Monday, March 2, 2009

Gag The Worship Leader!

One of the HUGE things I've learned over the past several years of worship leading is, the less I say while up on stage leading worship, the better. I used to feel like it was my responsibility, as a worship leader, to really help move things along by attempting to read a scripture, share a thought, or lead in a prayer before every/most song(s)...I'm a bit older and wiser now.

And, it's not like I'm a shallow thinker or a poor public speaker. Most of the time, when I say something from the stage, I think it's something that is really important, and, I am a pretty good communicator...but maybe not so much when I'm improvising. I discovered that, most of the time, even though I was attempting to add something to the worship, I was actually detracting from it. A .300 batting average is good for Major League Baseball, but not so much for communicating while leading worship.

One of the methods that helped me wise up was to video record some of our worship gatherings and watch/listen any time I would say anything from the stage. It's amazing how, when I was speaking on the fly, what seemed like 30 seconds actually amounted to 2 minutes, or what seemed like a short encouraging statement actually turned out to come across as something of a sermonet.

I've also learned how to plan and prepare more. The Worship Director at Willow Creek explains how he trains/equips his worship leaders to "speak" as they lead worship (thanks to Fred for this):

1 - don't speak at all.
then, once you mastered that...
2 - write down what you will say, let me approve it, and read it.
then, once you mastered that...
3 - write down what you will say, let me approve it, then memorize and share it.
then, once you mastered that...
4 - write down what you will say, and memorize and share it.

I wish somebody had shared something like that with me a long time ago... Why do we prepare so much for the music (our band spends about 3-4 hours every week just practicing together), but leave our speaking parts totally up for improv? Why do we expect our pastor to figure out (and even script out) what he's going to preach, but the WL thinks it's cool to speak on the fly?

I realize that many churches place a high value on being free and open and "spontaneous", but that doesn't mean we can't plan ahead...I've seen and heard (and have even said) a lot of really stupid, irrelevant and confusing things because people didn't plan ahead...unfortunately, I have also heard some rally bad and cheesy stuff come out of the mouths of those who did plan ahead.

I've also discovered that, when I get the chance to not be up on stage and can simply participate in worship without leading, I get really distracted and frustrated by worship leaders who are constantly interjecting their own personal worship in the middle of a set or song. If I've got something personal to say to God while I'm leading, I now almost always step away from the mic so that I don't distract others. The bottom line is, it takes a really special worship leader to say something intelligent AND relevant that clearly helps encourage and edify those he/she is leading. As Abe Lincoln put it, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

At Nags Head Church, we've developed a culture in which we give people the freedom to worship and respond to God in their own way...although we spend a lot of thought planning out our worship gatherings to focus on a Big Idea, we also don't want to box people in by telling them how to respond to God and the truth(s) that He's showing us. Usually, when I'm on stage and attempt to interject my personal thoughts and feelings about what is going on right in that moment, I get the feeling I've actually done more to squelch what other people were thinking and feeling in that same moment than to actually help them worship.

We've also developed a culture in which our people tend to love to sing, a much so, that, if we end a few minutes early, people will sometimes shout out for us to play another song. The more I talk, the less we get to sing together, and since we only get to do corporate worship/singing a few times a month in a big group like we do on Sunday mornings, I figure, let 'em sing. Most people need all of the responding-to-God time they can get. I rarely get comments about anything I say...I DO get a lot of encouraging comments about how a song really connected with people.

All that to say, I still do speak as I lead, but 95% of the time, it's something I've either planned to say, or something that I say every Sunday (like, "Welcome to Nags Head Church...we invite you to stand and worship with us."). But, most of the time, I now just prefer to get the corporate worship ball rolling and then step out of the way as much as possible.

So, what do you think? Have you, as a worship leader, found yourself putting your foot in your mouth because you thought you had something good to say? Have you, as a worshipper, ever been distracted and confused by a worship leader who won't shut up?


If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read the other posts in the Rethinking "Worship" series:

Fire The Worship Leader!

Terminate the Worship Team!

Death to the Worship Service!

Burn the Sanctuary!


CFHusband said...

BTW, and I know this will rub some people the wrong way...Paul Baloche and Tommy Walker are two of the guys that really frustrate me if I'm trying to worship with them...they're constantly interjecting stuff between songs and during songs, that, to me, just comes across as distracting (and cheesy). I enjoy their music, and I'm sure they're both great guys, but their leading style just does not work with my personality.

Again, that's just a personal preference, but I really don't see how anyone can really focus if they're trying to worship while these guys are leading.

Anonymous said...

Great advice. Just so happened that I opened mouth, inserted foot in the first service this past Sunday, and decided not to go there again in the second service. What should have been 30 second dialogue felt like about an hour when I got done.

However I do feel like i should say something instead of just sing. But as of here lately, I have tried to discipline myself into saying very little and just let the music speak.

Great post.

erik said...

Oh, this is a fantastic post. I think I've inserted both of my feet in my mouth several times. It's always a humbling experience to get talked to by your pastor for rambling and saying irrelevant stuff. Honestly, I have reeled that back in and mostly transition songs and the service with scripture and prayer. I find you can't go wrong with either especially over personal stories.

Anonymous said...

I'm a worship leader and I've realized the same about 1 month ago when I started filming the praise n worship. I saw myself and I was like dude shut up. So I let the music do the speaking. Even if I plan it sometimes it still doesn't work out.

Dave said...

I somewhat disagree with the post. I think a better idea would be to encourage worship leaders to learn how to talk WITH the congregation and and not TO the congregation instead of suggesting a gag. A planned, engaging thought usually is obvious by the response of the congregation to the Lord because of something the worship leader said. TO= long & preachy, WITH= engaging, helps focus, & teaches those who do not understand how, why to worship God. I believe too many churches have people standing around watching the lead worshipper worship because he/she fails to engage the people in the room.

CFHusband said...

I agree, Dave.