Dealing with the unexpected
If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that in worship leading, not everything will go as you planned or expected. Trust me, the unexpected will happen! Just stay calm and think clearly.
And let’s be clear: we want the unexpected in our meetings! We don’t want to button the whole thing down to our agenda. We surely want God to have free reign in our meetings and to break in! As worship leaders, we always need to be ready to respond in these moments. We’ll look more at this in another post; today we’ll deal with the unexpected in more practical and technical ways.
Here’s a few examples:
One Sunday, in a poignant moment in the closing song at the end of the service, this incredibly loud, unpleasant noise from the PA system started and didn’t stop. At first, I said, ‘Let’s not be distracted by that’ but then it quickly became clear the noise just wasn’t going anywhere (and we all really were distracted by it!). It was a sound I have never heard before or since in 20 years of worship leading! So I called out to the PA team, ‘Kill the system!’ because that seemed to be the only way to stop it. (At this point, it’s better for you all as a congregation to have a bit of a laugh about it than for you, the worship leader, to be looking stressed or annoyed about it.) Then the acoustic guitarist and I stood at the front of the stage and we sang the song without any amplification. And lots of people said they really enjoyed such an intimate moment. The STAY CALM principle always applies. We’re the family of God. Nothing to stress about.
How about this scenario: five minutes before the service is about to start, you’re told that the words projection system has stopped working. You were planning to teach a new song. Unless it’s something with the world’s simplest, most repetitive chorus, that needs to go out the window. Save it for next week. So then, what are you going to sing? Depending how confident you are in your congregation’s ability to remember lyrics, you may need to quickly change your set list. As always, STAY CALM. Give yourself a minute to think of the songs people know really well without the words – it might be things like Raise a Hallelujah, Amazing grace, How great is our God, Build my life... You will know what your congregation will know and have written on their hearts. Are there any that you were already planning to do and have rehearsed? Then of course include those ones. Say we’re now down to three minutes before the service. Gather your band, and give them the new setlist. You may not have rehearsed any of it, but you’re choosing things you all know well. Just be clear on keys. Remind the band to be watching you, and give very clear signals. And pray!
Sometimes there’s an issue with the PA system that can take most of your rehearsal time to fix. You haven’t had the opportunity to run all of your songs. Don’t stand around getting stressed that you can’t rehearse, use your time wisely. If the PA team are trying to fix things and you can’t play for a few minutes, gather your band together. Keep them focused: pray for technical problems to be resolved and pray into the worship time. Talk through songs and arrangements, even if you’re not able to play them through. For example, on this song, do we go straight into the bridge or play the riff first? Is there an extra bar coming out of the bridge? How do we end the song? If you have time to run one song, choose wisely! The best choice might be the song the preacher would like at the end of the sermon that no-one has played for a while.
The important thing is that you, the leader, stay calm (have I mentioned that?) and bring clear leadership and direction. The PA team have enough stress going on right now without you adding to it! I’m sure they will be doing everything they can to sort the problems out; be as helpful and accommodating as you can for them. You are ALL the worship team – musicians and techies together. If you get stressed, you’ll struggle to think clearly. If you stay relaxed, this situation doesn’t have to be a big deal. If you haven’t been able to rehearse everything, just make sure you are all clear how the first song is going to start. From that point on, make sure your signals are super-clear, that you have great eye contact with all the musicians, and just guide them through.
True story: the first time I ever led worship on a Sunday morning, a woman I didn’t recognise stood to her feet to bring a contribution, as was the style of our meetings. I expected her to pray out, or read a Scripture, or bring a prophetic word. Indeed, she began, “The Lord says…” but finished by spitting out an angry, “I HATE YOU ALL!” Yes, everybody’s first-time-leading-worship-favourite-experience. Unexpected, definitely! Thankfully, I remained calm and just thought, ‘Well, I’m not dealing with that!’ And sure enough, in stepped the person who was overseeing the meeting. I remember clearly, they calmly but firmly said that we didn’t receive that word because it was not in line with scripture, or the heart and character of God, and quoted some definitive Bible verses about God’s wonderful love for us.
If something like this happens to you when you’re leading worship, you can be pretty confident that your pastor is already picking up the microphone to deal with it. You don’t need to waste time standing there thinking, ‘what on earth is going on?’ because you know what’s going on – someone is trying to disrupt your meeting! What you can be doing is thinking, ‘how do I get everyone’s eyes back on God, because this person is trying to get everybody’s eyes on them’.
I can’t remember what I did at the time, but here’s a suggestion: no matter what was previously planned (unless equally appropriate) I would get into the key of G or A and start with, say, the bridge of ‘How great is our God’:
You’re the Name above all names, You are worthy of all praise
And my heart will sing ‘How great is our God’
Everybody knows this, it doesn’t matter if the words projection team hasn’t found it yet. In the same key, you could then go to the bridge of ‘What a beautiful Name’, again building a little more but still leaving somewhere to go…
Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You
You silenced the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring the praise of Your glory (building)
For You are raised to life again (and we’re building)
You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever, God You reign (still building)
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names
What a powerful name it is …..
I would say that, after a room full of people declaring this, if anyone in the congregation was unnerved by the ‘incident’, they’re likely not to be too concerned about it now ☺️
The key thing here for you is not to be passive while your pastor is dealing with the ‘situation’. You must be actively thinking ‘what song am I going to when the worship time is handed back to me?’ You must have a plan, and one that points people confidently to God. But it’s ok, your plan can be as simple as mine is right here.
To end on a lighter note, the first year I led worship at Stoneleigh Bible Week, I remember during a worship time trying to give some indication to Dave Fellingham that there would be a trumpet solo in the song we were about to do, so that he could prepare himself. For some reason, I thought the best way to do that would be by yelling across the mic, to the amusement of the thousands of people gathered there, “Warm your lips up, Dave!” I’m quite sure that was an unexpected moment for all of us … thankfully one we could all have a chuckle about together. If we're talking about 'worship leading essentials' then thinking before speaking is definitely one of them!
The unexpected will happen, but it doesn’t have to throw you. In fact, these unexpected situations will definitely grow you as a leader (and give you some great stories to tell, too.) ☺️
(PS In case you’re wondering, the pic is one I took a while back of an unexpectedly crooked hut perched at the top of beautiful Mt Cook, in the South Island of New Zealand)
© Kate Simmonds 2020