written by Becky Ykema
WORSHIP: THE SECRET POWER OF WORDS
A few months ago I sat down with one of our pastors to ask how I can be a better worship leader. I wanted to know in what areas I needed to grow. Our conversation was great. But at one point he began sharing how he tends to see weakness in worship leaders in a very specific area. “Worship leaders have it easy,” he said, “most of their words are already written for them through song lyrics and Scripture.” Our conversation continued around the importance of the words we speak as ministry leaders.
He had a point, and it began an internal reflection in me. How much weight do I put in the words I speak when leading worship? Much of the language worship leaders use in services has already been written. So what do we do in the other moments? What words do we use? How prepared are we to speak? Is there a balance of “off the cuff” speaking and preparation?
Early on in my ministry at Willow, I read “Axiom” by Pastor Bill Hybels. This book is filled with leadership principles and culture building tools. The very first chapter is titled “Language Matters”. A couple of quotes jumped off the pages at me.
“The truth is, leaders rise and fall by the language they use. Sometimes whole visions live or die on the basis of the words the leader chooses for articulating that vision.”
“The very best leaders I know wrestle with words until they are able to communicate their big ideas in a way that captures the imagination, catalyzes action, and lifts spirits.”
The words we use actually matter. They actually make a difference. Our team spends time each week asking the question, “Where is the fresh new thought?” The heart behind these frequent conversations is that we want to help spark the imagination of our congregation. We want to help people see Jesus and redemption and restoration, and understand the Great Story in a way they may not have experienced before.
INVEST THE TIME
It takes time and energy to think through the words we share. Worship leaders, the next time you prepare for a worship service, keep tabs of how many hours you spend on the music – crafting the worship flow, editing charts, practicing with the band, and memorizing. Compare it to how much time you spend working on your talking parts or “verbals”.
What does the ratio look like? For me, the music part comes pretty easily and is the most fun to do. I love the process from ideation to completion – making music that helps accompany the church in worship.
The hard part for me is spending time on my talking parts. It’s a muscle that needs to be flexed. If I’m honest, these days I work on it more out of discipline than excitement. But I am always grateful on my drive home from church for the time that I spent working on those reflections and prayers. My preparation helps create a better experience for the congregation. Because it’s a weaker spot in my worship leading, I know in reality I need to spend just as much time on my verbals as I do in the music.
IMPROMPTU VS. PREPARED
So how do we balance speaking/praying as the Spirit prompts us in the moment and being prepared? Ten years ago I would have stood on my soapbox with a megaphone and declared that no prayers or verbals should be thought out ahead of time – and certainly not practiced. I believed talking parts were to be solely Spirit-led in the moment, not written out, practiced, and memorized like a script. I used to feel very strongly and categorized any memorizing of verbals as inauthentic.
The only problem is, deep down I knew this was a weak spot in my leading. We would finish a song, and I’d feel prompted to pray. But with the pressure of praying into the microphone, I would get scared and begin speaking in Christian lingo. “God we just love your presence. Thank you for being here. You are worthy of all our praise, etc.”
I would fumble and circle my words round and round. Now that I think about it, that wasn’t very honoring to the experience or the congregants. I wasn’t stewarding my leadership role very well.
Years later I found myself in a ministry environment where we very carefully thought out and practiced the delivery of everything. We did everything with intentionality. We memorized verbals and practiced delivery in front of others.
I still believe there needs to be a balance of impromptu and prepared. But here I began to learn that it could be really helpful if the worship leader devotes time thinking through and (even practicing) what she or he will say. We must remain open to the Spirit’s leading in the moment during worship, but we can also think through and anticipate moments that may happen.
My worship pastor shared with me that it’s always wise to have another song in your back pocket just in case the room isn’t done. His advice has helped me think through verbals in the same way. I reflect on the upcoming worship set and ask, “Might this be a moment where a prayer is going to feel appropriate? Do we need some space here? Would a scripture passage be helpful after these two songs?”
My journey with words has taken a bunch of turns. Whenever possible, I try and glean some wisdom from skilled speakers on how they best use their words when speaking in front of the church. When the microphone is in front of us, there’s a level of responsibility that comes with it. I hope to steward it well.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
How much time to do you spend crafting your talking parts for worship?
Do you see any potential moments in your worship set where God’s Spirit may ask you to share or pray?
Are there a few Scripture passages, a reflection, or a prayer that could bring even more depth to the worship time?