Thursday, December 05, 2013

Working Through Awkward Times

There are very few things that are more feared or fiercely dreaded in a worship set than extremely awkward moments. I cringe at the thought of the ones I have personally created over the years. Some were just accidental mishaps while others were epic failures in judgment. Whatever causes them, the fact is that awkward moments are a possibility every time we strap on an instrument or open our mouths to sing.
It’s an important issue for us to address because when awkwardness shows up, people leave and don’t come back. It’s just that simple. If we don’t acknowledge this, we are losing the battle of engaging our people in worship before it even starts.
Think about the experiences you’ve had at theaters, restaurants, shopping malls, car dealerships, or anywhere else for that matter. If you were made to feel awkward, you refuse to go back to that place. You may even take a detour just to avoid driving by it. Awkwardness is a killer for businesses and for churches.
It pains me to say, but there are some people who feel this way about your church and mine. This is why we must relentlessly eliminate awkwardness from our services.
Some of you are thinking, “Doesn’t the Bible say that the truth will be offensive?” You’re right. But let’s be honest for a second. We offend people more often with the awkwardness in our services than we offend them with the truth.
Have you noticed that these kinds of moments often rear their ugly heads during a worship set?
  • That epic three-minute guitar solo
  • That never-ending prayer at the end of your set
  • Every time you allow someone who looks like they are scared out of their mind to serve on stage
  • That time when the worship leader says, “Let’s just make love to Jesus.” (This really happened.)
  • That time when you’re trying to say, “God is so awesome!” But instead you say, “We are so awesome!” (That was me.)
The first step in eradicating awkwardness from our services is to recognize that it’s a possibility. The second step is to understand that all awkwardness is not created equal.


1. Intentional awkwardness
This is the kind of awkwardness made famous by shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Rec” or by the infamous Tripp and Tyler. Let’s just say, leave this to the comedians.
2. Incidental awkwardnessI remember a friend of mine who was killing a wailing guitar solo during a set until he tripped over his own pants and fell flat on his back. Much awkwardness was felt by all, but it was easy to laugh it off. If you are the guilty party in a moment like this, be careful that you don’t take yourself too seriously. Doing so could easily increase the awkward quotient by 1000%. Instead, call yourself out or laugh, because no one was at fault. Keep moving. I’ve been doing this for almost twenty years and I still am guilty of creating incidental awkwardness from time to time. Surprisingly, I have found that these can actually turn into moments that endear people to you, but only if you handle it well. One of the reasons people will return is if they see that the leadership is genuine. Use this to your advantage.
3. Inexperienced awkwardnessIf you have ever led worship in a youth service with a makeshift band of students, you know what I’m talking about. The guitar player hits the lead riff and they are out of tune. The drummer tries to play “How He Loves” in 4/4. The vocalist freezes as the band plays the intro chord progression for the 8th time. You know what I’m talking about. This is the awkwardness that ensues from inexperience. Honestly, it’s hard to prescribe what to do in these situations.
Sometimes you need to shut it down and restart, and other times you need to just land the plane and get off stage ASAP. After it’s done, you have to capitalize on these situations as teaching moments. It’s not a time to call someone out on the mic. In fact, there is never a time you should call someone out on a mic. If it was truly a result of inexperience, use it as an opportunity to lovingly teach a lesson. Answer the question of what they should do if that happens again. Help them along and educate them. This is called shepherding. Your team members don’t need to be reprimanded for inexperience. They need to be led.
4. Inconsiderate awkwardnessThis is the most deathly form of awkwardness, because it causes people to miss the message of the whole service. Here are some indicators that you are on the verge of creating inconsiderate awkwardness.
  • If you begin to have an “I’m going to do it anyway” attitude even though you were asked not to.
  • If you are always talking about how old and crotchety your pastor is.
  • If you are thinking of calling out your congregation for not worshiping.
  • If for some reason you get embarrassed or angered on stage and you aren’t willing to shake it off.
If you don’t hear any other words you read here, remember these:
Never use the stage as a platform to prove a point! 
The most awkward moments are when internal private conflict is dealt with publicly. Do not do this!
Do not be inconsiderate of the hearts of the people you are leading and the vision of the leadership you are following. Worship leader, this is not yourstage. Get that out of your head. I have the most amazing relationship with my pastor. He has given me almost complete creative freedom, but you better believe that I take the freedom he has given me as a privilege and not an entitlement.
Serve the Lord, your people and your pastor. Think about them first when you are preparing your set list and arrangements, not yourself. Awkwardness has a way of turning people into spectators. This is the last thing we want or need in corporate worship.
One final note: Awkwardness is subjective. What makes people break out raucous praise in one church will send them out the back doors in another. It is all about your context. Here is the best plan of action against awkward moments.
Know your pastor.
Know your people.
Know your team.
Know yourself.
Prepare in context.
Do whatever you can to relentlessly eliminate awkwardness from your services.

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