Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Song Leading

I got to lead singing in chapel last week, which was both awesome and terrifying. I appreciate graduate chapel SO much, and one of the biggest reasons is because it's one of the only places I've worshipped where gender really, truly doesn't matter. Any and all positions of leadership--from planning to praying to preaching--are equally open to women and men.

But back to last week...

As many experiences are apt to do, it got me thinking about women in church leadership. You see, this was only my third time ever to lead singing. No one has ever taught me how to do it. I don't know how to do the hand-waving tempo-keeping thing. It didn't even cross my mind to direct the congregation to stand or sit. Everything I know about song leading, I've just picked up by watching other song leaders over the years. Because, while we do an excellent job of training our boys to lead from a young age, girls just don't get that same training (maybe things are better now, but when I was kid, that kind of training wasn't an option for girls). So while many men my age have been leading singing for 15+ years, I didn't start until last year. When little Billy Bob gets up, leads a song, and bombs it, people think, "Aww, he's 12 and cute! Let's encourage him to keep doing this and keep getting better!" It's less cute when a 27-year-old leads singing and bombs it.

I was talking about this with a friend last night, and she made a really good point. For us women, it feels like there's more pressure to be excellent at any act of leadership we perform. Since there are so few women doing public leadership tasks in church, each woman who does do something up front--at least to an extent--sets the tone/expectation for how women do that particular thing. For instance, say Billy Bob grows up and never becomes very good at leading worship but still volunteers every now and then. When he gets up and leads poorly, people just kind of accept that he's not awesome at song leading, but most people probably don't make assumptions about the rest of the male population's ability to lead singing. But as a woman, I feel like my performance--however good or bad--is a reflection on ALL women who may want to lead. "She really messed up the tempo on that last song. Maybe Paul was on to something when he said women should keep silent." Or, "She did a great job! We should get more women to lead singing!"

So here are my pleas:

Church - bear with us. So many of us desperately want to lead but don't know the ins and outs of how to perform certain functions within a worship service. Just because we're adults doesn't mean we've ever led a public prayer or served communion--much less done so lots of times. When we stand behind the pulplit and read a passage of Scripture, extend the same level of grace and encouragement you would extend to a 12-year-old. Oh, and starting teaching girls how to lead from a young age.

Worship planning teams/individuals - be intentional about inviting women to do things. Since public leadership roles in church are new to us, we may be hesitant to volunteer because we fear we'll do a bad (or even a mediocre) job. So we may need some extra pushing and encouragement. And if a woman bombs a Scripture reading, ask her to do another one anyway! Pretend she's 12 years old.

Women - jump in there and lead! Yes, it's terrifying. But it's also wonderful, and it gets less terrifying with time and experience. And the more your sisters in Christ see you lead, the easier it may be for them to step up and do the same. The church so desperately needs to hear your voice. Let it be heard.


  1. Yes. Very yes. I wrote almost the exact same thing in one of my thesis essays about my experiences with song-leading. I think this message cannot be repeated too many times!

    1. That makes me want to read your thesis essay.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this. I'm sad I missed out on your song leading. I was at undergrad chapel listening to a good friend of mine speak about immigration. (It was great! Check it out here:

    I remember having the very same feelings the first few times I was blessed to serve by helping lead worship. (In fact I still often have those feelings...) Here are some thoughts I recorded in my journal that day:

    "Today I did something I’d never done before. I participated in leading a worship service. I read a poem and led a prayer for grad chapel. It went relatively well, though I was a bit nervous and intimidated. Mostly, though, I was just thirsty (which then made me nervous), and so I ended up tripping over my words some during the closing prayer and said something stupid about our human, infallible beliefs, not meaning that, of course, but also not being used to using the word 'fallible' in that form. So, I spent a while this afternoon brooding over it, as I tend to do, but I’m sure everybody got the idea, even if they did scoff when they heard what I said. And I had three or four people at least, tell me that they appreciated my prayer. So, for what it’s worth, I’m declaring it a victory for God if not for me."

    Yes, it felt silly to feel and think the things that I did then, being the generally competent 25 year old I was at that point. But as you say, the men in that audience had mostly been given the option to lead worship from the time they were young boys, and that was my first time. Ever.

    Similarly, I particularly appreciated and felt affirmed by the segment of the "She is Called" podcast in which Stephen reminisces on his first experience of leading worship publicly, comparing and contrasting his experience as a boy with the experiences of girls.

    Anyway, thank you, Karissa, for sharing your heart and your experiences. I am blessed through them and through you. And I look forward to the next time you lead singing. :)

    1. Laura, thank you so much for sharing you thoughts, both past and present. I chuckled several times during your journal entry and completely identify! And you know, you're probably the only person who was there that day who remembers the "infallible" slip-up. Isn't it interesting how we hold onto our own mess ups and inflate them into much bigger deals than they really are?

      I also really appreciated that segment of "She Is Called" and had it in the back of mind as I wrote this post.

      I appreciate all the ways you lead and am also so blessed by you. You've led some of the best communion times I've ever been a part of--you're truly gifted, and I'm so thankful you have the opportunity and courage to share your giftedness with the rest of us.