After sharing points one through four yesterday, let's pick back up with points five through eight:
5. Churches and worship leaders are all over the board as it pertains to the amount of talking the worship leader does.
We, as a church, lean more toward the less talking and more singing end of the spectrum, but I don’t want you to be constrained by that. And, I know that it is a cultural thing, so I will just give you some of our preferences, but also some of our rationale for them.
However it is done, we want you to be well prepared and mindful of the whole of worship as you think through what is said. If a song needs explaining, do so, but do it succinctly and clearly.
I think reading a verse or passage that a song references and adding a sentence or two of your own thoughts is an appropriate expression. If you are singing a song that says, “my anchor holds within the veil” and you want to read Hebrews 6:19 for context, go for it. In fact, all of our worship services are intentionally Scripture-rich, so the music time should reflect that, as well.
Just as our sermons do, stick close to Scripture. We believe the words of Scripture are generally better than ours, so concentrate there and add in the occasional explanation as needed. For the limited amount of time we have set aside for singing, though, we want to concentrate on actually singing together. Plus, there’s probably a sermon coming quickly on the heels of worship that will most likely be too long, anyway! :-)
6. Our culture is less distracted by worship as an ongoing experience, therefore flow is important.
Solid transitions and planning are paramount to creating good flow in worship services. This, too, is cultural. However, in our context, long pauses without context just seem like there is a problem (unlike an intentional period of silence, for example).
So, create a plan and work the plan. During the song set, as much as possible, go from one song to the next with some sort of musical transition.
When there is talking or an announcement time, it might be appropriate to keep some sort of music playing in the background. When I pray at the end of my message, be up front and ready to play "underneath" me.
We sometimes plan for times of purposeful reflective silence, and they are great. Spontaneous, awkward silence, however, is not so great. So, please think through the flow of the service and plan accordingly.
7. MORE words are almost always better than REPETITIVE words in the songs you choose.
I get it. Sometimes it can be meaningful to focus on a particular truth in a song for a bit by repeating it. Cool. Maybe we should do that sometimes; but, on the whole, I’d much rather sing more verses or more songs. Again, I also get that is different in different places, but this is how we prefer it.
In fact, I would suggest not singing a song’s chorus more than three times as a simple rule of thumb. If a song has only one verse and chorus, either keep it short by singing the verse a couple of times and the chorus three times or write more theologically robust verses that add to the song and encourage the people to engage them.
I recognize that the trend in modern worship music tends toward repetition, but I’m asking you to do it a little differently.
The repetitive chorus over the building crescendo engages the emotions in worship, and we are not opposed to that. However, we can we not also engage the emotions by way of a robust, powerful, theologically rich lyric that also engages the mind?
That doesn’t mean every song is a Spurgeon sermon; the lyrics can be simple (not simplistic–there is a difference). We just want people to engage not just in their hearts, but also with their minds.
Repetition is not banned. ;-) But, it is better to engage the mind and the heart.
8. Worship leaders are theologians, whether they claim to be or not.
I mentioned Colossians 3:16 earlier as a text that encourages song. In context though, it is a little deeper. It begins, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…”
It is in that context that we sing together-- steeped in the Word of God. You help shape the belief systems of the people under your leadership. Know the Scriptures. Know what we believe as a church, and don’t try to take us to a place theologically we are not prepared to go.
Make sure your exhortations to worship are within the theological views and culture of the congregation.
With all of these things in mind, the most important thing you can do in leading worship is to make a big deal about Jesus. We want people to encounter the greatness of the Lord, to worship Jesus in light of his goodness, grace, and mercy. Make sure that the songs lead people to that end.
At the end of our worship gatherings, we want people to leave with a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to be in relationship with him. You, worship leader, are vital to our doing so.
Why It Matters
I am so thankful for the ministry of worship leaders. I've said it before and I'll say it again: worship leaders play one of the most important roles in a church worship service. Like the preaching pastor, the children's pastor, the youth pastor, and more, the worship pastor bears the responsibility of shepherding the people of God to love the Son of God.
It is a joyous, yet sometimes trying, task. Worship leaders, and church leaders of all sorts, let's point to Jesus in our service and ministry.