I was recently in a local coffee shop where I met with one of my drummers for a dark roast pour-over when a member of my church stopped me and asked, “Do you remember a few weeks ago when you said (insert memorable quote) in between two of the songs?” I honestly didn’t recall what he referred to, but it served as a great reminder that what we say as worship leaders matters. What I said “in the moment” of leading worship mattered to this guy. It encouraged him in his walk and strengthened his faith. What we say before, during, or after a song – or, sometimes, what we don’t say at all – matters. I refer to it as “shepherding the room.”
We, as worship leaders, need to take people where we’ve already been with the songs. We’ve chewed on the truth, meditated on the gospel, and prayed the songs into our hearts. We guide, pastor, and exhort when we lead. We’re not jukeboxes that play our churches’ favorite songs simply so the congregation can sing along. We are called to shepherd our church while we lead.
There are several ways in which I strive to do this. Here are a few:
- Know the people: It is a joy for me to “shepherd the room” at my church because I know the people. I don’t know all of them, but I know many of them. When we sing a song, sometimes the Holy Spirit will remind me of trials, joys, and stories of what people in my church are going through so that I’m able to connect the truth of a song to real life. I also know where my church is as a “worshiping church." I know areas in which we are healthy, areas in which we need to grow, and how I can address both when I lead.
- Know the song: I mention this only because I believe that sometimes we as worship leaders pick songs randomly instead of thinking through the flow of the gathering. Just as a preacher delivers his sermon in an orderly and helpful way, we also want to create a “liturgy” or “flow” that helps our people to connect truth to their lives as well as to give glory to God. Knowing the song both musically and lyrically frees us up to actually lead instead of being buried in a music stand and/or confidence monitor.
- Plan what you will say: I always go through the songs in my office and sing them out to God on Friday; during that time, He will often impress upon my heart a particular truth that He wants me to meditate on or draw attention to on Sunday. Intentionality does not negate authenticity. The Spirit can work in our planning just as much as He can in our spontaneity.
- Follow the Spirit’s leading: This is something I’m trying to grow in. The Spirit is a real part of the Trinity, and He really is working amongst the people on Sunday. We shouldn’t be scared to ask Him to lead us as we lead His people to make much of Jesus. For me, this means understanding the disconnect between leading the church to sing something powerful while the church, as reflected in their worship, doesn’t seem to make the connection. Here is where we as worship leaders have to fight the “cheerleader mentality” of “sing it louder” or “sing it like you mean it,” and instead look to shepherd the room. Point to the Scripture passage from which the lyric you just sang was birthed. Remind the church that Jesus is indeed on His throne and that He delights in our praise. Above all, point to Christ.
- Say nothing: Sometimes God just wants us, as worship leaders, to shut up and let people meditate on what they just sang. Silence is a long-forgotten way of shepherding. There are times where we may be tempted to wonder “why isn’t God speaking,” while God might be telling us “I would if you would just shut up.” Don’t be afraid of silence, because sometimes shepherding the room is simply getting out of the way so that the real Shepherd can do His work.
- Walk with the Shepherd: A close walk with the Lord is vital to shepherding our people when we lead. The Spirit illuminates truths that we know from our walk. Sunday is an overflow of what we’ve been doing Monday through Saturday. As worship leaders, we don’t just sing songs, cheerlead our church, or fill time before the sermon. We are shepherding. What we say matters. How we lead people has an impact. Let’s
not only lead but also shepherd as we lead.