I had just finished a couple of hours of tennis with some friends of mine, some of whom actively serve in church worship.
One of the guys (a young, upcoming worship leader) made the observation that sometimes, worship leaders spend too much time talking at the start of the service. In fact, he said, at his old church, the senior pastor had to restrict the worship leaders from talking at the start of the service.
And it made me wonder: do I talk too much when I lead worship?
At Faith Community Church, the chairperson usually introduces the service and “gets the crowd ready”. (No, they don’t do a stand-up routine in case that’s what you were thinking). As soon as the chairperson is done, the drums click in and away we go with the first song.
When I led worship in my previous church, I would often start with an exhortation to try to engage the congregation.
I realise now that I did have a bad habit of talking too much!
There are many reasons why worship leaders talk too much. Here I want to set out some reasons (and perhaps some possible remedies):
The worship model that has the worship leader say very little during the worship set has a disadvantage of having the worship leader as a mere “figurehead”, i.e. the worship leader becomes almost like a lead vocalist who just has the loudest voice and the coolest solo parts. On its face, the unsophisticated congregant won’t realise that the worship leader is also shaping the worship set as they go.
Rapport is extremely important in weekly church worship leading.
Unlike a conference setting (say like Hillsong Conference) where everybody comes pumped and ready to worship, the church worship leader (who is “on” every week, or every two or three weeks) faces a different challenge: familiarity. As they say, familiarity breeds contempt. That’s not to say that the congregation resents their worship leader; it’s just that they are more unforgiving of mistakes and more critical.
The opportunity to talk to the congregation is a way to build rapport.
But I want to suggest that rapport is best built up in participating in the life of the church apart from the stage.
In my last church, I had (I hope) the respect of the congregation not because of what I said on stage, but because I had helped to stack chairs; attended a small group; manned stalls at the church food fair; mentored some people; did Bible study with others; ate dinner with the youth; ate dinner with the older folks; got “in the face” of lots of people!
So the cure for the talkative worship leader? Build rapport at the grassroots level.
Focus the Congregation for Worship
Let’s face it. Because of the familiarity phenomenon, the congregation often will not come to church ready to worship. So worship leaders feel the need to try to rev the congregation up before the first song begins.
The need to talk at the start is quite legitimate if there’s no chairperson to open the service. Then I think the worship leader should fulfill this role.
But in most churches I’ve visited, they do have a chairperson.
I think chairpeople should be trained to engage people. They are an integral element of continuity throughout the service, all the way through to introducing the preacher and sometimes ending with the benediction. If the chairperson hasn’t yet focussed the congregation, they should keep at it.
Then, there’s really no need for the worship leader to say anything.
There’s a principle of economy that also needs to be observed: most church services have time constraints and there’s no need for two people to double up on the same job. If the worship leader has to spend another 3 minutes starting the service with an exhortation, then that’s 3 minutes less for the congregation to participate in worship.
The Need to Teach About Worship
Sometimes, I’ve felt the need to talk during the worship time to explain the significance of a certain action the congregation is participating in.
This is important. If a member of the congregation is just doing something out of rote, we have to ask whether they really are engaging their hearts, minds and emotions in worship.
When I grew up in the church, I remember that as a young kid, I never really understood why the church did the things they did. I didn’t understand what those archaic words like “exalt” and “extol” really meant. When the worship leader started singing in tongues, I thought that God had gifted him with the Hebrew language.
I find it strange and incongruent that whilst churches expect their congregation to actively participate in, and take personal responsibility for, worship, little time is actually spent in teaching the congregation how to worship and the significance of its various expressions.
So imagine yourself as a new Christian suddenly dropped into a worship service. You look around and you see people clapping. Well, you say, I guess that adds to the atmosphere. So you clap along. But did you know that clapping is a sign of unity? Or that it is a means of engaging in spiritual warfare?
What about the lifting of hands? It looks cool. Anyway, they do that at the Bon Jovi concert, so why not? But what if you knew that the lifting of your hands symbolised surrender, as if it were the evening sacrifice?
In my opinion, churches don’t spend enough time teaching on worship, even though it is a very large part (even if only by reference to the amount of time spent doing it on a Sunday) of the life of the congregation.
Because of this, I’ve devoted a good deal of my ministry to teaching on worship. I admire worship practitioners who are also teachers of the Word, like Jack Hayford, Lamar Boschman, Kent Henry and Matt Redman.
Churches should spend more time teaching worship, and maybe that will save worship leaders from the need to spend too much time talking during the worship session!
Remove the Distractions
At the end of the day, even though there might be good reasons for the worship leader to talk a lot, what tilts the balance for me against talking too much is that the goal of a worship leader should be to minimise distractions and to simply let the people worship. And if that means the worship leader gets out of the way, so be it!
// build rapport at the grassroots level
// have a strong chairperson overseeing the service and exhorting the congregation
// encourage a culture of teaching worship at your church, or better still, facilitate the training yourself in other forums outside of your worship session.
I hope this encourages worship leaders to make the best use of the 25 or so minutes they have on a Sunday so that as much as possible, the congregation can participate in expressing their worship to God, rather than watching one person keep talking before another guy (the preacher) gets up to talk some more!