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.

When People Don’t (And Won’t) Sing Along

One of the most fascinating events in American politics is the annual State of the Union address. The pomp and circumstance is higher that night than almost any other night in the nation’s capital.

The president arrives to thunderous applause from both parties, and finally begins his speech when the hoopla dies down. Once he starts, the real fun begins. After every point, the members of congress from his party stand in loyal and heartfelt applause. The opposition party, however, remains seated and firm in their disapproval. Only when the president says something non-partisan or fairly neutral will both parties stand in approval.

Believe it or not, many churches look like this on Sunday morning.

The worship leader stands up to lead some songs. There might be an initial display of unity, but once the songs start, the real “fun” begins. There are those in the room who sing along to every song and do so with enthusiasm. Then there are those who will only sing along if the song meets their criteria. Then there are those who, in protest, won’t even stand.

I’ve seen this up close. In the same church where I encountered an opinionated craft guild ambassador, I also encountered members of the congregation who, for various reasons, refused to stand or sing during the songs I led. It was a not-so-subtle act of protest and was something for which I was completely unprepared.

While not on such a large scale, from time to time I’ll still encounter people who refuse to sing, or just remain seated, or maybe even leave the room. It’s not common, but you see all sorts of things when you’re in ministry. This is a hard one to deal with. Here are just a couple of thoughts:

Remember that building trust takes time
People will follow you if they trust you. Building that trust takes time. For some people in the congregation, it will take them half of the first song to realize they can trust you. For others, it takes longer. You won’t build those people’s trust in you by forcing it, by demanding it, or by showing them your frustration in not having it. It will take weeks, months, and years. Some may never trust you, but that’s why this next point is important:

Don’t make it about you
If you’re leading worship and notice people not singing and/or showing their disapproval, you have to be very careful not to take it personally. Keep leading, press on, don’t get distracted or discouraged, and look at those people with as much love as you can muster. Only God knows what their issues are – whether they’re judging you, will only worship God on their own terms, or maybe they’re just immature – and you can’t allow yourself to get defensive as if it’s all about you. It’s usually not. And even if it is, you’re not the one to do anything about it. You have to keep going, be faithful, and pray.

Go to your pastor
If there people who won’t sing along, and if it’s the same people consistently, you need to mention this to your pastor. The pastor is the main worship leader of the church, and this is something he needs to pray about addressing.

Any president who stands before the Congress for the State of the Union address knows that there will be some people who will be with him the entire hour, and others who won’t be with him at all. The same could be said of worship leaders on Sunday morning, but hopefully with less pomp and circumstance

The big – really big – difference, of course, is that during a State of the Union address, all eyes are on the president. He is analyzed, examined, the star of the show, and the one everyone is coming to see. When and whether people stand up, sit down, applaud, or protest, is all up to him.

Thank God that I am not the star of the show on Sunday morning. My job is to help people fix their eyes on the Lamb who was slain, the Savior of the world, the image of the invisible God, and the one before whom one day we will all bow our knees. But here on earth, and on Sunday mornings, when and whether people stand up, sit down, applaud, or protest, is not up to me.