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.

Open Your Eyes

Laurie SingingWhen I first began leading worship in middle school, I was incredibly nervous whenever I got up on stage. I developed a bad habit of closing my eyes and keeping them tightly shut until the songs were over. It was a coping mechanism and it helped me feel safe, but I carried this bad habit throughout high school and into college and it was a tough one to finally break. Keeping your eyes closed when you’re leading worship limits your effectiveness in a number of ways.

First, you can’t communicate with your band very well without eye contact. You can only give so many cues with your hands or your guitar neck. You need to be able to catch your drummer’s eye to give him a heads-up that the song is about to end, or glance at one of your vocalists to let her know you want her to lead off on a verse. Don’t make your worship team guess what’s coming next. Go out of your way to communicate with them clearly – look them in the eye.

Secondly, you could completely miss major distractions if you’re in your own little world. Keep your eyes open so that you’ll know if the projector shuts off, or someone faints in the third row, if no one is singing, etc.

Thirdly, if you’re leading worship and your eyes are tightly shut, no one can communicate with you. Your pastor might need to signal to you that he wants to say something after the song. The sound engineer might need to motion to you to plug in your guitar. Your band members might need to tell you that you’re in the wrong key. Check in visually every once in a while with various people who you know might need to catch your eye.

It’s generally a good idea to be looking at the people you’re leading. It’s OK to close your eyes, but not for minutes at a time. When I’m leading, I’ll close my eyes at times, then open my eyes, scan the room, look at the Pastor, look at the screen to make sure the right verse is up, scan the room again, etc.

The challenge for worship leaders is how to be 100% engaged in worship, while at the same time being 100% aware of the band, the people, what’s coming up next, the clock, and where the Holy Spirit is leading in the midst of it all. With experience you’ll get more and more comfortable with this. And with practice you won’t even think about whether your eyes are open or closed – it will come naturally. If it’s not so natural right now, stretch yourself and make an effort the next time you lead to open your eyes. No one will be making faces at you. I hope.

Leading Music During Communion

Yesterday morning at my church we celebrated communion together. It’s always a challenge to lead the music during the portion of the service when people are coming forward to receive.

Every church celebrates communion a bit differently, but in our case, it’s a 15 to 20-minute long portion of the service when all 700 – 800 people either come to the front of the church and kneel at the rail, or go to stations spread around the back aisle. Lay Eucharistic Ministers (we call them LEMS – not to be confused with Lemmings) disperse around the room to serve the congregation. Acolytes hover to provide more bread and wine when those LEMS run out. Ushers prompt each row when they should get in line. Kids get rowdy. People are standing up, sitting down, and walking up and down aisles everywhere you look. This portion of the service is filled with distractions, and it would be easy for the music to become “filler” while people either wait in line to receive, or wait in their seats while every one else does.

How do you lead the music in such a way that helps people focus on God’s amazing grace and not the distractions all around them? A few thoughts:

Set the tone from the beginning
Starting off with a song that isn’t intended for the congregation to sing – whether it’s an instrumental piece, a choir anthem, or a solo – can send a message that music is being performed for their listening pleasure and the corporate portion of the service will resume momentarily. But starting off with a congregational song helps keep the congregation engaged and involved. It will serve the congregation if instead of passively listening to music and watching the clock, they are actively singing songs that focus on the good news of the Gospel and articulating thanksgiving and praise. Set this tone from the beginning. It’s certainly possible to do this with a song that isn’t congregational or familiar to everyone, and it’s a good idea to not do things the same way every week. But in general, people are more engaged when they’re singing than they are when they’re listening.

Model heartfelt singing from up front
At any given point during our communion services yesterday morning, anyone who looked around the room would have had a lot of activity drawing their attention. LEMS, ushers, acolytes, cute babies, lines up and down the aisles, etc. As a worship leader, I can’t do anything about those distractions. But I can make sure that when people look at me, they see someone who is not just singing songs and filling time – but someone who is genuinely singing from his heart. If the worship team models this kind of singing to the congregation it will help put the distractions in perspective.

Offer encouragement from time to time
While a statement like “let’s sing that third verse again and thank God for his unending mercy” sounds really simple, occasionally offering brief, gentle, and appropriate words of encouragement can wake people up if their minds are starting to wander.

Don’t rush the ending
Nothing sends a message to the congregation that communion music is “filler” like stopping whatever song is being sung – regardless of where you are in the song – once the congregation is all back in their seats. Instead of bringing a song to an abrupt end, let it continue, encourage the congregation to stand, and have an extended time of singing after everyone has received communion. There may be reasons why you have to wrap it up quickly, but if you have some extra time, don’t rush it. Too many Anglican/liturgical churches miss opportunities to draw out times of singing because of the seeming urgency of what comes next in the liturgy. Sometimes it’s OK to relax!

Learn to live with the chaos
There’s no way to serve communion to 700 – 800 people, or even 50 – 100 people without there being a certain level of chaos. Getting stressed out won’t do you any good. Leading in settings like this are opportunities for you to grow in the area of patience, and in your love for the congregation you serve.