I like weddings. I mean, who doesn’t like a free meal? And yet I cringe at the same moment of every wedding reception: right when the best man and the maid of honor – then the father of the bride, the mother of the bride, the long-time friend of the bride, the former babysitter of the bride, and then the bride and groom – grab the microphone.
I get anxious because the chances are good that the speech is not. They talk too long, and the microphone gradually drops from their mouth to their waist before it’s halfway over. They cry and tell stories nobody remembers. The speech may end up moving us all to tears, but when it starts I can’t fight the feeling that it’s going to be bad.
The best speeches stick to the script, keep it short, and get on with the party.
I confess to feeling the same foreboding whenever a worship leader decides to talk extemporaneously during a worship service. There are some people who do this well. I’ve been deeply encouraged and edified by something a worship leader said; I’m not so cynical to think it can’t be done. But I do think it should be attempted less frequently. Or at least it should be attempted more carefully. Good worship leading is often like good fiction: more showing, less telling.
Expositional Worship Leading
At best, worship leaders talk because they want to shepherd people. That’s a good desire. And we in the conservative evangelical world have rightly placed high value on words in the task of shepherding. That’s why we value expositional preaching. Expositional preaching is wonderful. Expositional worship leading? Not so much.
Worship leaders can accomplish most of what they’re trying to do by choosing good songs and leading them well. If you do that, I dare say the need to interject significantly declines.
Bob Kauflin recently said in an excellent post written for worship leaders:
“Your primary role is to enable the word of Christ to dwell in us as we sing, not to preach. When speaking, typically less is more. Choose good songs, and let the songs do the teaching.”
Sing Good Songs
If you’re a worship pastor or leader, don’t neglect the impact of good lyrics set to good melodies. Those are the words you can use to shepherd your people. And there’s a 100% chance lines like “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,” and “No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in Him is mine” will roll through the minds of your people more – and inspire greater faith – than anything we might say.
The songs don’t say everything that could be said, but it’s highly likely the low point of singing “It Is Well” or “In Christ Alone” would be my own interpolations.
So, yes, shepherd your people. Choose songs that allow for the diversity of expression the Bible models, songs that celebrate the gospel and give space for sorrow, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, prayer, and triumph. If you thoughtfully choose songs week-to-week, you will shepherd your people well, and you can let the preacher do the preaching. And don’t forget that you’ve got six other days in the week to teach and care for your people; it need not all happen between songs.
Have a Plan
There are good reasons to talk. Some liturgies depend on the worship leader to move the service along. Some worship pastors feel compelled to say something because it won’t be said otherwise (e.g., corporate confession of sin or an articulation of the gospel). If that’s the case, then by all means say something.
But before you say anything, plan it. Write it out, and be succinct. Stick to Scripture readings, corporate prayers, or things that coordinate elements of the service. Stay away from prayers that do nothing but paraphrase the first line or title of the next song. Avoid anecdotes or anything one of your songs or the preacher will say better.
So, worship leader, you don’t need to say much. You’ve got all sorts of words you can use to care for your people. Choose good songs. Trust the Spirit. Don’t think too highly of your own gifts. Check your motives. Love your people. And, if nothing else, stick to the script, keep it short, and get on with the party.