If you read this blog regularly you know I’m coming down to the wire on my “kind of” first draft for a book I’m writing for Crossway. THANK YOU to everyone who responded to my previous post asking about the challenges you face as a worship leader. Your thoughts are helping and guiding me as I write.
I had a fruitful day of writing yesterday and actually finished three chapters. I’ve been able to borrow from some of the posts I’ve written on this blog as well as some material from my first draft of the book. I very much feel the effect of people’s prayers. I’m really enjoying the process of writing, which is completely God’s grace.
The book will contain four sections: What Matters, Your Call, Healthy Tensions, and Right Relationships. In the second section, I take a chapter to unpack each phase of this definition of a worship leader:
A faithful worship leader
magnifies the greatness of God
in Jesus Christ
through the power of the Holy Spirit,
skillfully combining God’s Word
thereby motivating the gathered church
to proclaim the Gospel,
cherish God’s presence,
and live for God’s glory.
Here’s something I’ve included in the chapter on “motivating the gathered church.” When we lead corporate worship we aren’t limited to simply singing songs. We can direct people to God’s truth in a number of ways. In this section I talk about using brief comments or exhortations to help them focus…
Have you ever noticed how easily your mind can drift when you sing? I can be belting out biblical, powerful, brilliantly crafted lyrics while thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch, the movie I went to this past week, or absolutely nothing at all. On the outside I look like I’m fully committed to worshipping God. On the inside I’m doing everything but.
The same can be true for the people we’re leading. So how do I help them focus on the words we’re actually singing? At the very least, I have to be thinking about them myself. I’m constantly asking myself questions in my mind like, Why is this true? What difference does it make? What if it wasn’t true? What’s not being said here? What does that word mean? Why does this line follow the last one?” As I answer those questions specifically, it helps me interact more with what I’m singing, and it has a greater impact on my soul. When I’m leading, I’ll simply share some of the answer to those thoughts with the congregation through spoken or sung fills.
For instance, Darlene Zschech’s song, “Shout to the Lord” contains a break after the line, “All of my days I want to praise the wonders of your mighty love.” What makes the Lord’s love mighty? Well, a number of things. It covers all my sin, saves me from God’s just wrath, overcomes my enemies, redeems my trials and failures, and makes me more like Jesus. I may want to draw attention to a specific way the Lord’s love is mighty. So after that phrase I might sing or say any one of the following, “Thank you for saving us. You have rescued me. Your power’s at work in us. You’ve overcome my sin.” I could also highlight the word “love,” by saying or singing phrases like, “You gave your life for us. Lord, you loved me first. Your love will never change.” Of course, I could just repeat “your mighty love” to emphasize it. But I’ve found that adding to, amplifying, or extending the meaning of a line often helps people focus on it more concretely, and motivates them to worship God more thoughtfully.
Hymns are more challenging to add thoughts to because they’re usually fairly wordy and don’t have long breaks between lines. But even then I want to communicate an active interaction with the words we’re singing. For instance, one of my favorite lines in the hymn, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” is this: “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do.” What an invitation! We gather not only to remember what God has done, but to anticipate what he will do. So after “ponder anew” I might call out a jubilant, “Yes!” to accent what we’re being asked to do. I might also say, “We trust you.” Or, “You’re so good.”
Interjecting phrases like I’ve been describing takes thought and practice. It can easily be overdone, done poorly, or done in a way that draws attention to the leader. It requires finding open spaces in the song so you’re not competing with the congregation. If they’re singing while you’re talking/singing, they probably won’t be able to hear you and the effect will be minimal or counter-productive. But done well and with genuine emotion, brief exhortations can be an effective way to motivate people’s devotion to the Savior.
[I’d love to hear any feedback on what’s I’ve written here. The book is a long way from being done…]
For more on this topic, download the following free messages from the Sovereign Grace site:
Effective Exhortations by Grant Layman
Building a Worshiping Community by Bob Kauflin
Thanks for stretching yourself to write the book. I know that this time has been difficult for you, but your efforts are GREATLY appreciated. I get so blessed by your godly wisdom. I especially find encouragement in the practical ways you spur my thinking as a worship leader to engage people with God. Today’s post is a prime example.
Thanks and God bless and don’t forget Churchill’s advice: Never, Never give up! Paul
Thanks for such a helpful post. I’ve been to churches that simply say, “Now we’ll worship the Lord in song”, and sing four or five songs in a row; after they’re done, the sermon commences. There seems to be a huge difference when someone simply stands up before the song and says, “There’s a line in this song that says ________. Think about what that means, and what it tells us about our great God!” It also helps to transition between songs by pointing out the common thread in them, and what the new song will add to our reflection (if the songs have been so selelcted as to reflect a common theme).
Looking forward to your book; it will, I believe, serve the church well.
Thanks for another thought-initiating and good-work-provoking post. My tendency has been to speak before or after a song, or sometimes stop the music between stanzas to say something. I guess I’m concerned that I’ll break up the flow of the song or distract with anything in the middle…
Any suggestions? If you’re too busy, I’ll be glad to just wait for the book to come out!! Thanks,
Hey Bob – this is great advice!
Thanks for serving in this way! Thank you for writing this chapter, my pastor leads worship at my church and he frequently exhorts us in this way, and as he has done this my understanding of what I am singing has brought a greater joy and affection with God. Thanks again
This is such good, useful stuff, Mr. Kauflin! I can’t wait to read this book.
I’m looking forward to the book, too.
I would make a distinction between introducing the song or saying something between songs, and saying something during the song itself. It is a personal peeve of mine when the worship leader says things during the song; it thoroughly annoys me. I think that’s a personality-driven peeve, though, not a Scripturally-based one.
And drifting minds are not only a product of our recent era. I have on my desk a book entitled “A Remedy For Wandering Thoughts in Worship” by Richard Steele.
It was first published in 1673.
Bob: We’re praying your book will be in print in (. . . carry the “4” . . .) 334 years.
You made me smile. Thanks for your encouragement.
I’ll try to remember your preference if I’m ever leading worship with you in the congregation.
I wouldn’t worry about “breaking up the flow.” I guess if you say something with bad timing or with a nasally voice it could have that effect.
Thanks for your comments. I feel God’s grace.
Hey Bob – This is an issue I really struggle with. I hate drawing attention to myself (it makes me uncomfortable), but yet I feel like there is pressure to interject to assist and maintain the flow of worship. However, the times when I’ve really “pondered” the words of the song or found a scriptural correlation are the times that these interjections flow smoothly!
Thanks for your dedication. Looking forward to the book! (And I am absolutely LOVING the mp3 seminars from Sovereign Grace! wow!!!)
Thank you so much for writing this book. Our worship leader just told the team that we all will be receiving it. I can’t wait to read it! I just wanted to thank you also for your example of humility. Week after week you are requesting feedback, thoughts, advice, and most of all prayer! It’s just been great to witness. Thank you also for this post. It is great to know why it is helpful to the congregation to do the things we do. Very helpful.
On another note, our worship leader has encouraged us to be more interactive with each other, look at the crowd; and just this past Sunday one of the band members encouraged us with Vicki Cook’s example. He said she will look out at the crowd and basically sing the words to them. Would you mind posting about the physical expression of worship? I know you have touched on it before but I would love to hear more details. I understand also that CLC’s worship team memorizes all of the words to each song. You don’t use music stands. We are headed that way.
Can’t wait for the book!
Thanks for your kind words. Actually, we just started using video monitors for the words. No one is memorizing anything…I did a series on physical expression a while back. It’s one of the categories. I did five posts on it. Hope that helps!
My only comment would be one of thanks.
There have been any number of times in different worship contexts where you have lead, from small seminars to conferences of multiple thousand attendees, where I have been personally brought from wandering thoughts to being tearfully affected by the truth of a song by you doing the very thing that you wrote about in this post. I am amazed at the fruit which a Spirit empowered, lyrical meditation can produce as a leader personally interacts with the truth of a song. Thank you for helping me to love Jesus more.
The questions you gave as examples of how you interact with a song during worship were particularly helpful. They will help me to more consistently engage with God while singing, whether leading or participating in the midst of a congregation.
I recently heard some folks discussing the subject of choreographed “worship dance” as a means of motivating the church to worship God. What are your thoughts on how God’s word might help us understand the best way to use choreographed “worship dance” as a means of helping people worship God?
This is from Recalling the Hope of Glory, by Allen Ross. It’s an outstanding biblical theology of worship. He’s commenting on dance in the Old Testament, from Ex. 15.
“How did dancing in praise of God differ from secular celebration? In order for dancing to be in praise of the LORD, it had to be inspired by some great or gracious act of God (and so natural and spontaneous), it had to communicate that God was being praised (and not be a performance), and it had to be consonant with purity and righteousness (not distracting or suggestive, and not mixing the sexes). This means that worshipers seeing the dance would be caught up in the praise of the LORD, not in the dance or with the dancer. It has always been very difficult to have sacred dance that meets these criteria. Sometimes when it is spontaneous, it is more effective than in a prepared “performance.” But when such dancing is genuine in its praise of God, it can be beautiful and moving.” (p. 163)
Since it receives so little attention in Scripture, and none in the New Testament (that I’m aware of), I’d say that unless you had someone who obviously directed people’s attention to God when they danced, I wouldn’t feel any compulsion to use it. And if there was someone who was gifted in that way, I’d tend to use them for a special meeting, not necessarily Sunday morning. Having said that, I’ve seen it done at conferences a couple times and was very moved.
First I want to say I have benefited from your worship leading before. (ie. visits to Covenant Life, Celebration, Leaders Conf. etc…)Thank you! I am concerned however that the insertion of words such as “YES!”, even with genuine emotion, comes across to me as manipulation. I know we are talking about being better worship leaders, but shouldn’t that kind of response flow out of hearts that can’t contain our emotions not through calculated methods? I wonder if in modern worship contexts there is too much emphasis put on techniques to motivate devotion and not enough put on the Spirit’s power and presence “falling” on the people. Just some food for thought. I do look forward to reading this book. Thanks again for allowing God to use you in the many contexts I’ve had the privilege to worship with you!
Great clarifying comment. I’ll make it clearer in the book. I’m not suggesting that we calculate what will make people respond. When I shout out “yes!” it IS a response flowing out of my heart that can’t contain the emotion. I’m writing more out of what I’ve observed in my own leading, as well as others. I think most of the time, people can tell whether a brief comment is manipulation or genuine engagement with the lyrics. But, I totally agree with your perspective. Thanks for commenting.
Is it wrong for there to be a starting point in this process? My background is rooted in a fear of the pentecostal movement, and that any type of unplanned expression of praise is dangerous to the dignity of the church. I’ve had to intentionally shed this mentality as I’ve looked more deeply at what Scripture teaches. When you are taught to suppress emotion in church it is awkward to shout out “yes” or anything at all. In churches I grew up attending if anyone shouted anything you ran the risk of giving someone a heart attack.
I had to be very intentional about expressive leading and worshiping at first. This was out of a desire to be more biblical as a worshiper and a worship leader. Being “calculated” initially has helped me to be more welcoming and resposive to the Spirit’s power and presence (no more suppressing).
I also absolutely agree with Aaron that we don’t focus enough on the Spirit’s power and presence falling on the people, but I had to work through (and still do…) a good bit of pseudo-religious baggage before the Spirit became one of the good guys. For me this required observing men who motivate the congregation well, and then putting it into practice in my life and church.
Hello Bob, I am writing from Australia, with very limited opportunity to observe and hence learn from ‘reformed charismatics’ especially as they worship God in song. (In fact the term ‘reformed charismatic’ is new for me and my husband but we are warming to it!)
I refer back to the last comment (Aaron Campbell’s final sentence) in making this request – could you direct me to any video footage of you or likeminded worship leaders putting into practice what this post discusses? I realise the whole point is to fix our attention on Christ and not fellow men, but I (and others?) would find it useful to be able to observe how fellow ‘men’ direct others’ minds to Him.
Thanks for asking. You can find some example of what I’m describing on our CD Worship God Live, which I think is being sold in Australia on the Matthias Media site as Sovereign Grace Music Live. I don’t have any video available. Hope that helps.
I was surfing in the internet looking for the song Our God Saves by Paul Baloche when I got strucked with the topics written at the right side of the web. I read through it and found it so helpful for me. Thanks! may God bless you more and more.
I think another reason we might drift is because there is a paradox our worship leaders deal with every week, secondary to inspiring listeners to join in worship, but still very interesting. They must choose the right songs to create an atmosphere and mood of humble worship – but which songs should they choose? Ones that will be familiar and close to worshipers heart’s or ones that will challenge them with new and joyful lyrics? If they choose ones that are familiar, the songs might bring beautiful music, but not a great deal of worship – and with new songs, they might challenge the listener but fail to reach the heart because worshipers are struggling over words…I am at times thankful my role in the church is not leading in singing praises to God.
Great post. I haven’t really thought about that before, in the context of trying to understand what the lyrics of the songs we sing are saying during worship. I think about it later sometimes or talk about at classes (I’m a student at Manhattan Christian College), but I constantly catch myself off guard thinking about other things during worship. Even when I am helping lead worship at times I catch myself thinking about what I’m doing later in the day. If we can truly think about what we are saying while worshiping, it can take our worship time with God to another level, rather than it being just another normal worship service.
As Ben Cook said…great post. I also am from MCC and we have been talking in class about how we can improve our chapel services. I believe what you said earlier in the post about transistions between songs really applies in the way our teams need to work on transition. Alot of times there is just dead silence between the songs which makes it an awkward time for the congregation. If we worked on transitions better, we could get people excited for the next song just my giving them a taste of what it was going to be and some motivational words.
As I lead worship music, I regularly encourage people to think about what we are singing. If another vocalist is available, sometimes I stop singing in order to talk about what is being sung at the moment. It is too easy to drift away. But the leader’s job is to bring focus, unity, and passion.
How many of us can relate to this article, whether having been a part of leading worship or not? “Shout to the Lord, all the…what am I having for lunch…power and majesty praise to the…I have so much homework to do after this…at the sound of your name.”
Having been on a worship team/band before, I know the power the leader has in bringing the congregation to the throne; if he/she is not humbly and genuinely praising and worshiping, the people will know. They will know and they will respond appropriately. :(
I can really relate, although personally its more of a figuring out the music kind of thing. Lyrically though, for me, I’m not comfortable with injecting phrases in between lyrics much, probably because I’ve seen/heard it done too many times in a way that is awkward/poor/distracting. However, affirming what is being sung is definitely important. Thanks for the challenge!
Bob, thanks for your definition of a worship leader, which is one of the most God-honoring descriptions that I have ever read. I love the Trinitarian emphasis! My only hesitation is your assumption regarding music. Yes, music can and often does play a strong facilitating role in worship. (I would be out of a job if it didn’t!) But music is only a tool (sometimes a divisive one, at that)and should probably be excluded from the core definition of worship leadership. We must strive to worship as Jesus directed us, “in Spirit and in truth,” and keep the role of music in its proper place.
Thanks for all you are doing to encourage and edify worship leaders and, in turn, the Body of Christ. The Lord be with you.
Wonderful thoughts. I am a worship leader in Central America, and it has been tough leading the congregation who talks and stands stone rock during worship. Implementing new strategies like this you suggested will be list this Sunday. Thank you
Our team is currently going through your book, it’s great by the way! Thank you for writing such a great work. We’re on chapter 9, we’ve been going through it a week at a time and the team and I have enjoyed it and benefited immensely from it.
I resonate with what you were saying in the above post, sometimes I find myself looking out at the congregation and wonder what they’re thinking or as you said, “what’s for lunch?” it’s defintely a challege to stay focused and to truly think about the words that we’re singing. We’re still growing as a worship team and working through transistions between songs, things have been improving..still a long way to go!
I was also curious to know if you guys ever take song submisions from folks? I have a couple songs that I could hear the Altrogge’s doing..hopefully that’s not too presuptuous?
I absolutely love just about everything you said in this post. I’m new to this site, so I haven’t read much anything else, but now I want to buy your book, for sure :)
As a sort of worship leader in training (at 20 years old), I’m constantly thinking about, obsessing about, even, how to improve my worship leading. This short article so clearly speaks to many issues I’m having. Some of these problems include: perhaps focusing too much on leading the congregation (and not enough on my own worship), the musical excellence involved, and what or how often to worship spontaneously or exhort. Staying focused during worship and song selection processes are some other issues I think about/struggle with.
The plainness of what you find to be bad leading is good to read, because it’s often hard to tell if what I do when I lead worship is good, or somehow overdone, distracting, or bringing attention to myself. Which is a hard thing to “not know,” because I find not many would want to tell me what they don’t like, for fear of discouraging me as a young leader or something.
Perhaps your book will clearly address all these topics. :)
I’m quite excited right now that I found this site, and would appreciate any feedback you can give.
Thanks for stopping by! In my book I attempt to address many of the questions you ask in your comment. After reading it, if you still have questions, please feel free to email me.
Thanks this has helped me a lot.
But I have a problem..
I lead worship for the teenagers in my group, and many of these teenagers do not have any faith in God… They just come to church to hang out with their friends. How can I make them meet God through worship?
JPark, I did a post on this topic a while back called “How Do We Move Away from Worshiptainment?” You may find something helpful there.
I am enjoying all of the posts and insight very much and I look forward to reading your book.
I am a “vocalist only” member of our worship team and while I would not be considered the worship leader, I do at times lead certain songs by virtue of the fact that I am singing the melody and this topic has been relentlessly twisting my heart and searching for guidance is how I came across your original post.
I feel like the worship team has an extremely vital role in preparing the congregation’s hearts for the the message/sermon that follows and I am really struggling with my part in this. I sincerely believe that as worship leaders we have an amazing opportunity to awaken the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the congregation or we can leave them feeling spiritually flat leading into the word and I feel as though there may be eternal ramifications if we get it wrong. Since every day is a blessing and our time here is not guarateed, one day to someone in the pew could be the difference between heaven and hell. The spirit filled person hears the message and comes up during invitation and accepts Christ for the first time vs. the spiritually flat person hears the message and goes home without Christ.
I feel a great deal of responsibility and this calling for me is about so much more than just standing up there singing.
I know you can never make everyone in a church with 2500 members happy, some like A Cappella quartet style classic hymns, while others are more lifted up by the Chris Tomlins of the world, but I feel in my heart that there is a way to uplift and spiritually charge the congregation each Sunday regardless of the songs that will be performed on that day and I just want to continue making a conscious effort to move in a positive direction in my search to become an effective and Spirit enducing member of our Lord’s worship team.
God bless you all and thank you.
As humans we may not be able to see what worship really looks like..yes we see outward expressions, but God sees worship from the heart of the true worshiper! Getting to the point of true worship is a journey of understanding that may take a lifetime, but when we get there..it is worth the trip!!! God Bless!
Thank you for sharing!
God bless u Bob
for some time i’ve always been strugglin wit wat to say or wat scripture to quote when leadin worship but wit what i’ve read on this page i think i wil work on it.
Areh, thanks for the encouraging words. A while back I did three posts on what to say when you lead singing. They’re here:
Thank you so much for this insightful, Biblical place to come and research what the Bible says about worship and music. I am finding that reading your site and studying the Scripture, my convictions, which have been long held, are changing. Thank you for being an “Instrument in the Redeemers Hand” for me. I am praising God for you today!
This is what I needed to hear. Thank you for this post. I knew this but because of “time” restraints and all the other stuff we have to put in our services I have felt like just a song leader and not really helping to manifest something by sharing and really leading. Thank you.
hello bob your songs are such a blessing to us.God bless you.
Strategic encouragements. God bless you