Yesterday I described eight worship leader stereotypes who aren’t quite sure what to say when they’re standing in front of a group of people. Today I wanted to give four reasons why we should say anything.
When we’re leading corporate worship, our first responsibility is to magnify the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We’re saying with David, “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (Ps. 34:3)
When I use the word “magnify” I’m not referring to the way a microscope magnifies something very small, but to the way a telescope magnifies something very big that only looks small to us.
Music may move people’s emotions, but it won’t necessarily direct people to focus on the greatness of God in Christ. Our words can help them. People often come in to meetings distracted, thinking about everything but God, and viewing God as smaller than their problems. In addition, our minds are “prone to wander.” As we passionately proclaim his Word, his works, and his worthiness, God becomes bigger in our eyes.
The second reason to say something is that we want to help people see why the truths we’re singing should make a difference in their lives. That’s a part of the “teaching and admonishing” Paul speaks of in Col. 3:16. We want to connect the truths of God’s Word and the gospel to people’s situations. What lies are they believing about God? What temptations do they face? What common experiences do they share? It can be as simple as taking one line from the song you just sang and explaining why it should make a significant difference in your life and outlook.
Specific application is usually better than broad. It’s true that “Jesus paid it all.” But it’s usually more helpful to say something like,
“Some of us came in here this morning weighed down by our sins. It might be something we did yesterday, or ten years ago. But our condemnation is making us feel distant from God and unaware of his love. Listen again: “Jesus paid it all.” That means if you’ve trusted in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your sins, we can say with David in Psalm 103 ‘as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.’ Your sins are no longer yours to bear! Jesus paid it all!”
Whenever we’re seeking to apply what we’re singing, we want to seek to make our comments pastoral and persuasive. In others words, we’re not just stating truth. We’re seeking to care for people’s souls. And we’re not simply speaking in a disinterested way. We want to persuade those we’re leading that what the truths we’re singing, when accompanied by faith, are powerful tools in God’s hands to renew our minds and hearts.
In 1 Cor. 14:7-8 Paul says we’re to make sure that people understand what’s going on in a meeting. That brings to the third reason to say something – clarity. Any liturgy done without understanding can turn into a lifeless ritual for those present. And contrary to popular belief, explaining things doesn’t have to quench the Spirit. It can even be biblical. Take time to explain what people might not know or bring theological weight to words and actions that people might miss. Here are some questions you can answer:
Why did we sing the last song? Why are we singing the next song? Why are we doing something besides singing? Why are we doing something other than what we normally do? What just happened?
You can explain uncommon lyrics or phrases (here I raise mine Ebeneezer), as well as common ones (grace, mercy, glory). We can also clarify issues like:
Why don’t we do this by ourselves at home? Why do we sing? What should we be doing with our bodies? What are we learning about as a church?
A fourth reason we might say something between songs is to inspire those we’re leading (although it doesn’t always have that effect).
Seek to inspire faith in God, because without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6)
Seek to inspire hope in God, because we are called to abound in hope (Rom. 15:13)
Seek to inspire love for God, because loving God is the greatest commandment (Mt. 22:36-38)
Feel free to follow up with questions or comments on what I’ve written here. In my next post, I’ll share a number of thoughts and practices that have helped me and others over the years.
You can read Part One of this series here.
Thank you for these posts. I see much correlation regarding a worship leader and a shepherd/ pastor. Musicality is not the only skill necessary to lead a congregation, but more so, a shepherd’s heart. Looking forward to the examples from your personal ministry. Grateful for you brother.
Thank you so much for your teaching on worship. I’ve just started reading your book and it has been very enlightening and very practically helpful for me to see what worship through music is all about, and what it’s place is in church meetings, and what the worship leaders role and responsibility is. I’ve been leading worship for a few years, and now I only have maybe 5 months left (I’m a senior in HS leading worship for my youth group), and I only wish I’d read your book sooner. I’m afraid I wasted a lot of opportunities, and just ended up playing random songs with no connection and no spiritual preparation, thus hugely limiting the impact I might have had and maybe even perpetuating misconceptions about what worship is (though I pray not).
I have a question: have you taught/written something on the role of a lay worship leader, if there are any differences (which I would assume there are)? Or are there any resources you could suggest? Or can you maybe blog about it? I’ve struggled with understanding my place, first of all as being only a student and maybe not mature enough to really speak from stage, and also being a lay person whose words do not have the official endorsement of the church (though that’s how it will be interpreted coming from the stage). Do you have any input or any suggestions on how that should/could work? Or do you think it’s even healthy to have student worship leaders at all?
Thanks for reading my blog and book. More importantly thanks for wanting to serve your youth group in way that honors the Savior. I certainly think there’s a place for students leading in corporate worship, but I wouldn’t want to lower the standards significantly for character or leadership. If you don’t have the trust of those who are in charge of the meeting, then it’s better to run everything you’re planning on saying by them in advance. But it’s a great opportunity to grow in your leadership skills and love for people.
There is irony in the title of the article, which is framed as a question. Sometimes the answer to the question is, “Nothing” – specially while the congregation is worshipping in song. No personal offense meant, but worship leaders should lead more than they speak, especially over top of the congregational singing.
Thanks for the articles.
It is funny, because I was reading another article where someone mentioned not to ‘clarify’ much during worship and you are explaining why you should do! :)
I always thought that saying something before a song, it would break the songs. So you sing one song, say something, sing another song etc.
Anyway, much appreciated, this blog.
Though I can understand what Steve is saying, I love what you are writing. I think it is important that worship leaders speak intentionally rather than “shooting from the hip”. I know that personally it takes prayer, planning, and even practice at times to see to it that I 1) never insult my congregation and 2) never guilt my congregation. I desire to lead them to worship and not push them…
Thanks, Bob, for the article! I look forward to the follow ups.
Great stuff here. The last post made me think that some of the speaking style errors that many make stem from a self-oriented heart. Your first point in this article is key, I think. No matter what else you do, glorifying God must be at the heart of it, like John the Baptist said: “I must decrease and he must increase.”
This may fall under “clarification”, but I know of some pieces that seem to move people, but lack otherwise necessary theological qualifiers in the text to make it specifically Christian. I wouldn’t say that churches shouldn’t sing such songs, but I wouldn’t lead a congregation to sing any of them without filling in the blanks by verbally contextualizing them. Few if any hymns, worship or ministerial songs contain fully-orbed theology, especially such that many church members can effectively grasp the intended meaning of.
The neat thing that should encourage any worship leader who has God’s glory as their goal is that they don’t take the stage alone, but they have the Holy Spirit to give them what they need to say and his power working through even such weak vessels as we are is yet beyond imagination.
Daniel-I too wondered about that. I’ve only in the last year started leading worship on Sundays. After getting my feet wet during midweek.
I tend to do what God leads, and sometimes that is a scripture/insight between each song. (we only really do 3 set worship songs) But more often than not, I find I only have, say, an opening scripture, encouraging worship, and perhaps one between 2 and 3. or just between 1 and 2 and let 3 follow right behind the 2nd song. I think that’s what I usually do, and always music either endings from one song or the intro from the next song is being played for however long it takes me to finish.
Or i get nervous and don’t say anything at all.
If it’s God lead/inspired and fitting to one or the other of the songs/theme of worship, I don’t think it ‘breaks up ‘ the songs.
But as always…it is indeed hard to know just how much or how little is necessary.
I translated this in to German for our worship teams here in Berlin.
Thanks so much for these articles, and also for Worship Matters. I read it through from cover to cover in 3 days and then started more slowly from the beginning again. I appreciate your heart to equip leaders. God bless you in your ministry.
Thanks for your encouraging words, Jim.
Thanks very much for your helpful words Bob.
In my (UK) church context, the norm is generally to have a “service leader” leading the service overall, whilst I lead the songs musically and vocally. Our current practice isn’t to have me saying anything really (except occasional Scripture readings). I guess that makes me the Mute in your stereotypes!
What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of the service leader (one of the church leaders) or me (lay, in that sense) doing the speaking?
Jonny, thanks for stopping by. I don’t think the lead musician has to do the talking. Many times it’s preferable to have someone more gifted do it. But I think in many cases musicians and pastors have both just assumed that musicians have nothing to say, or when they do, it’s muddled. I want to encourage worship leader/musicians to do all they can to be able to communicate the glory of Christ not only through their music, but through their words, and most importantly, through their lives.
I’ve been leading praise and worship at my church in boarding school for some time now, but I’m tired of the monotony so I’m trying to be a bit more hands-on and serious about my church duties and want to make some great changes that not only involve doing God’s work but make my mates want to come to church as well.
I was wondering if I could get some help on how to run things since you’re much more experienced in this area.
Thanks for the great work here – I feel like I’ve jumped on board rather late, but I really appreciate the way you think through all things related to the music side of church worship. I’m in an African context – music is typically much more reliant on voices over instruments (certainly compared to UK churches I have previously attended) – and figuring out what it means to be faithful in that.
I would want to add one to your four. I don’t think it is entirely separate, but I did think it could be valuable to the discussion.
It is this: focus.
It is very easy, especially when the context emphasises vocal music, to get used to singing a song to the point where you do it without thinking. If I can do it often myself, then I’m pretty sure my congregation can also do it – especially if it’s been a stressful week, etc. Add in songs that are in different languages that you’d remembered by rote before you fully understood the language – or even songs that everyone knows but that are from a relatively small tribal language, so we may not know the meaning (we minimise this, because it is typically not helpful). Hence, I think we sometimes need to focus people on not just singing but singing great truths with meaning (worshiping in truth). In my experience, a good thing to do is to read a scripture relating to the song (eg this Sunday, I’ll be preluding Fairest Lord Jesus with a section from Colossians 1) over the top of a musical intro – I don’t need to be the ‘teacher’ or the ‘philosopher’, but I do want the people God has put into my hands for 25 minutes to have their hearts focused, knowing what they are singing about. I’ve heard Keith/Kristyn Getty, do this to great effect and I think it helps keep things non-disjointed (to coin a term) when you use a scripture rather than your own ramblings.
If I’m going to speak, I try to have either written down, or at worst at least thought seriously through, what I’m going to say, or even pray. If God takes it in another direction, great, and if not, at least I won’t be the ‘rambler’.
Hi I enjoyed reading your posts; both part 1 and 2. I’m one of those worship leaders who doesn’t say much. I figure if you can’t say anything inspiring or hopeful or uplifting without being eloquent, bold and confident, might as well say nothing because you risk making people feel awkward and squirm in their pews. I console myself that, “hey, Bob Dylan doesn’t say much at concerts…” :) Seriously though, one does risk awkwardness and that can distract from that focus you were talking about. I certainly have been on the receiving end of that awkwardness and I have see all of those 8 kinds of worshippers. (funny by the way how you nailed them)
Thank u so much.. i really appreciate and it helps me be a good leader this time.hope u could post whats is congregational song why do we sing congregational song during worship service ? Thank u very much :)
Christy, you might check out this post.
I love you man for sharing you precious teachings on the subject of worship. When are the worship leader, it means you are the second person after pastor who is leading the congregation to God. It is significant to always encourage people before going into Praise and Worship as it helps people to forget the worries- anxieties and then lead them to relaxation.
One great purpose of worship leading is to magnify the greatness and Glory of our God. As believers lead worship, people in congregation should realize how BIG our God is.
Worship leading is also one way of preparing the hearts of the people in receiving and understanding God’s Word.
Thank you for these posts. I see many corrections regarding being a WORSHIP LEADER and a servant of GOD. I have learned a lot from your personal ministry. Thank you and God bless you, Brother…