The Economy of Words in Worship

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Pride (and perhaps memory loss) prevents me from admitting how many years have passed since I landed my first role as a full-time Worship Director. I was young, inexperienced, a little puzzled as to how I found myself moving into full-time vocational ministry, and absolutely certain I needed to listen to anyone who could give me advice on how to succeed at my new post. I must have had those very words imprinted on my forehead, because a LOT of advice quickly came rolling in from members of my new congregation—even before I’d ever led a Sunday morning worship service!

One particular piece of advice stood out to me and has been something I’ve wrestled with over my many years in worship ministry. It came from a well-meaning, extremely experienced church woman who dropped by my office on my first day at her church. She introduced herself and welcomed me to the community. Then, before leaving said, “Its important for you to remember that we’re a preaching church. We don’t need a worship leader to have a bunch to say. Just let us sing and then let the preacher bring the Word.”

Having been taught to consider each piece of advice without taking any one opinion too seriously, I thought I had chalked up this woman’s advice as just another comment to take with a grain of salt. But then Sunday rolled around. I had carefully planned the services to the best of my ability and led the congregation with due diligence. But throughout the services I kept hearing my own voice in my head asking, “Am I talking too much? Should I have said something more?”

From that point forward, throughout my tenure at that church, I was always in a quandary regarding the economy of words. To speak or not to speak, that was the question. Some congregation members encouraged me to say more while others echoed the advice of the woman who suggested I leave the speaking to the “preacher.” In those early days, I likely approached it like I would a mathematical equation—seeking to provide balance to the question at hand. Surely there was a standard or a guide that could help me know how much or how little I should say on a given Sunday morning!

Not long thereafter, I was reminded that my role as Worship Leader was far more than “service planner” or “musician.” My calling was to guide people through the retelling, re-enacting, and remembering of God’s story and the Christ event. I was charged with working with the preaching pastor to ensure the people of God were engaged each week in the dialogue to which they’d been invited to participate by the Living God—not competing with him or her for word quotas.

With this renewed charge in my spirit, I began to assess the economy of words in a worship service from a new vantage point. I stopped worrying about the quantity of my words as the Worship Leader versus that of the Preaching Pastor and began asking questions about the quality of my words and the function they did or did not serve in leading my congregation in worship.

To that end, the following principles are ones that have helped guide me in creating, choosing, and delivering words of instruction, exhortation, and explanation in worship:

  • Call your congregation to worship. Help them remember the divine invitation they’ve received to come into the presence of Almighty God.
  • Let the whole of your craft tell God’s story. Use the full arsenal of your resources: words, songs, arts, scripture. When we understand our role as more than just a musician, lead singer, or band director, we can more readily identify the best places to use words to help our people engage the full story of God.
  • Remember that any words you use should draw attention to God, not yourself. When in doubt, edit or omit.
  • Use Scripture. There’s no better way to help engage people in God’s story than by using his words to do so!
  • Engage your congregation pastorally with your chosen words. As Deb and Ron Reinstra penned so poignantly in their stellar book, Worship Words, “…language in worship forms us with all its dimensions—aesthetic, expressive, instructive, and memorial.”

In the end, remember that a worship service really does likely have an economy of words—a saturation point where those on the receiving end will no longer be able to process and receive. If this is so, be selective and purposeful with the words you choose to share—then proclaim them with confidence and boldness, knowing that in so doing, you are faithfully fulfilling your call!

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Emily Vermilya is the Executive Pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. Having previously served as a Worship Pastor in multiple churches, one of Emily’s passions is empowering and inspiring other worship leaders to lead worship that is biblically, historically, and theologically rooted in the Story of God. Emily also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Worship at Indiana Wesleyan University and as a Regular Faculty member at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Emily resides in Marion, with her husband Jim and her children, Silas and Aynsley.

1 COMMENT

  1. Such great advice, and so great to see you and all those worship pastors/leaders you have mentored follow in your example so well. A rare but helpful gift to the kingdom in worshipping our Great God.

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