This question came from Patrick, in response to the devotional post this past Monday.
“Do you incorporate such “devotionals” into your worship leading? I’ve known leaders who don’t say anything, and others who share an essay every week from the front.”
The question of what to say when you’re leading worship has been a subject of discussion for years. I’ve seen (and demonstrated) every kind of extreme you can think of. I wish I could say I “had this down,” but I’m still learning what serves people.
In my early years of leading public worship, I thought it was important to give a mini-teaching or heartfelt prayer between every song. I’m not sure why I thought that, but when my pastor finally brought it to my attention, I realized what a nuisance I was.
Of course, saying nothing might not be that much of an improvement. How do we strike the balance? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Know your goal.
When we meet to worship God in song, we want to do more than have a musical experience. We can do that going to a concert, or listening to our Ipod. No, the goal is to magnify the worth and works of God in our hearts, minds, and wills. We want people to declare and revel in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Therefore, when I lead, I have the responsibility to ensure that people are singing with their minds as well as their spirits. (1 Cor. 14:15) I want to contribute whatever I need to help people’s minds engage with the lyrics they’re singing.
Here’s how that looks for me. I generally pick one theme that I’m going to emphasize when I lead, usually related to some line of a song we’re singing. After the first or second song, I’ll take about 1-2 minutes to personally, biblically, compellingly help people understand why we’re about to sing whatever the next song is. I’m generally pulling from a number of possible sources here: a point from last week’s message, the focus of a teaching series we’re currently in, a new song I want to introduce, why we sing God’s praise, or a national event (9/11, for instance). I’m seeking to connect an aspect of who God is in Christ with where most of us live. My goal is to encourage faith towards God in people’s hearts.
That leads to the second point.
2. Know your context.
Knowing who I’m leading helps me decide what I’m going to say. I tend to say more in a smaller group where I can read where people are more easily. In a situation where people aren’t very expressive, I’ll take time to explain what we’re seeking to accomplish. If people are familiar with the songs we’re singing, I may say less.
3. Don’t canonize what God Himself hasn’t told us.
Talking too much can be distracting, while saying too little can assume that everyone knows what we’re singing about. Over the years, I’ve developed a feel for how much I really need to say. But God hasn’t given any clear commands to us in this area. Depending on the situation, I might do different things. My goal remains the same, but the form changes. Which leads to point four.
4. Vary what you do.
For years, I worked hard at developing an “exhortation” that I would share at some point while we were singing. Just as I thought I was getting it down, CJ Mahaney, my senior pastor, began suggesting that we not do the same thing every Sunday. I was crushed. Well, not really. Maybe a little disappointed.
I’ve come to see that it helps a congregation focus if we don’t follow the exact same format every single week. Some times we’ll read a portion of Scripture. Some times I’ll pray. Some time the whole church will pray. Some times someone will share a testimony.
5. Submit to your pastor
I want to be sure to follow my pastor’s lead in this area. If he wants me to say less, I should find out why and say less in faith. Generally, we’re prone to say too much and to say it poorly. The observations of our pastor are a gift from God to help us grow in content, clarity, and conciseness.
So, to answer Patrick’s question simply, I wouldn’t normally share a long devotional on a Sunday morning. But I might.
There is much wisdom to be found in these comments. I remember having a similar experience as the one you described in which my pastor asked me to talk less. While I was initially offended and felt a little persecuted, I agreed that my raving about inspiration, etc., every Sunday was quite unnecessary. Your post is a reminder to come before the Lord and His people with reverence.
I definitely believe there’s a balance between two extremes:
There is the extreme of bloviating, and I think this is (partly) what Wayne Grudem refers to in his Systematic Theology on p. 1013: “I personally find that a worship leader who talks to the congregation between songs usually distracts my attention from the Lord and onto himself, and my attitude of worship is greatly diminished.”
The other extreme is one in which the minister fails to help his congregation sing with understanding, which can also be detrimental on a long-term basis.
Once again, thanks for your words, and I appreciate your blog! I just recently found it and hope to visit often! Blessings!
The very reason that we use music in our worship is that the spoken word can’t carry the whole thing. So there is nothing more annoying than having someone try to explain the music or why we should sing it this way or that. Just let the music do it’s job. If it is well chosen you probably don’t need to offer an exhortation or comment — at least not regularly. Let the music itself be the voice.
Thank you for those helpful points Bob. I find it can be a stuggle at times to know what to do from Sunday to Sunday as I come to think abt leading.
I have been tending to use Nathan’s (my pastor) sermon from the week before – and pull a theme from there. Sometimes this can be more difficult than other times as I can’t always seem to find appropriate songs to link with the theme??? Have you ever had this problem? What do you do – just change your theme or get around it some other way?
It was a great point to be reminded to keep it different every now and then. I do enjoy looking for new ways to draw peoples attention to the truth about God.
Thanks again my friend – Jadie <>
This post gives me just the guidelines I was looking for to begin growing in this part of my leading.
Sounds like you’ve experienced more than your fair share of worship leaders who dominate the meeting or are frustrated pastor/teachers. I’ve been there. In fact, I’ve been one of them! But I’m not sure that deciding whether or not to speak between songs is quite as black-and-white as you make it sound.
There are a number of reasons we use music in worshipping God – music helps us remember words, gives us time to meditate on them, demonstrates the unity we have in the Gospel, enables us to combine doctrine and devotion, and much more. Simply to say that “the spoken word can’t carry the whole thing,” seems to imply that music is essential in our worship of God, which it’s not (although God has communicated clearly enough in Scripture that singing His praises is pleasant and pleasing to Him.)
Well chosen music may or may not need some verbal comment, as you mention. But even if songs are being sung one at a time, with other elements of the service around them, a brief transitional statement can help people understand why we’re about to sing the next song.
When singing a number of songs in a row, I don’t assume that each person in the congregation is engaging with every lyric that we sing, or even most of them. Some brief but Spirit-led remarks might lead someone who is mindlessly singing words to worship God from the heart. And as a leader, that’s my ultimate goal.
I think with prayer, thought, preparation, and feedback we’ll end up doing what’s most helpful to the people we’re seeking to serve.
I just came on the page. Really enjoyed your comments and wish I’d seen them months ago. My pastor just yesterday communicated that I tend to ramble and asked that I basically “not talk at all.” It was a bit of a blow, but truth be told, I was never very comfortable talking anyway. Some have said they appreciate things I’ve said, but given the objections of my pastor — combined with my general discomfort handing out the brief devotionals typical of leaders in contemporary music worship — I’m content to drop this sort of thing completely. Any thoughts?
By the way, I always loved this “Glad” lyric: “Until we are living the truth right beside them the meaning of life will never free them.”
Your comment on the GLAD lyric means you must be on this side of 40, at least.