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.