Stop Saying the Same Old Thing
A few months ago I read Donald Whitney's book called Praying the Bible. For me, one of the most helpful parts in the book is his insight that many times when we pray we get stuck saying "the same old things about the same old things." His point is that we can easily go into prayer mode and ask for blessings for this person and a hedge of protection for that bit of travel. We're aware of the mindless repetition, but it's hard to stop. (And he offers helpful ways to overcome this... go read it!)
This insight on prayer led me to think about my platform leadership in a new light. I can remember many times when I didn't prepare as well as I should have, and what I heard coming out of my mouth were phrases and worship leader jargon that, although true, sounded stale and unhelpful. And this sense of nothing-new-to-say is only magnified by the fact that worship leaders only have a few moments in between songs to speak. Our responsibility then is not only to hold up the Truth, but also to have wisdom in our economy of words, extending beyond just the same old thing.
I want to give you three ways I think worship leaders can most effectively serve their congregations in times of exhortations:
Lead your people to understand and cherish the lyrics
We know that one of the main goals in corporate worship is for the Word of God to dwell richly in the people of God. Now, this should happen during the singing of worship songs. I hope every song in your gatherings is explicitly filled with the Word of God. But we know that even if the songs are filled with images or exact words from Scripture, sometimes it's difficult to understand what we're singing. Worship pastors have the unique responsibility of tackling this problem. We're like museum docents, helping people understand what they're looking at.
To that end, worship leader, consider finding a lyric in a song you're singing and help your people feel the significance of the lyric. For instance, talk about why you can sing "my sin is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more." How can a room full of sinful, idol-worshiping people sing those lyrics with confidence? You can read from Romans 5, giving them confidence that "while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son."
One song our church loves singing asks, "Who can stop the Lord Almighty?" I want our people to think about God's never-ending, conquering love for us in salvation as they sing this song. This conquering love reminds me of the story of Zacchaeus. He seemed to be seeking after Jesus, but really it was Jesus seeking after him all along. In Luke 19:10, Jesus tells him that “the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost." So when we sing, "Who can stop the Lord Almighty?", I encourage our congregation to think, NO ONE! Not Satan, not sin. No one can stop the Lord Almighty in his mission to seek and save the lost.
Help your people feel the weight of the themes in the gathering
One of the more humbling times in worship leading is finding out that all of the thematic thoughts I had while planning the service didn't really get communicated to the people I'm serving in our gathering. My careful song placement or artfully placed thematic items didn't even get noticed.
What I have grown to realize is that plain explanations and clear leadership are a much greater blessing to the congregation than veiled themes. When it comes to worship gatherings, we shouldn't think that our artistic or thematic nuances will have the same impact as will clear explanation of why we're doing what we're doing.
For instance, it's wonderful to have a time of confession of sins and assurance of pardon in our worship gatherings. And it's helpful to say something like, "Today our confession of sin comes from (fill in the blank) and our assurance of pardon comes from (fill in the blank)." But it's even more helpful to lead people to understand why we confess our sins to our Holy God, or why we confess them corporately. Or you might consider talking to any unbelievers present in your gathering about why a room full of people thinks it's a good idea to confess sin at all. This takes a little more thought and planning, but it will make these elements much weightier for your people.
Try to exhort as many types of people as you can
This isn't necessarily an encouragement about what you should say, but more about to whom you say it. Some people come ready and eager to engage in worship. But, as I prepare for our gatherings, I often think about how many of us walk into corporate worship with a bit of indifference in our hearts. We might be Christians who have a desire to walk with Christ and love him, but still there's a hazy fog of disinterest towards the worship gathering. We'll also have a wide variety of joys, trials, worries, sorrow and interests represented. Mingled throughout our congregation, we'll find weary single mothers, anxious stay-at-home moms, spiritually lazy teenagers, dads who are beat up by their jobs, busy college students, and lonely seniors, among others. And for all these types of people, your words could function like an outstretched hand, reaching into their worlds, pulling them up to see the beauty and grandeur of the gospel.
One of the ways this happens is by voicing the possible distractions of our hearts and then giving a gospel remedy. We can show them through Scripture or specific lyrics how to fill their hearts with faith to fight temptation and rest in the hope of Christ. So, say you were to sing “Jesus Firm Foundation,” you could pull up these lyrics on the screen, "Fear not, he is with us, oh be not dismayed, for he is our God, our sustainer and strength." You could talk about how God loves to sustain the fearful who run to him. Or you could talk about all of the ways that we feel dismayed in life and how our only hope for peace is in Christ.
Friends, let's continue pray for insight and plan with zeal so that we can effectively guide our congregations' hearts and minds through worship gatherings, in a way that breaks through saying the same old thing about the same old thing.
Daniel Renstrom (@danielrenstrom) is the worship pastor at The Church At Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. He attended Liberty University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has recorded 3 independent albums. Daniel and his wife Danielle have been married for 14 years and have 3 beautiful daughters, Bennett, Eden, and Mercy.