Making Our Words Count as Worship Leaders

Every once in a while, I get the privilege to preach at our worship service. When I know I am preaching, I do my homework. I research and write an outline. Then I write out a manuscript and edit it. I practice preaching and I’m careful with wording. When I preach I don’t read my manuscript and I don’t memorize word for word, but I do memorize my outline and a key phrase. In preaching I want to connect people to scripture, to God’s story. And I want to give them a practical bottom line they can apply or live by. I recognize that the twenty or so minutes I get to speak are important and influential. I’ve learned that people really do listen to sermons and I want to make every word count.

Every Sunday, I get the privilege to lead worship. I sing with our band. Most days, I get to talk. I might welcome people to worship. I often call for and pray over our offering. Sometimes I explain songs or try to connect them to the sermon. I also might give people directions about when to stand or sit. You know what I don’t always do? Write out what I’m going to say. Currently, I’m feeling convicted about it. These words aren’t the sermon, but I often refer to scripture! These words still have the power to influence people and the way they connect to and learn about God. I want to be more intentional about making every word count. I want to start regularly writing out prayers, the welcome, directions for worship, the sending out. Here’s three reasons why.

1. When I write out what I’ll say, it actually gives me more time to listen to what God wants me to say.

I’ve heard some people argue that the Holy Spirit ought to lead us and therefore we don’t have to (or even shouldn’t) do much in the way of preparation for leading worship. I’m of the mind that the Holy Spirit can work in the preparation for worship just as much as He can in the actual service. In fact, in the cases where I have spent the time writing out what I’ll say on Sunday morning, I have been more prayerful and more intentional to the Holy Spirit’s leading me. When I don’t write out what I’ll say, I’m usually throwing something together in my head before I head on stage and the prayers I say then are more of the last hope kind.

2. Writing a manuscript keeps me from rambling and repeating myself.

A friend told me that last Sunday when I gave our welcome and opening prayer I said I was “excited” seven times. While seven may be the Biblical number of perfection, I don’t think perfection applies in this case. No, I was rambling and repeating myself. I hate it when I do that, and I knew immediately that if I’d actually written out what I wanted to say I’d have communicated much more clearly with the congregation. If I’d written out my welcome and invitational prayer, I would have had a better shot at making the words count rather than increasing the chance that people would count my words.

3. Writing out the prayers and other instructions for worship makes me feel more confident.

Look, I know that worship isn’t about the worship leader feeling confident, but it’s hard to lead other people when you don’t know what you’re doing yourself. If I’ve consulted the Holy Spirit on what to say and how to lead and I’ve done my research into the announcements or the scripture I want to quote, I feel confident to lead other people. If I’m reading the bulletin for announcements as I walk onstage, people see that and they know I’m not ready for worship. If I’m not confident, I don’t know what I want to say and I’m not ready. That makes it hard for people to pay attention and follow. I’m sure it’s awkward for people to try to follow me if I’m feeling nervous and unsure of myself.

The good news of course, is that the Holy Spirit does work in spite of us and our efforts. So take heart. For all those times we haven’t written out a prayer or thought about what to say before we actually started saying it, God can still work through our words.

Last week, that same day I said I was excited seven times in the welcome, I also introduced a new song. Later in the week, a another friend told me what I said had been helpful and he’d thought about it again during a small group discussion. That reinforced in me the conviction that what I say is important and influential and I need to be intentional about what I say. It also reminded me that God takes my words, even my rambling, and makes them count.

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Emily lives in Long Beach, Mississippi with her husband, Ben, and their three kids, Sadie, Joe, and Lizzie. Together they serve at The Well, an offsite service of First United Methodist Church in Long Beach. Ben is the pastor for The Well. Emily volunteers as the leader for the Worship Planning Team and helps with the spiritual formation of The Well's band. Emily graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2006. She loves learning more about planning and leading people in worship. When she's not working on something for The Well, Emily's probably telling her kids stories about growing up in Kentucky. You can find her on Twitter (@emilyhbarlow) but she mostly live tweets University of Kentucky basketball games.

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