One of my least favorite things about being a part of a worship gathering is when a lead worshipper tries to tell a story that tanks. The story is undeveloped. It’s “on the fly”. It doesn’t connect to anything. Even worse, the story is overly emotional. The only thing that tops this uncomfortable feeling is being the lead worshipper telling the lame story. The congregation stares back blankly at you. You wish you could walk off the stage or hide in your office.
The stories we share are on-ramps for the songs we’re singing. The point of telling a story in worship is to connect people to the heart of a song, to give people context into something more tangible and personal.
A few weeks ago my pastor was teaching from 1 Peter 4, with a focus on rejoicing through suffering. Instantly I thought of the song, “Desert Song” from Hillsong Church. We don’t regularly sing the song (It’s so 2008, right guys?), but I couldn’t get it off of my mind.
The following day, four Houston firefighters died in a huge fire. Several others were injured. To date, it was the worst day in Houston Fire Department history.
The story hit close to home. My dad is a Deputy Chief for the department, where he’s worked for 35 years. A few of my friends are firefighters. One of our church elders is a firefighter. Then the news came in of Captain Bill Dowling, one of the injured. Bill and his wife have been a part of our church family for several years. As of Saturday, Bill had one leg amputated, his internal organs were struggling, and doctors were planning a second leg amputation.
Saturday night, my wife and I sat down to pray through the songs for Sunday. The lyrics of Verse 2 of Desert Song surprised us:
This is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved
Of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flame.
This topic of rejoicing through suffering took on a whole new meaning.
If we’d picked the song after the events it wouldn’t have felt genuine. I couldn’t have sung it any other way than the way it had been given to us. It felt like it was from God for our church and for this family. We couldn’t just sing the song. We had to tell the story. Our church had been affected. We had to tell Bill’s story and our story of how God dropped this song in our hearts the day before the fire.
So I did. That Sunday morning, I told the stories and connected the dots for me personally, our church, and the lyrics of Desert Song. The response in worship was beautiful.
Not every song needs a story. I’m not an advocate for Worship Leader Story Time in every service. But when it’s right, you say it. When you feel like people need some help singing, find a story that helps open people’s eyes. Not everyone loves music like you do. They aren’t necessarily blown away by your cool arrangement or lyrics of a new song at first listen.
If you aren’t telling stories in worship you should consider starting. The stories don’t have to be tearjerkers, but they should be real and from the heart.
Look for stories everywhere. Consider printing the lyrics to your songs and mining them for material through the week.
Pray through your song lyrics, asking God to give you stories that will help the church connect to the songs. When you have the story, tell it to your spouse, your friend, and your pastor to get some feedback. I ran my story for Desert Song by several others to make sure it didn’t feel like I was manipulating.
Lastly, remember Jesus’ example. Matthew 7:28 (ESV) “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching.” The reason they were astonished was because of the way Jesus taught them about the Kingdom of God through the imagery of storytelling.