us.

Every worship leader’s checklist needs to include intentionally thinking through and praying about how they can effectively communicate with the congregation. To be so presumptuous in our own abilities so as to devote no preparation to the important task of speaking to the body of Christ should be unthinkable to any of us who have that responsibility.

This week I’ve proposed four ways we can ensure that we’re communicating (or at least seeking to communicate) well when we lead worship. First, think it through and write it down. Relieve some pressure off yourself and know what you’re going to say before the service starts. Second, submit to your pastor. The pastor is the shepherd and you are one of the sheep. Partner with your pastor as much as you can. Operate under his covering and you’ll both be grateful. Third, use the right tone. Don’t talk to the congregation like they’re in Kindergarten. Respect them. Conversely, don’t talk to the congregation like you’re afraid of them. Relax and be confident yet humble. And finally, base what you say on the living and active Word of God. Your words will pass away – God’s Word never will.

You’ll notice a difference in how you’re communicating on Sunday morning, and the congregation will too. You’ll grow every time you do it and learn lessons along the way. And then, when the time comes when you do have to make something up on the spot – when the Holy Spirit prompts you to say something that you had not planned – you’ll be ready.

What Are You Talking About? – Pt. IV

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)

biblepageGod’s word is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). It will never pass away (Matthew 13:31).  It is “God-breathed” and “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness…” (II Timothy 3:16)

I might speak to the congregation with the most eloquent and articulate words I can, use the right tone, have thought through and written down what I want to say, and even submit to my pastor. But my words are just words. I pray that my words are inspired by God and that he uses them for His glory – but they’re just words at the end of the day. They will pass away.

If you want to effectively communicate with the congregation when you speak, base it on Scripture.

You say:

  • (1) “Everyone lift your hands.”
  • (2) “Feel free to worship however you want on this next song.”
  • (3) “I just really want to say that I really feel like we should really be giving our all this morning and that we’re really not giving it our all.”
  • (4) “This song was written by a guy who lives on a farm in Kansas and a few years ago he saw a really big tornado and it made him think how great God is. Think about that as we sing this chorus.”
  • (5) “It just makes God smile when we sing loudly because he likes it when we sing loudly because it shows Him we love Him.”

They say:

  • (1) “I don’t want to lift my hands, thank you very much.”
  • (2) “I want to worship by sitting in my chair and checking football scores on my phone.”
  • (3) “You’re talking about me, aren’t you? That’s hurtful. You don’t know what kind of week I’ve had and that my best friend betrayed me.”
  • (4) “A tornado? Are you serious? Tornados kill people and destroy things!”
  • (5) “That’s bad theology. I’m going to email the pastor about you and complain.”

You might laugh – but many worship leaders just shoot from the hip and try to whip people up into responding a in certain way or doing a certain thing or singing at a higher volume by speaking “from the heart” or telling personal stories. This has the opposite effect because most people will become defensive when they’re told how they should be responding or when they get the feeling that the worship leader really wants them to do a certain thing for no good reason. It’s unfortunate on both sides. The worship leader puts him or herself in the middle and becomes the focus.

Worship leaders might wonder why nothing they say seems to get through to people. Oftentimes it’s because nothing they say is based on God’s word. It’s easy to argue with a worship leader’s words when they’re just “from the heart”. It’s harder to argue with God’s word.

As opposed to the examples above, compare these:

  • (1) “Psalm 63:4 says: ‘I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.’ This morning as we sing to our God who is ‘greatly to be praised’ (Psalm 145:3) let’s lift not only our lives to Him, but our hands as well.
  • (2) “We’re going to declare that God is good in all situations. Like Job said in the face of great loss: ‘the Lord gave and the Lord took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ Let’s proclaim God’s unending goodness together.”
  • (3) “Let’s take a moment to fix our eyes on the Lord this morning. Let me read to you from Psalm 62, verses 1 through 8.”
  • (4) “This next song declares ‘how great is our God’. As we sing, we join in with all of heaven as they sing ‘worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power’ (Revelation 4:11). Let’s join with heaven and sing.”
  • (5) “This morning we’re going to spend some time singing together. In Colossians 3:16 Paul wrote ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” As those who have been bought by the blood of Jesus, we have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to sing about. Let’s lift our voices and sing with all our hearts of all that God has done for us.”

These aren’t intended to be perfect examples – but I think you’ll agree that they’re an improvement. In each example my goal is to base what I’m saying on God’s word – which is living and active – and put God squarely in the middle (where he belongs) not me.

We have a choice as worship leaders to either be armed with our own words, or instead with the sword of the Spirit – the very word of God. The choice seems clear to me.

So the next time you speak to your congregation, think it through and write it down, submit to your pastor, use the right tone, and base it on scripture. Tomorrow we’ll wrap all of this up. 

What Are You Talking About? – Pt. III

PitchpipeSo far this week we’ve looked at how worship leaders will communicate with their congregations more effectively if they first think it through and write it down, and secondly, submit to their pastor. Too many worship leaders do neither and end up making something up on the spot. Sometimes that works, but most times it doesn’t. Devoting time to prepare what you’re going to say, and seeking to do it under your pastor’s covering are two important steps. The third thing to keep in mind when you’re communicating with the congregation is to use the right tone.

Don’t Talk Down to Them
Some worship leaders do this without even realizing it. When they speak to the congregation it sounds as if they’re a Kindergarten teacher on the first day of school.

Here are some examples: “Good morning everybody. I said good morning everybody!” “That’s some great singing this morning, church.” “”Are you ready to worship – I mean really worship?” “Let me hear you a little bit louder now!” “I’m going to teach you a new song, OK?” “How is everyone doing this morning? Are you alright? Good.” I could go on. You may have used some of these phrases yourself (I have) or know of other ones. It’s not a good idea to talk down to your congregation for a number of reasons.

First, it could be a symptom of a prideful attitude of your heart. The congregation will pick up on this, but even if they don’t it will hinder your leading because “God opposes the proud…” (James 4:6b, ESV). You are in your position to serve the congregation, and to help shepherd your fellow sheep. Ask God to humble you and help you love the congregation you serve.
Secondly, even if your substance is good, if your tone is bad the congregation won’t hear what you have to say. They’ll stand there and wait for you to stop talking so the service can move on.
Thirdly, in the words of Paul in I Corinthians 13:4-5, ESV: “Love is patient and kind, love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful…” When you speak to the congregation, it should be in a loving tone. Paul says in I Corinthians 13:1, ESV: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Like I said in my post “”How to Handle the Sunday Blues”: noisy gongs make lousy worship leaders. No one likes listening to them.
Fourth, you might not mean to speak this way – but you’re just being sloppy. Listen back to yourself and see what you think.

Don’t Be Scared of Them
Some of you are very uncomfortable saying anything before, in between, after, or during songs. Just standing in front of the congregation is nerve-wracking enough and you’re just getting comfortable singing into a microphone. Others of you are very comfortable speaking to the congregation and don’t feel nervous at all.

To those of you who start sweating at the thought of speaking to the congregation, let me encourage you from II Timothy 1:7, ESV: “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control.” You should be nervous speaking to the congregation on your own – because you’re not able to do it on your own. But knowing that the Holy Spirit lives in you should give you boldness, “power and love and self control” enough to confidently speak to the congregation. Pray that the Holy Spirit would indeed enable you to speak with that balance of power and love and self control.

If you come across as fearful when you speak to the congregation, again, you run the risk of causing people not to hear your substance, however good it might be. The congregation will be nervous for you, feeling bad for you, and mostly distracted. Try not to use a tone of timidity when you speak. Use your normal voice, don’t talk too fast or slowly, don’t use a lot of “uh’s” and “um’s”, make eye contact, smile, and try to look as relaxed as comfortable as you can. You might need to fake that last part – but it will be good practice.

To those who are not nervous at all – let me warn you not to allow yourself to fall into the trap of thinking that you don’t need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s power whenever you stand before the congregation. This mindset creeps in slowly over the weeks and months and will lead you to a train wreck.  Pray that you would be aware every Sunday of your complete need and reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. Confidence is good – but never when it’s in our own abilities.

Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’”
I Corinthians 1:31, ESV

Seek to speak to your congregation with a tone of humble confidence in your voice and in your countenance. Your fellow sheep will notice and be glad.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how important it is that whatever you say is based on the Word of God.

What Are You Talking About? – Pt. II

sheepYesterday I suggested that, unfortunately, most worship leaders don’t devote any time to plan and prepare for what they will say to the congregation in the course of a service, and because of this they end up communicating inarticulately, nervously, and ineffectively. The first remedy to this that I propose is to actually think it through and write it down. The next thing is to submit to your pastor.

Your pastor is called to be a shepherd. This means two things for you: First, you’re one of those sheep. God has placed you under the shepherding of your pastor – not outside of it. It’s good to remember this simple truth since worship leaders can be tempted to forget it. Secondly, while you yourself are a sheep, in your position as a worship leader, you are also exercising leadership over your fellow sheep. It’s imperative, then, that when you are exercising leadership, you are doing so in submission to your pastor. This applies to every part of your ministry, including any words you might say on Sunday morning.

As a worship leader, you need to know that you have your pastor’s blessing over what you’re doing. Too many worship leaders are left guessing what their pastor thinks and only finding out when their pastor doesn’t like something. That’s not a good scenario.  Approach your pastor and have a conversation about what your parameters are so that you know generally where you’re covered and where you’re not. Ask a question like: “how comfortable are you with me offering encouragement from time to time to the congregation?” If your pastor’s answer is “I’d really rather you not unless I know exactly what you’re going to say”, then you’ll need to submit to that. But if your pastor’s answer is “I’m happy for you to do that whenever you feel led”, then you’ll know you have a bit more wiggle room. In either case, just asking this question of your pastor shows that you recognize you’re a sheep in his flock and you’re attempting to submit to his leadership.

Having this kind of conversation is a good idea for a number of reasons. First, it shows your pastor that you’re not attempting to exercise leadership outside of his pastoral covering. Second, it protects you if anyone in the congregation raises an objection to anything you say. If they come to you, you will be able to honestly say that you speak with the blessing of your pastor. If they come to your pastor, he will be able to honestly say that you all have spoken about this and he’s given you his blessing. Third, worship leaders are most effective when they’re operating in partnership with their pastor. This helps forge that kind of partnership.

Beyond having a general idea of what parameters your pastor is comfortable with you operating within, it’s also helpful, when possible, to know if your pastor has given his blessing to specific words you feel prompted to share. I say “when possible” intentionally – since you won’t always know ahead of time the exact words you’ll feel prompted to share. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t only speak to us on the fly. He speaks to us in our planning, and if you have taken the time to think it through and write and down, you’d be wise to run it by your pastor.

If I’m preparing for a service and I have a sense that God is prompting me to share a brief word of encouragement between a song, there’s no good reason for me to keep that a secret from my pastor. I need to find time to tell my pastor I’m feeling led to share something, tell him what I plan to share, and ask if he would be comfortable with that. If he’s not, then I’ll have spared myself an unfortunate moment of operating outside his parameters as my shepherd, honored God by seeking counsel, and grown in my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit since he doesn’t speak to me all by myself, but he also speaks to me through Godly people around me. If my pastor is comfortable with what I want to share, then I can do so confident that I have his blessing.

Again, it’s important for worship leaders to partner with their pastor, and to be a good sheep. All parties involved will benefit when there is good communication between pastors and worship leaders. You’ll feel protected, encouraged, and blessed, Your pastor will feel honored, respected, and informed. Your congregation will see healthy, functional, and wise leadership displayed.

The congregation shouldn’t cringe whenever the worship leader starts talking. Your pastor shouldn’t be out of the loop and have no idea what you’re going to say. You shouldn’t be acting only on impulse and putting yourself out there on a ledge. Think it through, write it down, and submit to your pastor.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the importance of using the right tone. See you then.

What Are You Talking About? – Pt. I

micviewMost worship leaders spend a lot of time preparing for a weekend’s services – planning the service, reading through the assigned scriptures, finding out what the sermon will be dealing with, thinking and praying through what songs to sing, scheduling, arranging and rehearsing the instrumentalists and vocalists, handling various administrative tasks, etc. Whether the worship leader is full-time, part-time, or volunteer, a lot of work goes into the 25 or 30 minutes worth of music at a particular service.

Unfortunately, though, most worship leaders forget to prepare for one important thing: how to articulately communicate with the congregation. Whether it’s an introduction to a song, an encouragement, or a prayer – too many worship leaders end up tripping over themselves, rambling on too long, coming across as nervous, or a combination of all three. This can leave the congregation confused, create awkward transitions, and leave the worship leader embarrassed when they step off the platform. Because of this, most congregations cringe when the worship leader starts talking. It doesn’t have to be this way.

In general, the worship leader should say as little as possible during a service. Too many worship leaders feel as though they have to say something every week in between every song whether it’s helpful to the congregation or not, and they end up usurping too much of the pastor’s role in the service and drawing attention to themselves. Learning when it’s appropriate to say something (and how to say it) – and when it’s appropriate to just be quiet is one of the first and most important lessons a worship leader needs to learn.

On those occasions when the worship leader does need to communicate with the congregation, it’s his or her responsibility to communicate articulately and with pastoral care. This week we’ll look at how worship leaders can grow in this key area.

First, Think it Through and Write it Down
This sounds simple but it makes a tremendous difference. Once the songs are picked, and the service is planned, it’s crucial that you take some extended time to mentally walk through the service, playing and singing through the songs, thinking through transitions, noting when you might need to pray in the course of the service, and putting yourself in the congregation’s shoes.

If you feel an introduction to a song is needed, keep it short and simple. Something like: “we’re going to sing a new song this morning that helps us focus on the glory of the cross. It may be new to some of you, but as we sing it together, let’s make it our prayer that we would know more fully all that Jesus accomplished for us. Let’s sing the first verse together.” Please don’t go into all the details of who wrote the song, what the names of their kids are, why you really like this song, how you expect them to really sing it out, or what the song means to you personally. Don’t put the focus on you.

If you think you’ll need to pray between songs, again keep it short and simple. Something like: “Father, thank you for the truth in those words: that we stand forgiven at the cross. Thank you for sending your Son, and thank you for your presence here this morning by your Spirit.” Don’t preach a mini-sermon, get too personal, or feel that you have to cover every possible base.

Write down, word-for-word, what you intend to say. Use big letters so you can read it, and put it in front of you on your music stand during the service. Hopefully you will have run though it a few times beforehand so that you don’t have to read it word-for-word off the page, but it’s there as a back up.

When the time comes for you to say something in a service, you’ll be grateful you thought it through, and the congregation will be too.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the importance of making sure that when you communicate with the congregation you’re covered by your pastor.