This article was originally and written and published on worshipleader.com and can be viewed here
This is part 1 of a two-part series on lyric memorization. You can view part 2 here
It’s not easy. Even if it seems to come easily to other people, the truth is it’s difficult to memorize song lyrics. While you may be able to spout off the lyrics to the theme song to “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” or “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you may really struggle with memorizing new songs to use in leading your congregation.
The truth is, you’re not alone. However, I want to convince you that it’s important. And honestly, as a Worship Leader, it may be one of the most important things that you do.
Several years ago, my friend and mentor Todd Fields from NorthPoint Community Church located north of Atlanta encouraged me to make a practice of memorizing song lyrics each week.
When I started leading worship as a High School student, we used music stands and chord charts. This is how we learned and I think it’s a good practice for young worship leaders who are standing in front of a group for the first time. Standing in front of a bunch people staring back at you, expecting you to “lead them” in anything is a daunting task. Even when you’re in your 30s. So for a 16-year-old who is stepping into it for the first time, I get it and I support it.
For those of us who have been doing this for a while, who feel called to not only sing at people, but to truly lead people, to pastor people, memorization is key. I want to provide 6 reasons why I think it’s important.
- Memorization honors God
Anytime we step into using our mind in a greater way, we are honoring God. He commands us to love Him with our mind and scripture is full of instances where we are told to remember. Memorization of anything that is of God always leads to gratitude for the things of God. Philippians 4 says: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
- Memorization can make you a better singer
Don’t let anyone tell you that singing with excellence is easy. It’s difficult and it’s affected by so many controllable and uncontrollable variables. It’s actually an athletic activity that involves the use of more muscles than you realize. In fact, some experts say that a good abdominal and core workout allows singers to vocalize with more strength. When we remove mental stress from the act of leading worship we are ultimately creating mental clarity to devote to other aspects of that same leadership. When I’m comfortable with the lyrics, I’m able to devote more thought to the way that I’m singing.
- Memorization allows you to be more pastoral
One of the most important ways that we lead worship has little to do with music. Prayer should be at the top of our list when we are on a platform in front of people. We have a distinct opportunity to ask God to move during this time of worship. If you know your congregation well, you might find connections between the lyrics that you are singing and the needs that are present among the people. We must find ourselves praying for those people we lead. Confidence in our lyrics will allow us to devote our hearts and minds to prayer and pastoral leadership during worship.
- Memorization makes you a better band leader
If you are responsible for leading the band, you should be well-versed in not only your instruments, but also the instruments and musical parts of those you are leading with. Good leaders have spent more time in their preparation than anyone else on stage. Lyric memorization is advance work, and it’s one of the few things that you can do ahead of time.
- Memorization prevents procrastination
Memorization isn’t a last-minute activity. I’ve tried before and I know that if I’m memorizing lyrics in a hurry, I’m not going to do it well. I’ve been leading worship and memorizing lyrics for a lot of years and it’s still challenging! Start early and work on your memorization often and you’ll find that over time, you will learn how you memorize most quickly.
- Memorization removes the barriers
I use music stands for weddings and funerals. With events like these, you have one shot to get it right and the focus is rarely on you, the musician. We almost never use music stands for services. The removal of the music stand does more for your worship environment than you have any idea. Not only does it clean your stage up, but it also removes a significant barrier between you and the people you are leading. Instead of placing your eyes on a sheet, you are placing your eyes on the people. It’s a visual reminder that the environment in which you are leading is alive.
Any way you look at it, lyric memorization is tough. It’s a “mental muscle” that must be exercised. With a little hard work, you’ll see improvement. I guarantee you’ll be glad you took the time to invest in yourself to become a better leader.