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Worship Leading: Think Before You Speak

Worship is a time to address God, to respond to His gracious initiative in our lives with appropriate responses of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, confession, and joy. The responsibility of the worship leader (and the worship team or the choir) is to facilitate the process of inviting people into God’s presence with their sacrifices of praise, to ease the process by which people connect with the living Christ in the midst of our worship, and then to get out of the way! 

Our leadership role is fairly obvious in the realm of our musical offerings of praise. I would like to address the issue of what we should and should not say when leading worship.

We need to be very careful that the words we speak really enhance and further the purpose for which we have gathered: that is, worship. Too much patter and “filler” can get in the way of the people’s single-minded focus on God and can lead to a more man-centered time which leaves the worship leader at the center of attention (which should be the last thing we want!). Enthusiasm is one thing, but we don’t need to be cute, we don’t need to compliment them when they sing well nor harangue them when they don’t, and we don’t need to be an entertainer or a cheerleader or an instructor. We need to be one who models an attitude of worship before the people and who lovingly and gently points them towards God.

A few things to keep in mind when it comes to what we say when leading worship:

1. We may speak to the people on behalf of God. Indeed, that is the sobering role in which we as worship leaders find ourselves. What then would God have us say?

God would have us communicate His Word to His people. Most churches use shockingly little Scripture in their services, including those churches which profess to hold the highest view of the Word of God. And yet the truth is that we gather for worship at the invitation and command of the Word; the Word provides the authority and the substance and the framework for our worship. If we are going to worship Him in truth at all we must find that truth in Jesus Christ (who is the truth), as He is revealed and presented to us in the pages of the Bible.

In this light, a Call to Worship is anything but outdated. Indeed, it is (whether read, sung, prayed, or whatever) an acknowledgement that we have come to worship God by, through, and with His Word, for any other source would simply be a pooling of our fallen ignorance.

What do we possibly have to say that can come anywhere near the significance of “This is the Word of the Lord”? As Monte Wilson has written, “Our worship services should drip with Scripture. We should read it, sing it, pray it and hear it taught.” (Viewpoint [Reformation & Revival Ministries] Jan./March 1999) 

We need to bring all of our creativity to bear on ways to incorporate more and more of Scripture into our services. And we need to choose our words well, taking advantage of the opportunity to communicate God’s revelation—which can only enrich our worship.

2. We may also speak to God on behalf of the people. We can lead in prayers of praise, contrition, trust, and petition, though much of people’s response to God in the service will come in the form of corporate expressions, both sung and spoken.

3. Avoid stating the obvious! Too much verbal instruction as to the logistics of the service can distract the worshiper’s attention away from God.

In fact, most verbal instructions given in worship are superfluous and unnecessary. For instance, when the song is on the screen, will not people assume that they are about to sing that song without being told, “And now we’ll sing…”? Let’s give our people a little credit! Let the instrumental introduction begin without a verbal cue, and the flow of worship will be enhanced considerably.

It is amazing how much the flow and focus of worship can be improved by just letting one thing happen after another—not without preparation or guidance, but with carefully planned alternatives to verbal cues which disturb the continuity.

The greatest compliment I have ever gotten as a worship leader (alas, only twice, I believe) was that I seemed to disappear, and the people only saw Jesus. That’s what we want to happen! The above hints are just a few practical ways to help worship leaders get out of the way and let the Spirit carry our worship.    

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Ron Man studied music at the University of Maryland (B.M. in Theory & Composition, 1974; M.M. in Conducting, 1975). After coming to Christ in March 1975, he did an additional year of conducting study at the State Music Academy in Munich, Germany, then attended Dallas Theological Seminary, receiving a Th.M. degree in 1982. From 1983-88 Ron was on the pastoral staff of the International Chapel in Vienna, Austria. Then from 1988-2000 he served as Pastor of Worship and Music at First Evangelical Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Since August 2000 he and his family have been living in Germany, where Ron serves as director of the department of Worship and Creative Arts for Greater Europe Mission; his primary focus is to travel and teach on the biblical and theological foundations of worship at schools and churches in various countries in Eastern and Western Europe, including (so far) Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Holland and Germany. Ron has published both popular and academic articles in such publications as Worship Leader, Creator, Church Musician Today, Reformation and Revival Journal, and Bibliotheca Sacra. All of these articles may be accessed at http://www.worr.org/.