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Posted by on Jul 2, 2016 | 0 comments

Leading Silence


A number of years ago while on a mission trip, I was planning a weekday morning worship service with youth and adults.  We were assigning people to lead various elements but when we got to the end of the liturgy, I realized we had one youth left who had not yet been assigned a part.  So, out of necessity, I said, “OK, ‘Frank’, why don’t you lead the silent prayer?”  To which Frank responded, “how do I do that?”

It was a good and profound question, of course.  I mean, how do we lead silence?  Is that possible?  Deisrable?  Meaningful?  Can silence be led in a worship service or does silence just kind of happen when leadership ends?

Well, I’ll just come out and say it: I think silence can be led. In fact, I think good silence in worship that inspires, connects, and opens, usually requires good leadership.

Here are some thoughts for you to consider:

Scripture has a lot to say about silence.  Passages from Ecclesiastes 3:7, Psalm 37:7, Mark 1:35, Mark 14:61, James 1:19 and many others remind us that silence is essential to our faith and worship.  They remind us that silence is something God calls us to do, that it is something that is good to do, that it is a form of resistance, and that it is a powerful tool for keeping us connected to God.  Scripture reminds us that silence is not superfluous, but is an essential part of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.

Because silence is an essential part of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ, it is worth keeping and keeping well.  The problem is that silence is not something many worship leaders (me included!!) spend a whole lot of time thinking about.  There is often a leadership void when it comes to silence and the fruit of that is moments of silence in worship that are often less than inspiring and sometimes just plain awkward.  Lame.

So, how do we lead our congregations in keeping silence well?  Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Reflect:  Look at your liturgy and reflect on where the periods of silence usually come.  Why do they happen and where do they happen?  How is the silence connected to faith and discipleship in Jesus Christ?  Do the silences that are kept in those places inspire and feed your congregation?  Do the ways that you keep silence “work” or not?  It is good to be honest here.
  2. Breaking & Entering: How we enter and break periods of silence can dramatically affect our experiences of them.  How does your congregation enter?  How does it break?  Could a bell or music help your congregation to transition in and out of silence?  What about an invitation for the congregation to bookend silences by taking a deep breath, or performing a hand hesture (e.g. open palms towards the cross), or saying quietly: “be still and know that I am God”?
  3. Filling: Sometimes filling silence can enhance it.  How about inviting your congregation to meditate on bulletin cover art or projected images?  How about offering a leading question or inviting those present to use the silence as a time to give thanks or to lament?
  4. Play:  Try adding periods of silence in different places.  Try variations with the lengths that silences are kept.  Preach a sermon about silence.  “Fill” it with different things (see above).  Contrast silence with a period of loud noises just before silence is kept.  Give yourself and your congregation permission to PLAY with silence and see what happens.

Whatever you do though, don’t assume that keeping silence well will just happen.  Explore and refine the ways you lead silence in the context of your congregational worship services.  Oh yeah, and help other worship leaders to explore and refine too.  After all, silence is an essential part of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ and is worth leading well.

© Rev. Kevin Goldenbogen, 2016

Kevin Goldenbogen is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ serving an amazing congregation in the foothills of the Green Mountains of Vermont. He skis, climbs, runs, bakes bread, rides a red Vespa, and tries every day to follow Jesus. He is married to the perfect woman and has two boys who he loves beyond words.

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