Yesterday at the end of our 11:15am service, when communion was wrapping up, I made up a word. It’s a good one, and I think we should all add it to our worship vocabulary.
It came out when I was encouraging the congregation to offer words/prayers of thanksgiving and praise to God. And in my mental search for the word “exaltation” (which is indeed an actual word), I was faced with all of the different options:
And instead of using any of those existing options, I chose to make up a new one.
So something like this came out of my mouth: “Let’s offer our exaltatation to the Lord”.
That extra syllable – the addition of the “at” that don’t really need to be there – really makes that word pop in a new way. To use a classical music term: it adds umph. Or oomph if you’re from the south. In other words, the extra “at” is where it’s at.
Exaltatation. It’s harder to say, harder to spell, and harder to understand, but it’s got pizzaz written all over it. Or maybe pizza written all over it. “Make that one extra large pizza with pizzaz, please, with some exaltatation on the side.”
If I had just used the already existing word, “exaltation”, things would have gone just fine. But that extra syllable, resulting in the invention of a new word, kicked things in a different gear. I recommend you use this new word as soon as you can.
This morning I led two songs of worship at our staff meeting. About 40 of us gathered in a circle, and after we read Psalm 135 responsively, I launched into “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. The staff here loves to sing, and the song went well, with a few repeats thrown in here and there as it felt appropriate. That song ended and I transitioned into “Lord, I Need You”.
Everything was going fine. Good lyrics, good keys, the people were singing, I was relaxed, and there weren’t any issues.
One small problem. I forgot that “Lord, I Need You” is in 4/4, not 3/4. We sang a few lines of it in the wrong time signature and everything felt off. Really off. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing wrong. So, I stopped. I said something like “so, I think I just forgot how this song goes…” Someone helpfully pointed out that I “left out an extra beat”. We laughed about it, we started over, and everything was fine. I felt silly, a bit embarrassed, and honestly, I felt humbled.
I had put together a fine 2-song set for an early morning staff meeting. I was doing a good job. But then I made a silly rookie mistake. And ironically, it was on a song titled “Lord, I Need You”.
So, two lessons:
1. Mistakes happen. Sometimes you can cover them up. But sometimes you can’t, so own up to them, laugh about them, and move on.
2. God has a sense of humor. I will never sing “Lord, I Need You” the same way. Now I’ll really mean those words!
Be careful out there, worship leaders. God is waiting just around the corner to teach you new lessons and keep you humble.
Yesterday morning at our 11:00am service we were halfway through our opening block of songs when I heard a crazy noise coming out of the speakers that seemed to make the whole room jump. No, it wasn’t my drummer deciding to let loose. It was the sound board deciding to go nuts for a second. Before deciding to do it again. At which point the engineer made the decision to mute everything. And restart the board.
So for 45 seconds yesterday we were smack dab in the middle of a song and the sound system was pretty much completely off. The interesting thing was that the band had no idea that the system was totally off for 45 seconds because our in-ear monitors were working just fine. (Chalk this one up as one major reason why in-ears might detrimentally effect your worship leading: because you can’t hear what they hear).
But I knew something had happened. I had heard the crazy noise and I had seen the people jump, and then I noticed that they seemed more reserved for the rest of the set. It would have been nice to know that they weren’t really hearing anything, but since I was blissfully unaware, I kept on trucking.
And the congregation kept trucking too. They were dealing with an enormous distraction, so of course they pulled back a bit, but they kept on singing. The projector hadn’t shut down, so the lyrics were still up. And they knew the song. And the band was playing and singing. So, slowly the sound system came back on, and slowly the engineer started fading up the channels hoping that the board would cooperate. And when I sat down I found out what had happened.
What did I learn?
1. In-ear monitors are great, but they really do cut you off from the congregation.
2. Unless there’s some sort of emergency, or a total loss of power, it’s better to keep on trucking than screech everything to a halt.
3. This kind of thing is humbling. It reminds you that you can’t control everything.
4. When the sound system dies, it’s probably best to keep people singing. If I had tried to stop the song and say something, it would have been hard for them to hear what I was saying. Plus, what would I have said?
5. Congregations look for cues from the people on stage. If you keep your cool, then they will too.
Here’s a story (and audio clip) about how I broke a string in front of 1,400 people while recording a live CD and used a joke I stole from a worship leader’s Facebook group to salvage what could have been a really awkward moment.
First, the background:
About a year ago I joined a Facebook group called “Liturgy Fellowship“. It’s a group where a bunch of worship leaders who lead in contexts where some sort of liturgical structure is employed and/or valued share ideas, ask questions, and stay in touch. I’m not terribly active in the group, but I do check in from time to time since I’m curious about what other worship leaders are up to and dealing with.
A few weeks ago, a worship leader in the group shared that he had broken a string and used a joke Reggie Kidd had shared that the word “Selah” in the Psalms actually meant “ah shucks, I broke another string”. Reggie Kidd commented that the joke actually came from Eugene Peterson in his book Answering God where he wonders if “Selah” was actually a cuss word David used when he broke a string.
I thought this was really funny. So I made a mental note to tuck this little joke away in case I ever needed it in the future.
So, finally, back to the live recording in front of 1,400 people when I broke a string used the joke.
Last weekend we devoted our worship services to an extended time of worship and celebration of God’s faithfulness and goodness to us, after a year of considerable upheaval and change for our church. We recorded a live album last year before leaving our campus of over 275 years, and this year we wanted to capture our congregation continuing to proclaim God’s faithfulness and the power of the Gospel. (This is why this blog has been so quiet for a while, by the way).
On Thursday, the first day of our rehearsals, I put new strings on my guitar. I used those strings during all-day rehearsals on Friday and Saturday, and a recording on Saturday evening. That’s a lot of play.
So, on Sunday morning before our big combined service with everyone in one room, I wondered whether I should put new strings on. Nah, I thought, I’ll be OK.
Not so much.
We opened with three songs. A call to worship, Matt Redman’s “How Great is Your Faithfulness”, and “Crown Him with Many Crowns”. During the last few measures of “Crown Him…” I felt the dreaded pop. This wasn’t good. We still had about 12 more songs to get through. Oh. No.
Thankfully, after “Crown Him”, our pastor, John Yates, was supposed to come up and welcome people, pray, and lead us the prayer for purity. I thought that if I moved at lightening speed, I could replace the E string in that time. I wish.
So I rushed over to my case. No strings. I rushed back to where I thought they could be. Not there. Asked one of the electric guitarists if he had any. He said no. I run back to my case. I find them. I get back to my guitar just as the prayer for purity is ending and my pastor is walking back to his seat.
Then I remember. The Facebook group. The Selah joke. I can’t quite remember how it’s supposed to go. But I use it. I try to tell it as well as I can. Please work. Help me Lord.
And it works. They laugh. So I ask John to come back up and “share something from his heart” for 2 minutes. He plays along. People laugh. And I change my string faster than I’ve ever changed a string in my entire life.
Then we keep on going and record 12 more songs.
So, thanks to my friends on the Facebook group for sharing that excellent joke. Thank you, Lord, for in your providence pointing me to that joke weeks before I’d need it because you knew I’d need it. And thanks to my congregation for laughing.
I will likely use this joke again. And you should too. It’s a good one.
Here’s how it sounded, from the last sentence or so of the prayer for purity, during which I was running around on stage like a mad man.
The 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.
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 bibleor 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.
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.