speaking during worship…

One of the things I feel like I’ve learned over the last few years is the value of not speaking a lot while leading worship. I find that it is often is more of a nervous response than anything useful… y’know? There would be a lull and to fill up the space I would say something like, “well, God is good and it’s good to sing to him so, um… let’s sing to him now”. That can sometimes work as a prompt to get people to sing out a bit more (at least for the first verse), but I always felt like a tool because in my head I would be saying, “What? What are you trying to say, you dolt”. So a couple of years ago I decided that I would try a more minimalist approach to speaking in a worship set… besides, like Robin Mark says, “It’s the preachers job to preach…”. It worked really well, I think. The feedback I got was really positive, because instead of offering up a sermon before every song I would maybe only say one thing… or sometimes nothing. People told me they really liked my “quiet leadership” and the “space” that it created.

However, in the last few weeks I’ve started thinking that maybe I should start talking a little more, if even just to help people understand where I’m trying to take them in the set. Let me explain a bit.

Usually when I put together a set I have some sort of journey and destination in mind (see my post “let’s try this again…” for more details). The thing is, sometimes the congregation doesn’t grasp the depth and brilliance of my set planning and sometimes narrating a bit of the journey can be really useful. This last week was like that. I was doing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “This is Our God” back to back, and I thought that the juxtaposed moods and perspectives in these two songs were really cool and I wanted to help the congregation to see the connection a little more. This leads me to the second thing that I’m learning about speaking during worship.

I kinda suck at winging it. Anytime I try to speak off the top of my head I usually end up either trying to convey 5 different ideas at the same time, or default to trite cliches. When talking to Steve (my Sr. Pastor) about this he suggested I just write out what I want to say beforehand. At first I didn’t really jive with this idea because it kind of stole the mystique out of the whole “worship-leader-eloquently-sharing-wisdom-without-notes-cause-he’s-so-cool” thing that I usually like to go for. But then I noticed that one of my artistic heroes, Peter Gabriel, uses notes when he talks in concerts. This blew my mind! Peter Gabriel uses notes. The other thing he does is he talks in a very calm, sagely manner; he doesn’t try too hard with the yelling or the faux emotion to get people to engage with what he says. It’s all very natural sounding. I decided that that is what I would try.

So in between “O Come O Come” and “This is Our God” I decided to try to shed some light into the “before and after” quality of those two songs and read this:

“There are two words that, I think, sum up so much of Christmas: Expectation and Fulfillment. For me, it is the tension between expectation and fulfillment that lies in the heart of Christmas and gives it its beat.”

In the Christmas story we see a fallen creation’s hopes, needs and expectations collide with a compassionate God’s fulfillment of all those things. Like Paul says in Galations: “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His son”. This wonderful, perfect fulfillment of so many longings; this child named Jesus; this is the one we have waited for. It is astounding and poetic, wondrous and epic.

As we sing this next song, let’s rest in the perfection of this birth; in the promise of fulfillment hidden in a child whose advent all of creation waited and longed for.”

For a first time experiment I think it went alright. I still have work to do in this area, but as I look back at some of the stupid stuff that I used to say off the cuff, I feel okay. I still say stupid stuff off the cuff, but at least I’m not stuck in that one, default way of doing things (now any off the “in the moment” stuff I say is usually more conversational or interactive, rather than preachy).

What are your thoughts? Are there any worship leaders out there that are really good at this stuff? Do you have any awesome “top-of-the-head-Brother-Barry” moments of your own?


2 Comments Add yours

  1. joshua says:

    i remember that moment, shawn, and i remember thinking; “wow, that’s deep and insightful stuff for an off the cuff statement!” the moment played out extremely well and i’m sure it’s because of the thought you put into it before hand. your comments really grounded me; they effectively reshaped my thought heading into the next song.nicely done, man. nicely done.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hey Shawn – I saw a link to your blog through Josh and have been now been blog stalking. I clicked on this link right away because I get so mad in church sometimes when worship leaders “talk off the cuff” and accidently spew-out terrible theology and jumbled meaningless phrases… even though I know they are well-meaing, I also feel that what they had to say in that moment was not really from God and that it caused more harm then good. [not to mention that if the leader starts rambling and can’t stop, the congregation is left standing up akwardly at the chairs wonder if they should just sit down…] If you are doing a tally or something, chalk down one down for me on the side of your pastor – I think that, barring some massive revelation from God, that speaking during worship should be just as carefully planned as the set or, for that matter, as carefully planned as the sermon. It is such a priviledge and a huge responsibility to stand at the front with a mic… to risk leading people astray with good intentions and space fillers seems costly to me. Anyways. Great blog!Jen G.

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