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A Little Less Conversation

How much should a worship leader talk?

Q: Some worship leaders speak very little; others talk almost as much as the preacher. How much should a worship leader talk?

A: Like a family, every church has a distinct personality. Your church's personality will depend on its size, leadership, culture, and strategy. But the most important variable is the senior pastor's philosophy of ministry.

I believe my role as a worship leader is to serve my senior pastor's philosophy of ministry. I trust that the Spirit of God is leading him, and through the Spirit he leads me. That means what I do on the platform should be shaped more by his philosophy of ministry than by my personality or worship style preference.

If this is clear in the mind of a worship leader, it helps establish trust between the senior pastor and the worship leader. As a result, when I lead weekend services at Saddleback, I am free to speak whenever I want for as long as I want. If I feel led to speak, I speak. But it also means my pastor has the freedom to ask me to speak less when he feels I'm going too long. Trust allows us to work together to balance each service.

There is an axiom I have found most helpful: Let the singers sing and the speakers speak. God has given us each unique gifts to serve him and edify the church. We should allow one another to exercise our gifts accordingly. Besides, most of us never want to hear a speaker start singing!

Rather than the spoken word, I believe the way I encourage and communicate to the congregation is through the songs I've selected. The songs help me to quickly connect the congregation to the presence of God, and then I can fade into the background. Apart from a few clear words of encouragement and prayer, nothing more is needed from me.

Of course, there are exceptions. Sometimes I feel led to say more. I try to stay open to the leadings of the Holy Spirit and the possibility of spontaneous changes on the platform. But the Spirit also leads during the planning of a service. Chris Tomlin, for example, studies his order of service for two hours, visualizing how each song leads the congregation closer to the Lord. When we commune with the Spirit so richly during our planning, there may be little need for additional commentary from the platform.

My planned speaking during a service usually consists of a simple welcome, encouragement to participate in the singing, instructions to sit and stand, a congregational prayer, and when necessary, crowd control to make space for people entering the service. Very rarely will I speak to introduce a song; a good song speaks for itself. It's very easy for worship leaders to overdo it. They think that by talking they can encourage more participation, but you don't have to kick the hive to get the honey out.

Remember, people don't generally retain information for very long. Even sermons escape their memories fairly quickly. But the truth they encounter through the lyrics of a song may stay with them for a lifetime. By choosing your songs wisely and presenting them well, you will feel less compelled to fill the service with speaking, and you will probably have a more lasting impact on your congregation.

Rick Muchow is worship pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and author of The Worship Answer Book.

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