Fear and Loathing in Worship Leading

I’ll be honest, I was scared out of my wits when I first started leading worship. Although I had played rock and roll shows in clubs, festivals and venues around the world, Saturday night had me bound in fits of panic as I contemplated what was facing me the next morning. I knew what the issue was, and it wasn’t the music. I knew how to play my instrument, arrange a song, lead a band, and sing in-tune, sort of. The thing that had me nervously pacing the floors at midnight Saturday was what happened in between the songs. What we call transitions. Or what we might call the actual LEADING part of worship leading.

Like most things that have to be learned in front of a live “audience” (c’mon, you know what I mean by that), there were some awkward moments I’d be happy to forget. Of course, it was time spent in the saddle along with a healthy dose of prayer and wisdom from other WL’s that helped me survive some of my early woes. Along the way, I learned some good, general principles for transitions that I think can apply to WL’s in all seasons.

Be Prepared

I know there are different opinions on this, but I think it’s a good practice to write down what you’re going to say. If so many good preachers write out their sermons in manuscript form, why should WL’s be any less prepared than that? Obviously, reciting anything in written form can resemble a lecture, so the key is to write in the manner of which you speak. If you’re starting out, this can help calm the nerves before Sunday and give you a way to practice your speaking parts before you play.

Use Brevity

I was at a church once where the worship leader started with a story that lasted for a good 7 minutes. This was after announcements and a greeting that had gone on for 10 minutes. Transitions are not sermons, so whatever type of liturgy you have at your church, try to keep them concise and transitional.

But Say Something

I sat through a worship service a couple of years ago where the leader didn’t say a single word during the entire time of singing. I know, he was probably reacting to the silly, rock show vocalizing we’ve all been subjected to, but going too far the other way isn’t helpful, either. Like a good sermon, a good liturgy is leading people somewhere, so transitions are necessary when attempting to reach a destination.

Watch Your Tone

Your transitions can and should be theologically rich, but they don’t need to sound like a radio broadcaster from the 1940’s reciting a Luther treatise through justification. If you’re opening with a greeting, be conversational. If you’re reading scripture, let the tone of the passage your reading shape your vocal tone. Practice.

Be Who You Are

If you’ve been affirmed as a WL in your church, it probably means that you have some of the skills required to accomplish the role you’ve been called to. Work hard to be the best version of yourself you can be in those roles. Worship leading is the ultimate multi-task job in the church. It’s part preacher, player, singer, reciter, greeter, band leader, and sound engineer…all in the course of 30 minutes. Your job is to transition through these tasks naturally and personably, with your gaze ever fixed on the One who is equipping you to proclaim His great name.

Remember that last part.

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