Lecture 7: What to Say as a Worship Leader
Course: Worship Pastors and their Teams
Lecture: What to Say as a Worship Leader
I. What to Say When Leading Worship
Alright, Brandon, let’s talk about something that I’ve tried to get better at in my own worship leadership and something I have been asked for help with and different things like that, and that is, what to say while you’re leading worship. Really, is there anything to say? How to communicate as well as you can sing. Or, what do I do when I’m not singing? Have you ever felt that tension or that pressure, or anything like that? That awkward silence, yes.
Some of the worst times in worship services are when a worship leader starts talking. It’s not because they shouldn’t talk, it is just because you are guilty of doing what I call the ready, shoot, aim! You feel like, Oh, I should talk, but I don’t know what to say; and the words start coming out and it is troubling for most people. I think it is an intimidating thing to ask people to do, as well. People say the camera adds 10 lbs. I think microphones deduct 10 IQ points. When you get in front of a microphone, it is like, Oh, no. You’ve seen it at weddings or anything like that when people have to make a public statement into a microphone, you become so much less sharp. In light of that, I think it would be great for us to talk a little bit about what it means to communicate as well as you can sing and how to communicate when you are not singing. Because really, what that helps do is bridge a gap for so many people that maybe don’t quite perceive music maybe in the same way that you or I would; but you can help build a bridge and really help connect a greater story through communicating.
A. Your role is not to lead music, it’s to lead people by using music
One of the things I really want to remind people of when they are in the role of worship leader, especially thinking of it in terms of being a communicator. We are not people who lead music, we are leaders who use music to lead people. You are not a person who leads music. Sometimes you get labeled with that, this guy leads music. Really, what I think a true shepherd would do is lead people and use music to do that. It is a very effective tool. Sometimes, though, when you are leading people, you have to do it not as a singer, but as a communicator. A couple of things I want to talk about, how to communicate when you are not singing. These are all principle-based. I’m not giving people a lot of, say this, in this order, and you’ll be successful. But these are principles that I think every communicator could benefit from using and adding into the things that they feel like are on their heart to say.
B. Use the same voice you use to talk to your friends
Using a different voice undercuts your believability
Number one thing I always ask people to do when they are speaking is to not use a voice other than the one they use to talk to their friends. I hear a lot of times, especially young communicators, feel this pressure to use a voice that is so different. Don’t do that. I even know preachers who will talk to me and you like you and I are talking, but then they impose some pressure upon themselves so that when they are preaching, they have to speak more like Moses would speak. What it does is undercuts their authenticity, it undercuts their believability. So, if I hear you speaking one way when you’re relating to your friends, but then I hear you take on this other persona, it makes me curious. Which one are you? So, give yourself permission, even if you don’t like the sound of your voice, give yourself permission to say, this is how I talk. My name is Carl, and I want to talk to you about something today. Everybody will make a few degrees of adjustment when they are speaking in public. You might not be as casual into a microphone as you are with your friends, or something like that. But when you feel this unnecessary pressure to manipulate the tone of your voice or to be something that you are not, you are undercutting your authenticity. So, number one thing, don’t use a preacher voice.
C. Speak intentionally
Use words purposefully
I love just to remind people of this. Speak intentionally. When you use words, use them purposefully. The Scripture even helps us with that. Proverbs 12:18: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Don’t be reckless with what you say, be purposeful. Proverbs 10:19: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” I have been in a lot of environments where, wow, this person is talking a lot. Proverbs 10:19 may call into question how they are doing. Honestly, I’ve even coached folks that if you don’t know what to say, and you haven’t really dialed in what you want to say, it might be best to wait until a time when you have dialed in what you want to say and say it then, versus trying to navigate your way in the dark and just throwing out a bunch of phrases. So, number one thing, speak intentionally. If you don’t know what to say, then don’t say it.
D. Speak enthusiastically
Be faithful to represent God well
Number two thing, speak enthusiastically. I love the word “enthusiasm.” It comes from the root word entheos, “God within.” Enthusiasm, especially when you address a crowd: Good morning, I’m so glad you’re here today. You can have enthusiasm even if you don’t feel like it. Sometimes people might say, I don’t feel like being enthusiastic, I feel like it is fake. I don’t think it is being fake as much as it’s being faithful. You have God within, be faithful to that identity; and you carry people with you so much further and invite them in so much more quickly by just letting enthusiasm be a part of how you speak. This is not a call for over-the-top ridiculousness. You don’t have to be a clown. But when you smile and you have some passion in what you’re saying, that is relatable to people, it is a magnet. It is a way that you can invite people in. And really, that is what is happening, especially at the beginning of a service. If we kind of mope up to the microphone or mumble, it is not the kind of thing that you want to lean into. So, speak intentionally, speak enthusiastically.
E. Speak accurately
The worship leader is often the second most influential person in the church
Speak accurately. When we are on a platform, it is an incredible opportunity to influence people. As some have said, the worship leader is maybe the second most influential person in a church, next to the pastor, because you have such a visible platform, such an amazing opportunity to influence people from that platform. The words that come out of our mouths, they carry weight and that weight has to be stewarded well. A lot of times you steward that by making sure the things you are saying are accurate with Scripture, with Christian doctrine, with the tenets of our faith, with the things that your particular church context believes and holds tightly to. It is just a simple thing. All of these things are simple. But I think that when we get into a situation where we are speaking and are not prepared to do so, even if it’s like a welcome or it’s 30 seconds worth of a thought, we have to be careful to be accurate because our words carry so much weight. An influential person can say something that is not true and wow, that can take deep roots. So speak intentionally, enthusiastically, accurately.
F. Speak complimentary to people
Compliments encourage, sarcasm is often misunderstood
This is one I struggle with. The next thing I would say to any worship leader is to speak complimentary, speak complimentary to people. I have been in a circumstance before where I’m leading in worship, but the congregation wasn’t doing it like I thought they should. You guys just aren’t with me today, what’s up? Or, even for me, I will use sarcasm and I think it is funny, but sarcasm from stage into microphones is universally a bad idea. Because your buddies or my buddies might get what I’m saying and that is funny; but for the most part, you have to speak in terms that everybody, no matter what their sense of humor or no matter what their perspective on life, everybody can understand. You know what everybody understands? Someone who speaks complimentary. You’re not fluffing everybody up, but just say, I’m so glad you’re here today. You guys look great. Your singing is great. I appreciate you being here. A few things like that will take the moment of worship and start to glue it together because sarcasm is universally avoided by most people, but compliments are universally embraced. You tell someone they look nice, you are automatically their buddy. So think about that when you speak. Engaging people with kindness is a good bit harder, but it will never fail. It is also a sign of humility. If you are able to say something good about somebody else, it lets people know that you’re not focused at least entirely on yourself. So, speak complimentary.
G. Speak slowly
The meaning of your words is enhanced by a slower pace
This is one I struggle with a lot, but I’m getting better at it. If you speak, speak slowly. You get in a hurry, you get nervous and a lot of times we distribute nervous energy by speaking very quickly. I would like to make this point by saying, the meaning of your words is enhanced by pace. You can slow down what it is you want to say. The pace of it enhances the meaning. Even when you are reading Scripture or if you are just calling someone to worship, the pace of how you say things, Welcome, I’m so glad you are here today, It is inviting. If somebody talks fast, that is a characterization of a person who is hard to trust, like a fast-talking salesman. You don’t want to be that. You want to be somebody who is measured and welcoming. People receive a welcome when it is paced well. People receive a word when it is paced well. So, speak slowly.
H. See yourself as a communicator on all levels
All of these things are concepts that really go to the root. One thing I want to help worship leaders with is to see themselves, not just as singers or musicians, but see themselves as a communicator on all levels. How would you answer the question? I worship lead, I use music to point people to Jesus and tell the Gospel. Really, the main thing that I do is communicate. I communicate truth. I use words, sometimes they are set to melodies, sometimes they are not; but I use words to communicate to people. See yourself as a communicator and sharpen the aspects of your communication, your goal.
One thing that has been really helpful for me in this area is to study communicators and speakers, preachers who I admire and respect, not only for what they say, but for how they say it. I have kind of become a student of those guys because the poignancy of what they say is true, but how they say it also adds so much dimension and interest and engagement in my own heart, and I want that. Some people are naturally gifted at music or naturally gifted at communication, but I see this kind of stuff as we are saying yes to the Lord and our calling. He has called you to be a worship leader and as we say yes to him, these kinds of things that we are talking about, they are getting better at a craft. It is craftsmanship. It’s not, well, I will never be good at that. Of course, you will be better at it than you are now if you don’t think of it as just a gift that you have or you don’t have; but think of it as something that you have been given to steward and now you have to make something out of it. Are you going to steward this one thing into three things? Are you going to steward this one thing into five things? Stewardship, especially of communication, the more you do it, the more you practice it, the more you get better at it.
II. Ideas from Todd Fields
Here are some ideas that I actually picked up from another worship leader, his name is Todd Fields. He is a very good worship leader, a very good communicator. He knows how to use music, but knows how to use the spoken word to help people get in their thoughts from one place to the next. Todd brought some ideas out that I think are very, very good.
A. Prepare your introduction
He says this, prepare your introduction. It is not enough just to get up in front of people and say, let’s worship, let’s go, off we go! But prepare your introduction by doing these three simple things. You can do this in different ways, but always invite people in by helping them understand what is about to happen. These three things: Who we are. Hey, my name is Carl, my name is Brandon. Who you are and what we’re about to do and why we are about to do it.
Hey, my name is Carl. What we are about to do, we’re going to sing some songs that tell the Gospel story, that lift up the name of Jesus. Why is this important? Because the more we internalize the Gospel and remember how good God is, has been to us, our faith grows, our understanding of him grows more deeply and our affections for him are expressed through worship. So, that is who I am, that is what we are about to do, and why we are about to do it. Any version of answering those three questions when you call somebody to worship is a great place to start. If you don’t know what to say, just think, Oh man, I want to answer these three questions. I’m going to let people know this is what we are about to do and here is why we are about to do it. That is one thing.
B. Identify a moment
Pray about a specific thought or lyric that you can point out to people
Todd says also, identify a moment. You have the opportunity not just to sing through the set and go through the songs, but to partner with the Holy Spirit. Look at your song list and pray about it. Are there some lyrics or a moment in the set that would give you an opportunity to practically connect the hearts and minds in the room to something that would allow them to sing the song even before they are singing it with their mouths? You might call it setting up a song or opening up a little bit greater dimension of a line in the song that needs explaining, or if a part of a song is super meaningful to you and you can connect it to something that you experienced or something that is meaningful to you. It does so much to kind of unlock the door on a song and people are much more willing to engage when you connect it to something. So, identify those moments. I think every song that is worth singing in the church probably has a few of those moments that you can identify, it just takes a little bit more thought, a little bit more planning.
C. Be clear and be connected
The more you scramble, the more you ramble
The next thing, be clear and be connected. Todd said, “The more you scramble, the more you ramble.” We start scrambling for words and picking random pieces of food off the thoughts of our mind; and the next thing we know, you have said a lot without saying very much, lots of words, but very little meaning. If you are talking, try and make all the words count. Clarity is usually best expressed in few but very pointed words. Keep your content meaningful and lean. Connect what you are saying to an actual thing, a thought or a point that you can use to reinforce a theme or a song. I hear a lot of this, but I want to really encourage people to speak about thoughts and ideas that are connected, not verses streaming together like a bunch of Christian phrases that are true, but they are kind of like a hodgepodge, random kind of lingo pieces. Verses talking about specific ideas, concepts, everything that we’re saying has the tip of the spear idea to it. “God, thank you so much, your grace is so amazing, your mercies ever new, and everything is just awesome, God. I love you, God.” That’s great, all of those things are true but they are somewhat random and disconnected. And if someone says, what is that person talking about? the answer to that question would be quite hard to get at. So I do want to encourage worship leaders to be connected and clear. If you are going to say something, say something about an idea, a concept, a philosophy, a belief. Be clear and connected. These are just ideas about what to say when you don’t know what to say.
D. “I, You, God” (19:18)
I, you, God. That is a little formula. I was this. You may have felt this too. But what I have experienced to be true is that God has made a difference in my life. I have problems, you have problems. I know how you feel, but what I have found to be true.
That is a very easy way. Any person on any worship team could probably fill in those blanks with a story about how good God is. I don’t know what to say. I, you, God. Craft a little story out of that template, so to speak. It is not perfect, but it’s a great place to start. Sometimes people call that, feel, felt, found. I know you might feel this way, I felt that way, too. But what I found. Are you feeling down today? Are you feeling lost today? I’ve felt that way, too. But what I have found is how good God has been in my troubles. It’s a simple thing, but it is useful and for somebody who is new on their journey, this is a great place to put down some roots.
E. Make a list of the ways God has been faithful to you
A good example is Romans 8:38-39
The next thing I would say is, make a list. Make a good, long list, attributes of God, the ways that God has been faithful to you and list them. There is a good example in the Bible, Romans 8:38, 39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, angels, demons, the present, the future, power, height, depth, anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” That is a good, long list. If you are going to memorize Scripture as a worship leader, get that one in there because it is just a good, long list. And what it does, it reinforces truth about who God is and it is poetic in its order and in its structure. When people hear it, they start to internalize it. It builds.
I used to create moments around attributes of God. I asked people to say things with me. If you have been healed, say “You are my healer.” If you have been saved, say, “You’re my Savior” and people repeat that, “You’re my Savior.” If you have been blessed, say, “You are my blessing. You are my provider, my restorer. You are victorious. My father.” Anybody can write these kind of things. It is just a matter of taking the time to do some creative thought and craft things that invite people in, that don’t have anything to do with music, but they have everything to do with using the spoken word to communicate, how to communicate when you are not singing.
F. Read the Bible
Finally, the last thing about these guys. I don’t think a worship leader who is good at speaking or not good at speaking, can do better than to just read the Bible over his congregation. Use God’s Words, already perfectly written, inspired. You can do no wrong by reading God’s Word. So when you don’t know what to say, say the best things that have already been said. More than anything else, I think reading the Bible should take up a great part of our commentary as a worship leader. I don’t have anything to say that the Bible has not already said better. There might be times where I get to connect my story to how good God has been in me, but I always even in those circumstances, try to complement it with what the Lord has said in his Word. If it’s in there, it’s worth thinking about, it’s worth reading, it’s worth emphasizing. And the Scriptures say, “Don’t neglect the public reading of the Word.” We need that. We need it so much.
III. Work on Your Speaking Skills
The one thing you need to know is that if you are a worship leader, you are a communicator and communicators work hard on speaking. Many of us, myself included, need to work on that because it does not come natural. Music comes natural to me. I understand that, I have since I was a little kid. Speaking in front of people is a little bit different; and a lot of times with a lot of people, I think it might be the number one fear in the average person’s mind, speaking in front of people. So we understand why it is hard; but if you are a worship leader, you are a communicator and you have to work on that.
A. Develop your speaking skills like a craft
It takes practice over time
Why do you need to do that? Because we have endured enough over-sharing and just ramble speak from worship leaders for long enough. The authority that we have been given in our calling to help lead the church, the priesthood that we are a part of by being in Christ, is deserving of speaking honorably, knowing what you are saying, having the Lord’s Word hidden in your heart. Just because you are good at music doesn’t mean you get a free pass for not knowing what you are talking about.
What do we need to do? We need to experience what it is like to be a craftsman, the life of a craftsman. I like to woodwork. When I am not playing music or recording worship leadership curriculum classes, I like to woodwork. The first time I started woodworking and building something, I had a plan. I knew what I wanted to have at the end. But honestly, I made a bunch of little mistakes along the way and it was goofy and the angles were not right and the cuts were off just a little bit. But then the next time I did it, I got a little bit better at my craft. It is like songwriting. The first song you write is kind of clunky, nobody likes it but your mom. But you keep writing and then what you are doing is still the same, but it is craftsmanship, to where you build and you get better. You build the same furniture. You write song after song and once those things accumulate, that is what the life of a craftsman is like. It is not some random, disconnected life; it is the life of a person who is working. I’m going to get better at this craft. Over time it happens.
I know communication is scary for a lot of us and most musicians, maybe even after hearing this very compelling talk, (just kidding, we shouldn’t use sarcasm) most musicians might not see themselves as a communicator just because the idea of it is so intimidating and so scary. I want to encourage worship leaders to remember that this is a journey that you are not taking alone. This is a journey on which you are not stepping out without the Spirit of God at work in you when we invite Him in.
One of the coolest things I ever did in my life was raft the Nile River in Uganda. It was awesome. I will never forget, the raft guy, the guide, was in the boat moving in this flat area. There were no rapids, it was basically like being on a still lake. He said, “When we get going, there will be parts of the river where the water is above my paddle”. He holds the handle of his paddle, he sticks it above his head. He said that we are going to go down and he said that we are going to go through the rapid called “The Dead Dutchman” and we are going through the depths of hell rapid, strangling granny, and all of these terrible rapids. He said that if you fall out, relax. I’m like, you’re an idiot, I’m not doing that. I will never forget. Experience of a lifetime. We went through all these honestly terrifying experiences; and on the last rapid I fell out of the boat. It knocked me out and I remember being under the water, drowning. Through the bubbles and the rumble of the river and being bounced around underneath this water on the rocks, I heard this guy’s voice saying, “Relax, Carl, relax.” And I can’t relax right now. But he had taught us how to do this rescue swim where you just lay back and you relax and let the water take you.
B. Trust God and relax
I feel like a lot of times we get put in positions where we have to say something, we have to communicate. It feels like you have fallen out of a boat in the rapids. You are like, what is happening to me? I pray in Jesus’ name that we remember that the Holy Spirit accompanies us into these things. The best tip I can give anybody is, relax, just relax when you speak. Take a deep breath and let the Lord use you, let the Lord use you.
I want to pray for us and we’ll finish up. “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s Holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. To him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen”