Every worship leader at some point has had to figure out what to do with the microphone before or after the song. Some incredibly important questions to answer to make our worship words more meaningful are: WHO are we speaking to? WHY are we speaking or singing? WHAT are we supposed to say? WHERE and WHEN is it appropriate? HOW do we do it effectively?
I’ve written some practical things to pay attention to here but I want to get more in depth in this post.
If we aspire to be more than song leaders and learn to be teachers and pastors, we have to find a way to integrate right belief (orthodoxy) into right practice (orthopraxy). Here are some things to consider when speaking in worship.
WHO (3,2*,1 or Three, We, Me): taking into account who is speaking and the audience we’re speaking to.
- The Trinity (Father/Son/Spirit)- First and foremost we are participating in the worship community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our worship is to God the Father, through Christ the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. God invites us into his presence, makes it possible through the sacrifice of Jesus and his mediation, and even draws us to him and makes us one with him through the Spirit of God. This is our vertical audience.
- The Church* / Community (Family/Guests)- The Saints, Sons and Daughters of God are the next audience we are speaking to. This means we should primarily use plural nouns such as we and us as a reminder that this is not an individual endeavor and that we are part of a larger family. Additionally it is clear that both in the early church and even today there are guests in our worship services that we need to consider the words we use. Our language should be clear and hospitable. This is the horizontal audience.
- Me (Worship Leader)- While we should be aware that the emphasis in what we say should be directed towards the Trinity, Church and Community we can’t simply take ourselves out of the equation. The best advice I can give about this is that our deepest desire should be to serve our congregation and not to bring attention to ourselves. Worship leaders should be aware of the sinful tendencies to seek our own exaltation instead of facilitating community with God and each other.
* Church Leadership- I’ve added the asterisk to the church audience because the decisions of each churches leadership should be one of the major factors in how much or little a worship leader is given authority to speak. This all depends on the predisposition towards how they view the role of worship leader. Additional considerations should be the education, maturity and gifting of the person leading. Then as the worship leader, it’s our job to respect them and submit to the role we have been asked to play.
WHY: being aware of the purpose of our words.
If your church leadership sees the role of worship leader as going beyond the function of song leader then there are some additional things to consider as we think about why speak during the worship service. The overarching reason why we speak is found in that worship is ultimately a conversation between the Creator and his creatures. He reveals himself, his nature and actions and we respond with our words and deeds. A continuous revelation and response, the divine conversation. Here are some practical reasons why we speak:
- Pastoral- People come in each Sunday to the services we lead having a huge array of experiences during the week. Some of these experiences are positive as well as negative. There are people rejoicing over a new birth while others may be mourning a death of a loved one. Some are happily married while others may be heartbroken and going through a divorce. No single song can speak to these realities and neither can every sermon, but a worship leader who is living in the community he is ministering to will be aware of them and can speak to them in a way that ministers to the larger body. A worship leader with a pastor’s heart can introduce a song that speaks to the hope we have in Christ that will encourage the hearts of the happy, soothe the souls of the suffering, awaken the apathetic and rebuke the rebellious.
- Illumination- Sometimes there are phrases or words that we sing that we don’t fully comprehend or have used so many times that they don’t inspire out hearts the way they used to. Additionally there are people who have either grown up in church, been away for a while or have no church background whatsoever that don’t understand what is being said and need help so they can sing with both mind and heart.
- Direction/Invitation- The title worship “leader” is exactly as it implies which means there will be times that we are called to help our congregation respond by giving them directions and inviting them to participate in the elements of the service. This means inviting people to stand, sit, bow, pray, sing, meditate silently, read a scripture together, etc. This is of real importance when you are asking people to move from their seats to do something like going to a station to take communion or coming forward for prayer.
- Teaching- This is where a lot of worship leaders get into trouble and begin preaching. However, just because of the danger of saying too much doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn to grow and exercise control and discipline in our speech. As artists we often see the world differently and our contributions bring another voice to the service that might connect with people in our congregation. For example a simple phrase said before singing a song of adoration that declares “as we praise God as King and Holy, we are simultaneously engaging in spiritual warfare and proclaiming that Satan is conquered and nothing in this world is worthy of worship. Let’s stand and raise our battle cry…” Two sentences that teach why we do what we do.
WHAT: do we say and the desired outcome of our words on our audience.
Everything we say and do should be filtered through the question of whether it’s biblically appropriate. Does what we’re saying line up with what we know to be true, good, pure and helpful in the bible? For example, should we quote Matthew 18:20 saying “wherever two or more are gathered” and implying that God is more present during our services when the scripture is really in the context of church discipline?
- Gospel Centered Words- In Bryan Chapell’s book Christ Centered Worship he outlines the ways that responses in worship that the church has historically incorporated. Essentially everything changes over time except our God and the appropriate ways to react to who He is and what He’s done. Our words can be used to help people identify they biblical response they are engaging in.
These Responses are:
- Adoration-Recognizing God’s character (greatness and goodness)“We praise you God, the maker of heaven and earth because you alone are worthy. Our God is greater, stronger, and higher than any other.”
- Confession- Acknowledgement of our character (sinfulness and repenting) “Father, we have run after idols and tried to find fulfillment in jobs, relationships, and the stuff of this world and confess that we need to be forgiven.”
- Assurance- Affirmation of grace (God’s mercy)“How great the love the Father has lavished on us that we might be called sons and daughters of God. We can stand unashamed because you see us as righteous through the sacrifice of Jesus so we sing …”
- Thanksgiving- Expression of Devotion“Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Remind us God of how good you have been to us throughout our lives.”
- Receiving Instruction- Acquiring knowledge for pleasing God (how to express more love for God, His creation and His creatures) “God your word is life to our very souls and we pray that we would be receptive as you speak by the power of your Spirit. Make the soil of our hearts soft so your word can be planted and grow.”
- Communion- Communing with God and His people (God’s holiness, provision for our sin, Jesus’s coming again) “Jesus, thank you that you have broken down the divisions of this world that keep us from experiencing true community. We are humbled by the way you draw us together and reconcile both our relationships with each other and our Father in heaven. Remind us of what you have done through the power of the cross as we take the bread and cup.”
- Petition/Intercession- Desire for aid in living for God (for ourselves and others)“We lift our voices today to ask for you to comfort those who are mourning, encourage those who doubt and empower those who are struggling. We know your church around the world is experiencing persecution and pray for your protection and boldness as they continue to hold out your light in the darkness.”
- Charge/Blessing- Living for God with His blessing (our responsibility to live out what we have heard and believe)“As we leave the walls of this place we boldly declare that we are the Church and our service of worship is just beginning. God has spoken and we will respond in obedience and action. Go in the peace of Christ and walk in the power of the Spirit that lives within every believer and enables us to live victoriously.”
WHERE & WHEN: we speak during the service specifically.
There is no hard and fast rule to where and when to speak in the service so I will suggest two general rules. The first is look for balance. If you speak too little you may fall into the role of song leader. This is okay if that is what your leadership has called for but if they are comfortable with the roles of teacher, pastor or worship minister then you may be selling yourself and your congregation short. Too much and you run the risk of pointing too much attention to yourself of preaching extended sermons. This also contributes to killing the mood or breaking the flow of the service. The second rule is when in doubt, shut your mouth. This one is one that you’ll have to discern for yourself but most often when I was unsure about whether or not to speak and decided to, what came out was usually unhelpful.
Practically speaking there is really 3 ways to think about speaking: before songs, during songs, after songs. This really depends on the placement of the song in relationship to the other elements and the response to God we’re helping facilitate. This might mean an intro to a song, a time to meditate on a lyric in the middle of a song, or a scripture reading.
The truth is after we’ve really considered the who, why, what, where and when it’s helpful to turn our eyes to the how and look at helpful resources. I’ll get to that in the next post.