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.