I often get asked by fellow church musicians how to think through what to say before, between, and after songs in corporate worship. It’s not a minor question. As leaders, we have the responsibility to intentionally point people to truth and to stir them to think and respond biblically to different elements of the service, and what we say is a huge part of that task.
I’m sure we’ve all witnessed cringe-worthy monologues by music leaders; and hopefully we’ve also sat under leaders whose comments were truly helpful and spiritually stimulating. But how do we work through exactly what to say so that we truly serve the congregation instead of distracting them? Here are some adjectives that should characterize your spoken comments as you lead the congregation in singing.
You’re a person talking to people. Moreover, you’re a servant with a specific responsibility, so appearing scared or depressed or grumpy isn’t an option. Your comments should invite people to respond, not drive them away. This is natural for some and difficult for others, but that’s not an excuse. This is something I’ve personally had to work on quite a bit. If you are going to effectively lead the Lord’s people and compel them to engage with Him, you must be winsome and warm in your demeanor.
Simply put, don’t speak truths that you haven’t first appropriated for yourself. Psalm 51 draws a clear connection between a right heart and effective leadership. The first 12 verses are a plea for forgiveness, and verses 13-15 describe public ministry. You can’t publicly proclaim before you’ve privately confessed.
Authenticity also requires time. If you’re going to draw the congregation’s thinking to a specific Scripture passage or a powerful phrase in an upcoming song, make sure you’ve meditated on it beforehand. Profound spiritual truths can’t be regularly whipped up on the spot; they need to be cultivated. The most effective truths you can share are those that the Lord has first stirred up in your own life. It’s sometimes helpful to give the congregation a window into the thought processes of the team and how they apply biblical truths. For example, I sometimes say, “Several band members and I were talking about this verse before the service and how the Lord has been convicting us through it.” Occasional comments like that remind the congregation of the equality of everyone involved: we’re all in ministry together, and we’re all under the authority of the Word.
Considering authenticity also brings up the question of extemporaneous vs. written-out comments. I know effective leaders who do both. What’s most important is points 1 and 2 above. If you write out your comments, don’t fail to be warm as you recite them. And if you speak without written cues, make sure what you say is still carefully considered and prepared.
Human-derived thoughts are of limited value; just as in preaching, personal anecdotes aren’t wrong, but they should be kept to a minimum. By contrast, God’s Word never returns empty-handed (Isaiah 55:11). If you’re not sure what to say, or don’t think of yourself as particularly eloquent (and you shouldn’t), use Scripture. Choose it beforehand. Read it reverently and clearly. Let Scripture testify of the greatness of God and the gospel. And if you do share personal thoughts, keep them brief. Everything we say as leaders should be either verbatim Scripture or Scripture-derived and -saturated.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14 that believers sing with their spirits and with their minds. Part of our responsibility as leaders is to encourage the congregation to actively engage their minds with the truth that’s being presented. Sometimes doing this is as simple as drawing their attention to a phrase of a song that they may have sung for many years but never really considered. This past Sunday, our final song was “Loved Before the Dawn of Time.” As I introduced the song, I briefly pointed out the first phrase of the chorus: “So with every breath that I am given, I will sing salvation’s song.” I observed that the span of our days is measured out by the Lord, and life is fleeting; so whether we live to old age or die young, we should make it our sole aim to praise God with every breath we have, and to serve Him with every heartbeat He grants us. The result was, I hope, that the congregation engaged with the truth of that phrase in a more meaningful and intentional way when they sang it. It was also anticipatory: it prepared the congregation mentally, and helped them to anticipate the truths they were about to sing.
This adjective probably doesn’t require much explanation or justification. The congregation hasn’t gathered to listen to you. Point them to God and get out of the way. Time is short, and if your church is like ours, your service is on a pre-set schedule. Don’t bloviate. Besides, says Solomon, God is in heaven and you are on earth; so let your words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:2). You’re the guy who points, not the guy being pointed to.
This last adjective can be explained in two parts. First, keep it simple. Don’t serve up complex thoughts that you don’t have the time to develop. Your congregation will be filled with believers at many different levels of spiritual maturity and understanding, and your comments need to serve as many of them as possible. Secondly, speak slowly enough that the congregation has time to process what you’re saying. Remember, you may have been meditating on a particular truth all morning – or all week – but the congregation may be considering it for the first time. While you do need to be concise, don’t rush through a thought without giving it time to sink in. Put yourself in the congregation’s place, and be a considerate and patient leader.
Take time to carefully consider your comments in light of these principles. As music leaders, we’re entrusted with a great and solemn privilege! Let’s make sure what we say is as helpful as what we sing.