This past weekend, I had an interesting conversation with an attender from our church after one of our services.
I happened to be hosting the service, which in our context means welcoming the congregation, praying, leading the offering, sharing announcements and wrapping things up after the sermon. After the service concluded, he approached me and said,
“You are so natural up there. Is this something that comes easy for you?”
When he said this, I laughed. Why? Well, because the first time I hosted one of our services, I climbed the stairs onto the stage, looked out at the crowd and froze. My mind literally went blank. As in, there was nothing in my brain. Nothing. I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to say, what my name is, or what church I was standing in. Nothing. And that’s when I really started to sweat.
Yeah, I bombed. It was so bad that after mumbling through a welcome, I blurted out “And that’s all I can remember so I’m going to sit down.”
That’s when the pastor who was preaching that night leaned over to me and said “I’ll take it from here.”
I didn’t even get to finish the service.
So, the answer is “NO!” It isn’t easy and no it didn’t come naturally.
That story is from about six years ago. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m some Andy Stanley or anything but I can now confidently host a service and, later, that pastor even allowed me to preach from that same stage. Proud moment.
How did I move from my initial failure to adequately performing the job? Well, that’s what I’d like to share with you because I think my growth in this area translates to growing in any sort of ministry skill. So, whether you’re attempting to grow as a worship leader, a preacher, a manager or a counselor, I think it really comes down to three strategies.
1. Watch the Pros
The most important factor in my improvement as a communicator has been watching a pro. My senior pastor is a master preacher. Over the last few years, I’ve watched him very closely. In other words, I’ve been carefully observing what it is that he does in preparation and delivery that makes him so good. I’ve learned that he has a system and that he regularly employs specific tools. I think of it as a type of apprenticeship.
So, if you want to improve in a ministry skill, find a pro and watch what they do. I think it’s helpful to not just watch them once, but to watch them over and over because at time progresses, you’ll pick up the nuances of what makes that person a master.
One word of advice. If you're watching someone in person, you may want to let the person know that you’ll be watching them. I’d hate for that person to get creeped out. Hey, I’m just looking out for your reputation!
2. Get At-Bats
I’m a big baseball fan. There’s a statistic that’s recorded in baseball, and if you’re a fan, you’ve probably heard this term before. It’s called an “at-bat.” An at-bat is recorded each time a hitter comes to the plate (unless he gets walked or beaned — we can talk about that another time). Most players get 3 to 5 at-bats in a game and a starting player gets a few hundred at-bats over the course of a season.
The more at-bats a player gets the more comfortable that player becomes. Eventually that player can recognize certain pitches and know how to adjust. Eventually, just about every situation that player finds himself in will be familiar. He becomes more and more comfortable with each at-bat.
Typically, a rookie player, facing his first major league pitcher will look like a complete fool as a 95 mph fastball rockets past him. Why? Because it’s his first at-bat. Everything about the experience from the stadium, to the uniform, to the pitch itself is brand new. A few hundred at-bats later and that player is much more likely to send that fastball over the leftfield wall.
The reason I bring this up is to point out that looking back on my hosting fail, I’m not surprised that I bombed. It was my first at-bat. Everything was brand new... and scary, I might add! But every at-bat since then has become more and more comfortable.
It could be that your journey from rookie preacher or worship leader to master preacher or worship leader is just a matter of getting more at-bats. If you feel called to your role, my advice would be to embrace every opportunity presented to you to get another at-bat. Over time, you will become more and more comfortable.
A quick word to those of us who are in leadership positions where we need to develop younger or new talent. That person we need to develop will never become as skilled as we are unless we give them some at-bats.
3. Ask for Feedback
The third factor in my growth as a communicator has been feedback. We have what we like to call a “high feedback culture” in our church. In other words, you’ll always know where you stand — what you’re doing well as well as your growth areas.
Depending on your temperament, this may sound terrifying or exhilarating. I assure you that with enough trust and relationship, it is a beautiful thing.
What I know for sure is that feedback has made me a better communicator. When I am hosting a service, my senior pastor will often say to me between services:
“Can I give you a line?”
“Be brave because he’s about to tell you a better way to say what you said.”
Receiving feedback requires humility. It requires acknowledging that I’m not perfect. It also requires a strong sense of identity, not in what I do but in who I am in Christ. When I am grounded in my identity as God’s Son, I am able to receive feedback, even harsh feedback, without internalizing it.
For example, a few months ago, one of our staff members let me know that when I’m speaking on the stage I have a lot of nervous energy. To be specific, I do this weird shoulder shimmy type thing. As you can imagine, I LOVED hearing this.
But, what I was doing was distracting. My co-worker cared enough about me and also about the work we do that he carefully told me about my nervous movements. Because of this feedback, I went back and watched video of myself on stage and sure enough, I do weird things!
Thankfully, I’ve been able to correct this. At least, I think. Maybe you should check out a video and see if you notice anything.
My point is that regular feedback has made me a better communicator and I’m convinced that if you invite people to give you feedback on whatever skill you’re trying to get better at, you will improve, as long as you exercise the humility required to receive the feedback and act on it.
Let’s wrap this up. If you are seeking to improve in a ministry skill, be encouraged! There are simple ways to grow.
- Identify a pro and learn from that person
- Seek more at-bats. Ask for more opportunities so that you can get more comfortable
- Invite feedback and act on it
If this feels intimidating, just pick one and run with it. And if you have any of your own strategies for consistently improving the skills God has given you, I'd love to hear them. Just leave them in the comments below.