The following is an article by Bob Kauflin about using brief comments and exhortations to help people focus during corporate worship.
Have you ever noticed how easily your mind can drift when you sing? I can be belting out biblical, powerful, brilliantly crafted lyrics while thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch, the movie I went to this past week, or absolutely nothing at all. On the outside I look like I’m fully committed to worshipping God. On the inside I’m doing everything but.
The same can be true for the people we’re leading. So how do I help them focus on the words we’re actually singing? At the very least, I have to be thinking about them myself. I’m constantly asking myself questions in my mind like, Why is this true? What difference does it make? What if it wasn’t true? What’s not being said here? What does that word mean? Why does this line follow the last one?” As I answer those questions specifically, it helps me interact more with what I’m singing, and it has a greater impact on my soul. When I’m leading, I’ll simply share some of the answers to those thoughts with the congregation through spoken or sung fills.
For instance, Darlene Zschech’s song, “Shout to the Lord” contains a break after the line, “All of my days I want to praise the wonders of your mighty love.” What makes the Lord’s love mighty? Well, a number of things. It covers all my sin, saves me from God’s just wrath, overcomes my enemies, redeems my trials and failures, and makes me more like Jesus. I may want to draw attention to a specific way the Lord’s love is mighty. So after that phrase I might sing or say any one of the following, “Thank you for saving us. You have rescued me. Your power’s at work in us. You’ve overcome my sin.” I could also highlight the word “love,” by saying or singing phrases like, “You gave your life for us. Lord, you loved me first. Your love will never change.” Of course, I could just repeat “your mighty love” to emphasize it. But I’ve found that adding to, amplifying, or extending the meaning of a line often helps people focus on it more concretely, and motivates them to worship God more thoughtfully.
Hymns are more challenging to add thoughts to because they’re usually fairly wordy and don’t have long breaks between lines. But even then I want to communicate an active interaction with the words we’re singing. For instance, one of my favorite lines in the hymn, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” is this: “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do.” What an invitation! We gather not only to remember what God has done, but to anticipate what he will do. So after “ponder anew” I might call out a jubilant, “Yes!” to accent what we’re being asked to do. I might also say, “We trust you.” Or, “You’re so good.”
Interjecting phrases like I’ve been describing takes thought and practice. It can easily be overdone, done poorly, or done in a way that draws attention to the leader. It requires finding open spaces in the song so you’re not competing with the congregation. If they’re singing while you’re talking/singing, they probably won’t be able to hear you and the effect will be minimal or counter-productive. But done well and with genuine emotion, brief exhortations can be an effective way to motivate people’s devotion to the Savior.
When I’m encouraging a team to step out in spontaneous fills, I need to be clear that I’m not asking them to lead. So their fills will be more occasional, and probably towards the end of songs. I might ask one vocalist to provide fills for a specific song. Sometimes I even say where in the song I’d like someone to ad lib. I’ve also asked two vocalists to “trade off” fills if I’m planning on repeating a portion of a song numerous times.
If a vocalist sings so often that people are confused about who’s leading, they’re singing too much. I’m not asking them to fill at every opportunity. I want them to interact with the lyrics and respond in ways that reflect what they’re thinking or how they’re being affected. I also encourage them to leave room for other folks. Generally, it’s wise to lay out after a fill and listen for others. As in everything we do on Sunday morning, our heart is to serve others with our gifts, not showcase them.
Another important element to think about is evaluation. If people are singing on top of each other, not being clear, and singing lines that are inappropriate musically, a leader needs to get back to his vocalists with those kinds of specific observations. And it’s good to share these thoughts with the team, rather than just the individual involved, so that everyone can learn. One of two things will happen as a result. Either the person will grow in their understanding of how to encourage the church through their voice, or they’ll find out they’re not really gifted to do this. In either case, something good will come out of it.