What If?: Speaking In Tongues

What If? This series looks at real world situations that come up in worship leading. They may not happen often, but they happen often enough to talk about and plan ahead for. This week we’ll talk about speaking in tongues in a church service.


Someone might have read the above paragraph and said “what’s the big deal?” If you come from certain charismatic traditions you might not find this blog post applicable. In your church this may be a very common occurrence, but for a majority of churches, even churches like mine that believe and embrace the gifts of the Spirit as valid for today, someone speaking in another tongue during a worship service isn’t the norm.

Someone else might have just read the above paragraph and said “not at my church!”. Says who? This is the “what if” series, so play along with me here. Let’s say you lead worship at a baptist or reformed church that holds to a Cessationist viewpoint, and after your third song, a person you’ve never seen before begins to cry out in a language you don’t understand. “We don’t do that at my church” you might say, and sure, that may be the accepted procedure. But let’s say that this person walked into your church not knowing that, and for whatever reason decided to speak out in this way, what do you do?


Whether this person spoke out in ignorance of how your church operates, or out of a deep response to the ministry happening in your service, I choose to believe that this persons actions are most likely coming from an honorable and honest place. I heard a worship leader talk about a woman who had spoken out in another tongue in between songs at his church and he cut her off with a prayer. Afterwards he said he felt badly because “it took courage for her to speak out like that.” Even though its not a practice his church encouraged in their service, he felt he had unintentionally dishonored the Lord and this woman’s heart for worshiping God.

I think if we all start out with an understanding that these people are often not trying to be rebellious or disruptive, and that more than likely their motivations are good, then we can go forward, not seeing them as an enemy to attack, or obstacle to overcome, but a brother or sister to love and encourage, and perhaps instruct.


Look it happened. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is pretend something didn’t happen. Then equally on the opposite end of the spectrum you can make a way, way bigger deal of it than it is. It happened. Stay calm, deal with it appropriately, and carry on.

This is why it’s good to talk out ‘what if’ scenarios with you leadership. That’s a fun lunch to have. Make a list of “what ifs’ and talk it out with someone above you who might want to step in. Maybe your pastor will want to take a direct lead in the service at the point to teach or to guide. Maybe they’ll want to let you handle things and be glad that you took the invite to think ahead. Communication between the worship leader and leadership of the church is incredibly important, and it’s good to know what each other is thinking, especially in these “what if” scenarios.


Let me make this simple. I believe that the Holy Spirit is God, equally with the Father and the Son. I believe he is active, and that he is at work in the hearts and lives of people today. I see no scriptural basis to believe the gifts are no longer valid and operating today, any more than saying that fruits of the Spirit (Love, joy, peace, patience, etc) have stopped operating in the church.

1 Corinthians 14:27-28 says “If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God” (NASB).

The gifts of the Spirit are meant to build up, edify, and empower the church for God’s Mission. If we were in a business meeting and someone begins to present speaking in Hungarian, with a slide presentation in Japanese, and nobody spoke those languages, how would that be productive? The same is true with the gift of tongues. If someone speaks a word of prophecy, or wisdom then they build up the whole church. If someone speaks in a language that is not widely understood, then it only builds up the one who speaks it.

So, following 1 Corinthians 14, if someone speaks out in another tongue, I will then explain that the Spirit gives this gift to men, but he also gives them a gift of interpreting other languages, and so we will ask the Lord to empower someone for that service. If no one stands up in a reasonable time with the interpretation then we will ask that no one else speaks in tongues for the rest of the service so we can be a blessing to the whole church and be obedient to the commands of scripture.

If someone does get up and give an interpretation, then we thank the Lord for it, and continue on with the service. The pastor may or may not take some time after worship to go more in depth into these things.

NOTE: Tongues is a Godward expression of praise, not a coded message from God to men. So if someone is interpreting rightly they will not say “thus says the Lord” or anything that’s coming from God. That would be a word of prophecy. How you want to teach on or address that is a good conversation to have with your leadership.


This isn’t meant for you to read, and just do whatever I suggest. This is meant to be a conversation starter for you and your church’s leadership. What’s our church’s stance on these issues? How would we deal with it if something out of the ordinary happened in a service? Even if our church doesn’t believe in such things, how do we handle this with grace and love for the person speaking and with truth in instructing the church?

Ask your pastor or whoever is your oversight to have coffee and begin a valuable conversation.

Agree, Disagree, not sure? Leave a comment

2 thoughts on “What If?: Speaking In Tongues

  1. Pingback: Spring Q&A: Tongues, Tempo, and Phil Wickham’s Guitar | Real World Worship Leading

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