When to Speak Up… Or Not

I should have said something.

I shouldn’t have said what I said.

Should I say what I’m really thinking?

Am I the right person to speak up?

When to speak up and when to be quiet is something I wrestle with fairly often. Whether it’s in meetings, over emails, responding to something someone said, offering my input on a decision, or even offering constructive criticism, I regularly find my asking if/when I should say something, and then looking back and wondering if it was the right call.

Several years ago I was in the middle of a season of wrestling over how to approach a very difficult situation. During lunch with a great friend who is a brilliant lawyer in Washington D.C. (and also a gifted musician and worship leader), he gave me some advice that he had once received. It was really helpful.

Here’s what he said:

A friend of mine used to quote another minister as saying that a “divine idea” was “the right people doing the right things at the right time in the right way.”  You have to have all of those elements for it to be a God-thing.

You might have a clear sense of what is needed in some situation or someone’s life, but you might not be the right person to share that with them, or to intervene.

Or you might be the right person to help someone, but it might be the wrong time.

Or you might be the right person and the right time, but if you get the solution wrong or carry it out in an insensitive way, it can be unproductive or even cause damage to a relationship.

I have said some really stupid things and ended up complicating matters more often that I’d like to admit. This has happened when I’ve been a volunteer, part-time, and full-time worship leader.

When I speak up, my prayer is that it is a “God thing”, not a “Jamie thing”. I’m learning to take my friend’s advice, and before I speak up, I ask God: (1) am I the right person? (2) Is this the right thing to say? (3) Is this the right time to say it? (4) Am I saying it in the right way?

If God seems to be saying “yes” to all four questions: then I’ll speak up. If he seems to be saying “no” to any of them, then if I’m smart, I’ll be quiet. And wait. And pray.

God’s timing is perfect. Mine is not. And this is a lesson I will be learning for the rest of my life.

You Really Don’t Need To Talk That Much

1Good news for worship leaders all over the world: there’s no reason for you to do much talking. Seriously. You really don’t need to talk that much.

Ask yourself: how many times per month/per Sunday/per service do I interrupt the flow of songs to talk for more than 5 seconds? Like the game of golf, the lower your score, the better. If you get a high number when you ask that question, may I kindly suggest that you reconsider your approach?

There are many good reasons you should talk when you’re leading worship:
– To introduce a new song
– To read Scripture
– To give instruction (ask people to stand/sit/turn and greet neighbors)
– To transition (to a different element of the service, to a different theme in the singing)
– To explain (why are we singing an obscure hymn, what national tragedy are we responding to, why do you want them to just listen to the verses, etc.)

But there are many good reasons you shouldn’t talk when you lead worship:
– It places you front and center in the consciousness of everyone in the room
– Your songs should connect well enough (most of the time) that you don’t need to say anything
– It runs the risk of you usurping the responsibility of your pastor
– When you talk too much you become like the boy who cried wolf. When you really have something important to say, no one will listen because they’re tired of you talking so much
– It can make you unnecessarily nervous. If talking in between songs makes you anxious, then there’s an easy solution: don’t do it
– It places you in a professorial role (i.e. that of a professor to his students), as opposed to a familial role (i.e. that of a fellow brother or sister)

Think carefully about whether or not your congregation would be better served by you speaking or by you letting things speak for yourself. Most of the time, go with the latter option.

Would You Say it Like That in a Normal Conversation?

One of the best pieces of worship leading advice I ever received was from my pastor who told me to write down ahead of time whatever I planned on saying or praying on a Sunday morning. If I wanted to introduce a song, offer a quick reflection or encouragement, or pray out loud, he suggested I think it through ahead of time and write it down. Very good advice.

The problem was that when it came time to actually say what I had prepared, or pray what I had written out, it sounded canned, fake, and unnatural. It sounded like I was reading off of a piece of paper. The fact that I had to keep looking down at my music stand didn’t help either. The substance of what I was saying was good, but the delivery was bad.

So my advice to worship leaders (this includes me here…) is to not only write down ahead of time what you want to say/pray, but to make certain it sounds like you. Say it out loud. Would you say this in a normal conversation? Is that the word you would use? Would you phrase it like that? If you wouldn’t say it or phrase it like that in a normal conversation with a friend, then don’t write it down that way. Write with your voice.

My test for this is a little strange but I’ll share it anyways.

When I’m thinking through what I’m going to say when I introduce a song or offer a word of encouragement, I picture that I’m driving my car, with my wife in the passenger seat, and some good friends in the back seat, and I want to tell them why we’re going to sing a particular song on Sunday.

Imagine if, while driving my wife and some friends around town and the topic of my Sunday song list came up, I said something like: “Beloved, we’ve gathered here in the house of the Lord and I’m just so excited for what God’s gonna do. This next song says we have 10,000 reasons to bless the Lord, and as we raise our voices as one body this morning I just want to encourage you to really go for it this morning and ‘sing like never before’.”

My wife and my friends would look at me like I was an alien. I don’t usually talk like that. Why am I putting on this weird voice? Why am I phrasing things so awkwardly? What happened to the real Jamie?

How would I sound explaining something to someone in a normal conversation? That’s how I want to sound on stage. When you’re thinking through what to say/pray on a Sunday, try looking at an empty chair, and imagine one of your friends sitting in it. Talk to him. That’s how you naturally communicate. Capture that and communicate to your congregation the same way, if possible. Be yourself and they’ll hear what you’re saying.

Give-Me-a-Break Worship Leader Phrases

Worship leaders have a bad habit of saying things on the platform – to a large group of people – that they would never actually say in real life. I call these “give me a break” worship leader phrases.

If you said them to friends over dinner, they would look at you like you were an idiot. If you said them to someone riding in the car with you, they would assume you were trying to be funny.

But you (and when I say “you” I mean “we”) say them when you’re leading worship (because part of your brain has shut down apparently) and you expect the congregation to gleefully respond as if they were equally as brain-impaired.

Here are the top four give-me-a-break worship leader phrases that I’m aware of in existence.

1. Do you love Jesus today?
Seriously? Are you gauging my love for Jesus based on how long and loud I say “yeah!”? If I don’t say “yeah!” does that mean I don’t love Jesus? Would you ever say this to the dude changing the oil on your car? No. Well he might be in church today and you just made him whisper “give me a break” under his breath.

2. Are you glad to be in the house of the Lord?
There are several issues with this one: First, is “the house of the Lord” a term for “church” that most people understand? I don’t think so. Second, what if I’m not particularly “glad” to be in it? Maybe I’d rather be at home watching Football. Aren’t you just expecting everyone will happily respond “verily! Verily! Mine heart doth rejoice in this glorious morning of fellowship with my brethren!”? Give me a break. (Note: related phrases are “how we doing this morning?” and “are you ready to worship?”)

3. Come on!
This one is usually barked, and usually comes at the beginning of an upbeat song. Cue the drums, electric guitar riff, and worship leader offering some variation of “come on!” or “come on church!” or “do you love Jesus today? Come on!”

Imagine serving as the usher at a wedding. Instead of greeting a guest with a smile and a welcome and a word of greeting and an extended arm, you stand 20 feet away and yell “come on!” How will that make the guest feel? Welcomed or yelled at? Yelled at. When people get yelled (or barked at) they get defensive.

4. That’s some good singing, church!
I can proudly say I’ve never used this one. And I’ve not heard worship leaders use it an awful lot. But when I have heard worship leaders use it, I inevitably want to scream. Here’s the problem: people (hopefully) aren’t singing to you or for you. I know you’re just trying to encourage them, but this one just makes it seem like you’re a third grade music teacher congratulating your students on how they sang their state capitals song so well.  

I’m sure there are more that I’m forgetting. Please share them. My point isn’t to pick on worship leaders, since I often say things I wish I had phrased better! Rather, my point is to encourage us to not say things to the congregation that we wouldn’t say to friends in our living room, or that we wouldn’t want to have said to us if we were in the congregation. Be humble, be confident, and be yourself.

Maybe I Could Have Phrased That Better

Sometimes worship leaders have to communicate something in a short amount of time. Maybe to the band, the sound guy, the congregation, or the pastor. It can be during a set of songs, or perhaps quickly in between services. Whatever the situation and whoever the person, here are (in my experience) some of the most common phrases, and how they can be poorly worded or more effectively worded.

Bad: I need more of myself
You’re talking to the sound engineer. You can’t hear your voice or your instrument. You want to hear more. So you ask for more. The problem is you come across demanding and like you have a huge ego.
Try: Could you please help me hear myself better in my monitor?

Bad: You played (sang) that the wrong way.
A worship team member makes a mistake. They don’t seem to notice. You need to help them notice. If you say it wrongly you could cause their defenses to shoot up in no time.
Try: Can we look at that (insert relevant section of song here) again? Here’s what I had in mind.

Bad: That won’t work.
Your pastor has an idea. You don’t think it’s a good idea. You want to tell him this. Remember: he’s your pastor. You need to humbly submit. If he’s open to receiving your feedback, you need to share it out of a heart of submission.
Try: So you’re thinking we (insert his idea here. Convince him you’ve heard him out). What would you think about (insert your idea here. He still gets the last word).

Bad: Shhhh!!!
I actually used this once on a backup singer on a men’s retreat. He was singing much too loud and I needed him to back up, so I got his attention and said “shhh!!!” Very bad idea. This is for two year olds, and that’s about where it stops.
Try: Non-verbal: Back up from the mic or use your hand to indicate to lower the volume. Verbal: Let’s (include yourself in it) blend a bit better.

Bad: Please rise.
What are we? Army cadets? No. You can use more normal English to get us to stand up.
Try: Let’s stand together or would you like to stand (I learned this from my British worship leader friends).

These are just a few that come to mind. Please free to share of other ways you can say things with a bit more grace but still get the same point across in a short amount of time.