We’ve all been there. After the service someone comes to tell you, with tears in their eyes, how you “sing with the voice of a thousand angels” (I’m exaggerating a bit with that one) or “took us right into the holy places” or “brought God’s presence down”.
These people are well-intentioned – wanting to encourage and thank you for helping them encounter God in corporate worship – but they’re off base in their understanding of what a worship leader can and cannot do.
No worship leader can take any one “into the holy places.” That’s Jesus’ job.
No worship leader can “bring God’s presence down”. While there are certainly times we’re more aware of his presence, and times God is at work in more noticeable ways, God is always “present” with us (“Where can I go from your Spirit? (Psalm 139:7)).
There are a few ways to handle situations when someone offers you what I call an “over-compliment”. You have to discern which way is best depending on the person, the setting, what they say, etc.
Just say “thank you”
If someone tells me they think I sing with the voice of a thousand angels, it’s probably not a good idea for me to correct the person and say “well actually, Ma’am, I sing a bit flat a lot of the time, and when I can’t hear myself I can kind of sound like a thousand meowing cats”. I know that the compliment is over-the-top, but it’s generally best to just say “thank you” and let it go.
Gently correct them without making it terribly obvious
If someone tells me that I “really led [them] right to God’s throne” and I just smile and say “thank you”, I will send a message to that person that I agree with them. I don’t. So I’d probably say something like “I’m so glad you were aware of God’s presence this morning” or “what a gift to be able to approach God’s throne because of Jesus”. I’m not giving the person a lecture or seeking to reprimand them. First, I don’t have the time after a service to give a lecture, and secondly, they don’t need a reprimand. Instead, I’m seeking to gently correct their thinking by responding with God’s truth. Over time, this person will (hopefully) think about the role of a worship leader more biblically.
Take a minute to address the over-compliment
A few weeks ago, a woman offered me the mother of all over-compliments. I felt as though her compliment was insinuating that I was responsible for whether or not the congregation could encounter God. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to say “thank you”, and I couldn’t afford to let her keep thinking this way by offering only a subtle correction. So instead I asked her one or two questions so that I understood what she was saying. Once I did, I tried to politely and gently point out where she was a bit off-base. Afterwards she thanked me for helping her understand better how “it all works”. It’s not always so easy, but it’s worth a try.
The best preparation for handling over-compliments happens long before the service starts and long before you stand in front of a congregation. By intentionally and prayerfully seeking to grow in humility, you’ll be well-equipped to be able to judge when a compliment crosses the line between well-intentioned encouragement and misplaced worship.