The music stops.
The sound of the congregation lifting their voices in a corporate confession of faith through music has ended. The feeling evoked from the text that was just sung has united the hearts of the people as they were reminded of the power and beauty of the gospel in their lives. Their view of God and his grace has become enlarged and their love for Him has deepened. Their eyes and ears focus on the man with the guitar in his hands at the center of the stage. He leans in close to the microphone. The congregation waits expectantly to hear what he’s going to say to help move them forward in their corporate proclamation of the gospel. They want to be encouraged, reminded, and exhorted to worship. They want to be inspired to continue to draw deeper in their devotion and outward expressions of joy.
The senior pastor sitting on the front row holds his breath. He’s nervous. He’s been in this situation before and has had to deal with the disastrous results of these moments. He’s had to stand up and speak immediately following some of these moments. He’s tired of having to get up and begin his message with, “What he was trying to say was…”. He’s had multiple conversations with the worship leader about his frustration with his past opportunities to speak. Those in the congregation that are familiar with these moments begin to disengage from worshipping God and start inwardly rooting for the worship leader to “get it right”. Everyone’s confidence in this worship leader’s abilities begin to waver and falter as they are accustomed to hearing him awkwardly try to connect one section of the service with another.
He’s great at singing, he’s great at playing the guitar, he’s great at leading the band and knowing when to extend songs or when to back off so the congregation can be heard, and even when to repeat sections of the song that are resonating with the congregation in the moment; but it’s the speaking that is lacking. It’s those moments when he needs to connect scripture and the gospel to the lyrics, those moments when he needs to pray and encourage people wounded from life to embrace the gospel and the grace offered at the cross, those moments when he needs to remind people of the sovereignty of God and how they should respond to Him in their suffering or those moments when he needs to unpack a word or phrase in a certain song to help bring a deeper connection and understanding to the minds and hearts of those singing, those are the moments that are so sorely lacking of depth or even coherence.
What does he say? What are the words that he will to use to propel the service forward? He has forty-five seconds to say something to help the people move from the song they just sang to the song they are about to sing. He has only a moment to gather himself and speak with clarity to help focus the people’s hearts and minds on what is about to happen.
He opens his mouth and…
The words stumble out. He nervously says, “Um”, and “Uh” between every other word. He begins to ramble and say trite phrases that he vaguely remembers hearing other worship leaders say. He tries to throw in a scripture but butchers it completely, even giving the wrong reference and taking it completely out of context. His eyes dart back and forth across the room before he lifts his hands and says “AMEN?”, in a questioning tone hoping to evoke a hearty “AMEN” from the congregation, as though they were able to follow along and connect the dots and somehow decipher this strange spiritual monologue.
Does the above scenario sound familiar to anyone? Have you ever been that worship leader? Have you ever been in the congregation and found yourself “rooting” for that worship leader?
Worship leaders are more than just musicians. They may have the necessary musical skillset that is needed to land the job, but they are often lacking in the skillsets that help them do the job well. They have spent hours practicing musical scales and learning melodies, arranging music, and writing out chord charts and lead sheets, but they have spent mere moments training themselves to be leaders that can be trusted with the weighty task of leading God’s people, in a corporate setting, to be fully engaged with God. Their musical knowledge far outweighs their theological understanding. Their knowledge of music theory is far greater than their grasp of the scriptures, and many would find themselves with failing grades in an 8th grade public speaking class based on any given Sunday’s service evaluation.
So what are worship leaders to do? How should they go about focusing on improving this particular skill that has the potential to send every worship service reeling into the land of confusion and awkwardness? To do this effectively they need to be intimately familiar with the song selections for the day. They need to be able to anticipate those areas of the service that they will need to speak into. Perhaps it’s a transition from one song to the next or connecting a passage of scripture to a song they just sang or are about to sing. It could be that tricky phrase that needs to be unpacked within a lyric. The more familiar they are with the song and the service flow the easier it will be to help determine those sections that they need to practice speaking into. Once identified then they can follow the guidelines listed below to help improve this skillset.
1) Read Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12, Psalm 1:2)
Every time worship leaders open their mouths on stage during a service it should be oozing with scripture. It does not always have to be specific scriptures with the book and chapter references (although that is extremely helpful and needed as well) – but it should be saturated in scriptural truths. Worship leaders are teaching theology and doctrine and are using the powerful tool of music to seal theological ideas into the hearts and minds of those in the congregation. A worship leader that is not reading the scriptures is one that is more likely to be imparting confusing ideas about God, the gospel, and worship into the congregation. The more scripture that the worship leader puts into their heart and mind the more they will have to draw from in those moments when they need to speak; and they will more likely be building a solid foundation of sound scriptural doctrine for the local church.
2) Study Theology (1 Thessalonians 5:21, Acts 17:11, 1 Peter 3:15)
It’s been said that next to the Senior Pastor of the church, the next best theologian on staff should be the worship leaders. Why? Because next to the senior pastor the worship leaders have the most time in front of the congregation shaping their theology through music. Additionally, along with the music are the words they use to speak and encourage the congregation to worship. The better understanding they have of theology the less likely the times the senior pastor has to get up and “fix” what was just said or sung. Theology is the study of God and it is our theology that fuels our doxology, which is the outward expression of those beliefs. The deeper and more clear our understanding of theology, the more likely the service will be filled with scripturally sound exhortations that are gospel-centered, God-glorifying, and not man-centered, emotional fluff.
3) Write It Out (Proverbs 24:27)
Once worship leaders have identified those areas in the service where they will need to speak to help bring insight or sharpen focus, they then need to write out what they are going to say. Writing out what they are going to say is extremely helpful. By writing it out, they can really hone in on the exact thought or theological truth that needs to be stated to help move the service along. They can clear out any unnecessary words or phrases. With laser focus, they can pinpoint the exact thought that will be needed to help the congregation continue along on the journey for the day.
4) Show It To The Pastor (James 3:1)
After they have written out what they think should be said they need to show it to the pastor to make sure that what they are going to say is indeed scriptural and theologically sound and doesn’t meander about in a confusing or awkward fashion. Pastors can help clarify confusing statements and help make sure that it is completely gospel centered and scripturally sound. By sharing this with the pastor BEFORE they get on stage it will help build that relationship with him and build his trust into the worship leader. Allowing him to speak into those areas will also help worship leaders feel confident in what they are saying knowing that they have their pastor’s blessing. Ultimately, the pastor is the responsible party for everything that happens in that service – so they need to make sure the pastor knows what they are going to say. It will eliminate those frustrating conversations between the pastor and the worship leaders when they are evaluating the service later.
5) Practice (1 Corinthians 9:25)
Just like they practice their musical craft (playing, singing, arranging, etc.) they need to practice speaking. They should be practicing what they are going to say, how they are going to say it, what inflections they should be using and the pace at which it will be delivered. They should practice to the point that it feels natural and composed – almost second nature. If what they are going to say is happening during a song or musical interlude, they should be practicing while playing their instrument or while rehearsing the band so that they can be sure that it fits and flows and that neither the music nor the speaking is a distraction for the people. They should record themselves speaking and listen back to it and then have someone they trust evaluate how they have done. Sometimes reading what needs to be said is the best way to move the service along, but saying something in the natural flow of the service with their own personality and voice is what is needed most.
6) Depend Upon The Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25)
This point is often the most frustrating thing for worship leaders to learn with regard to speaking during the service. Just like they depend on the Holy Spirit to help plan the service and empower the musical portion of the service, they should be equally dependent upon Him when they are speaking and encouraging the congregation apart from the music. When the church gathers corporately to worship God, the Holy Spirit is there fulfilling his role by strengthening God’s people, revealing Christ to them, opening their eyes and hearts to scriptural truths. Coming to the service prepared, practiced and ready enables worship leaders to lead with confidence knowing that the Holy Spirit was there in their preparation just like He is during the service-illuminating the hearts and minds of those worshipping. If worship leaders falter or stumble over their words, they can rest on the truth that the Holy Spirit is there and moving in the hearts of the people and He can overcome any weakness or mistake that they might find themselves committing.
7) Relax (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Worship leaders are not perfect, nor are they called to be. Jesus was perfect for everyone and only He can take the worship His people offer to God and perfect it to make it pleasing and acceptable to God. Worship leaders need to learn to relax and understand that their role is limited. They should work diligently and hone their craft to the best of their abilities, but in the end they must relax, take a deep breath and trust that God is pleased with them as they worship His son thru the power of the Holy Spirit. Preparation can help eliminate stress and anxiety as they prepare for the corporate gatherings. Execution of the plan is much easier to carry out when you are relaxed and confident in what is about to happen.
As worship leaders begin to fill their hearts and minds with scripture, and begin to wrestle with and chew on theology and sound doctrine, then they will be in a much healthier place and have a much larger set of tools to use when it is time for them to open their mouths and speak at the corporate gatherings. Worship leaders are more than musicians and they have a greater role than just singing songs and leading a band. They are first and foremost believers who are called to glory in God by exalting Jesus Christ thru the power of the Holy Spirit. They are called to know the Word and to seek out the depths and heights and breadth of the riches of his glorious grace. As they live into the passionate pursuit of God it will overflow naturally into their role as a worship leader and thru practice they will begin to speak as effectively as they sing.