…While Letting God Take the Spotlight.
Worship leaders may stand center-stage before the congregation, but they have one essential mission: to turn the spotlight fully on God. To do that takes planning, self-awareness and practice. It also requires knowledge of their congregation.
Style Meets Substance
Before you can effectively love and lead your congregants in worship, it’s a great help to know them and to be sensitive to their identity and culture. In a room of ten worship leaders from various church music styles, the “most effective way to engage the congregation” would have ten different definitions. The heart of Christian worship is Church-universal, but cultural language or “style” is not. While we never compromise God’s truths to accommodate culture, handled correctly, cultural relevance is simply a tool to improve communication.
As a worship leader, it’s essential to implement a Biblical, authentic, yet context-appropriate, worship expression.
Spend time with the people your congregation: join a small group, attend church-wide activities, volunteer in a department other than the worship department.
Discuss your worship direction with your team and your pastor to decide what’s right for your congregation. Conduct a song and arrangement style inventory. While introducing fresh, new worship elements is an important part of your job, keep your choices within your chosen style. Your favorite new worship song or what you see on a great worship video may not be appropriate (or possible) in your particular services and could even be a distraction.
After doing your style inventory, you may find you’re already perfectly on target, just a tweak or two away, or in need of a serious overhaul to make worship appropriate and effective for your congregants. Just know that all your efforts will pay off in the worship experience of your congregation.
Your Presence on Stage
So now that you’re on your way to developing the best musical style elements for your church, you can dig deeper into your personal on-stage presence.
As a worship leader you’re very busy on stage, multitasking on a grand scale.
Technically, you’re managing all aspects of the music and presentation details.
Relationally, you’re constantly attentive to your team members, tech staff and congregants, ebbing and flowing with all that’s happening.
Spiritually, you’re engaging with the Lord and being sensitive to His leading.
With intention and practice, juggling all these components can become second nature, allowing you to stay more and more present to the Lord’s direction as you lead. This is what your congregation needs from you.
#worshipleader: Your on-stage demeanor should be comfortable, in-charge, yet yielded. Click To Tweet
The following suggestions for before, during and after the service will help you improve your stage presence. With some focused effort, you’ll accomplish your mission of allowing simple, God-glorifying worship to emerge from the complexity of the contemporary worship setting.
1. Prepare Spiritually
Prepare your own heart for worship through prayer and Bible reading. Pre-service, avoid distracting or negative conversations. Receive God’s affirmation and be confident in your identity and calling as you stand before the congregation. Intentionally invite God to lead you to worship “in Spirit and in truth” and ask Him to increase your sensitivity to His voice.
Be mindful of the spiritual message of each song and practice following God’s direction as you lead. As you sense His leading, step out in faith and take small risks like spontaneous ad libs or adding choruses when the congregation is deeply engaged. The more you practice, the more relaxed and comfortable you’ll be in this process.
2. Your Body Language
Your body is a musical instrument and singing is done with the entire body. The muscles that allow you to stand straight, turn or bend, to lift your mic or raise your hands, to breathe from your abdomen, to engage your larynx and brain, your resonating cavities, are all used when you sing. The message of the music engages your body as well as your mind.
But sometimes we’re unaware of how we actually appear to others, so be intentional about your mannerisms. Paying attention to your body in this context isn’t vain, it’s responsible.
Watch yourself leading worship on video. Do your physical actions reflect your sincere worship? Are they potentially distracting to your congregants? Are you under or over-animated? Get feedback from someone you trust and who is knowledgeable of worship leadership. Choose to engage in expressions that are both authentic for you and the message and appropriate to your church.
To get more comfortable onstage, get by yourself and practice walking back and forth on the bare stage. Notice uncomfortable feelings or physical awkwardness and address those feelings and their roots. Deal with those issues with God and with a trusted mentor or friend. Practice feeling at ease on the stage. See yourself as relaxed, focused and hearing God as you lead. Before a service, recall those relaxed feelings.
Taking a few deep breaths can offset nervousness and regular aerobic exercise helps to support your breathing and maintain your energy. Be attentive to your voice. Warm up vocally prior to the service and be sure to eat something healthy and hydrate well.
3. Refine Your Appearance
Evaluate your clothes choices. Is your wardrobe appropriate for leading worship at your particular church? Again, watch yourself on video. Your everyday clothes may look very different on-stage than off-stage. Some of your selections, may even appear odd or sloppy to others when viewed on stage.
Choose outfits that are simple, attractive and which underemphasize or conceal potentially distracting aspects of your body. Be modest. Avoid too much exposed skin, tight-fitting, too-short or skimpy clothes, etc. Distracting elements can include jewelry, make-up, hats/caps, skinny or torn jeans. If your church broadcasts your services, you may also have instructions from your video team regarding the best on-camera colors, fabrics, etc.
Remember that most congregations are multi-generational (as they should be) and clothing that’s trendy and acceptable to one age group may send an unintended message to another.
Discuss wardrobe standards with your team. To avoid wasting time on week-to-week wardrobe evaluations and to put everyone on the same page, establish and enforce an acceptable dress code by creating a written, comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts for your team. Make sure all members receive a copy of the code and agree to it’s requirements. (Get a FREE template for creating your own Worship Ministry Handbook on my home page here.)
4. Get Your Bearings
Spend some time getting comfortable with the stage layout. Where is everyone standing? Stretch out your arms and see if you’re going to hit anyone. If you “travel” during the set to address different areas of the congregation, know what’s in your way, decide where you’re going, turn in that direction and move your body confidently to that spot. Walk with intentional strides. Then plant your feet and address the congregation with confidence. Practice maneuvering comfortably around cables, stands, stools, instruments and people. Don’t shuffle, slink or slump. Face the congregation as much as possible.
When entering and exiting the stage be sure the pathway is clear. If you leave the stage during the service, the exit path may be dark. Avoid unnecessary accidents by practicing entrances and exits during sound check, especially if your stage setup and egresses change often.
5. Practice Your Visual Focus
Let your eyes roam over the entire congregation. Don’t get distracted by familiar faces. If you have a teleprompter screen, practice reading it without noticeably moving your eyes back and forth or looking out of the corner of your eye. Practice glancing directly at the screen, taking a mental picture of those few lines and looking back at the congregation as you sing. Or better yet, memorize your songs.
6. Listen Intentionally
Tune into the subtleties of the music, the congregation and the Holy Spirit. Pay attention to the band and the singers. Vocal and instrumental nuances can be great tools for leading the congregation but only if you can hear them well.
Don’t waste rehearsal & sound check time on subtle arrangement elements that won’t be heard by the congregation.
Make sure you spend the time you need on your monitor or in-ear mixes in sound check. If the service mixes regularly need “more work than you have time for,” have the worship and tech teams come in early for sound check a couple of times and spend extra time on audio so the tech team can make notes. You’ll gain valuable ground by giving the tech team a more relaxed atmosphere for fine tuning the onstage mixes well in advance of the service than in the stressful moments during sound check.
(If you and your team would like to take your worship-tech relationship to the next level, check out my ebook “Joining Forces: The Worship Leader’s Guide to Alliance with Tech” here.)
7. Engage the Congregation
Sincerely engage the congregation even while your focus is divided with other elements of leading. Being well-rehearsed before services is essential to this process.
As you worship, your authentic responses to God’s presence will help invite your congregants into a place of worship.
Make sure to look towards them often. Communicate that you’re aware of them through eye contact or sincere, inclusive gestures towards them. As you love them from the stage, you’ll engage them. Re-experience the personal meaning of the songs line by line to make them fresh for you and the congregation.
Remember that as they worship God, they are, appropriately, only peripherally thinking about you. Lead, but respect their experience. They are enjoying God’s presence enhanced by the lyrics and perhaps seeking Him for a particular need. Watch their body language. Are they praying, silent, raising their hands, clapping, dancing? Notice their response to each song and let your discernment influence how you lead them. Be open, with the Lord’s leading, to employing some instructive moments where you might encourage them towards adoration, seeking, repentance, etc. without interrupting their worship.
8. Avoid Auto-Pilot
Once you’re comfortable in your worship environment, it’s easy to become so focused on your team, the teleprompter, the congregation and what’s coming up next musically that you can actually fail to engage in worship. Like anything else, practice works. Avoid substituting real worship for the “task” of leading worship. Yes, you can slip into auto-pilot, and no doubt there will be times when you need to, but it shouldn’t become a habitual state of insincerity. The congregation will sense it.
Singers and instrumentalists must learn to work and worship at the same time. Get the work done, know who’s around you, who’s entering the stage during a song, the order of service, what key you’re in, the right capo fret, etc. If all your focus is on the work, you’ll miss spontaneous cues from the leader and the mood of the congregation. At the same time, if all your attention is focused on your personal worship, and you tend to get lost in it and forget the roadmap, you need to transition back to your work and gain your footing. Ideally it should be both/and, not either/or.
9. Push Through Resistance
There are times when your responsibilities as worship leader and your service “starting time” demand that you lead in spite of your personal mood. Before the service, you may have an upsetting interaction, an intense distraction, or a blatant attack from the enemy. This is why your spiritual preparation is essential.
At times like these, use your worship muscle memory. If you’re distracted, try submitting your mind, soul and body to God even while standing on stage in front of the congregation. It can be very freeing. Whether you are simply out of sorts, not feeling quite well, or whether the enemy is fully assaulting you, know that your act of worship is a declaration of truth and power against the enemy. Resist him and his advances and put him in his place through worship. Just do it. You’ll be surprised at how God can use this obedient sacrifice for His purpose.
10. Receive Feedback
There’s no shortage of staff and congregants willing to give you feedback concerning the worship set or even your leading. In fact, as the congregation and staff get to know you, many of them are likely to have suggestions and complaints. First, listen and respond out of true humility. Their observation could be absolutely right! If they aren’t, learn to be patient and gracious to those who take you aside and have a “suggestion” for you. You must discern whether it is viable or not.
You’ll learn soon enough who has good ideas, who’s a spokesperson for someone else, who’s being critical and who just might need attention. All of these souls are worthy of our respect and compassion. Remember, they probably aren’t privy to the worship history and changes in style and philosophy that have come at a great cost to you and your team. If necessary, respond to them by email where you can briefly outline your choices/policies. Any congregants displaying unusually invasive or rude behavior can be directed to pastoral staff for help.
Above all, even though you may be the “expert” in this area, don’t establish an “us and them” mentality that demeans or disregards the congregation or staff. It’ll seep into your team and create an elitist wedge between your team and the congregation. This obviously isn’t godly and isn’t the relationship you or your team want to develop with the people you’re called to nurture and lead in worship. Deeply care for them on stage and off and let God guide your responses. Each one will be unique.
It’s a Process
Always remember, no one starts out as an expert in anything including worship leading. Regardless of your natural abilities, to succeed as a worship leader requires intentional work and dedication. As you honor your calling, develop your musical and technical skills and fulfill the administrative and relational requirements of your job with excellence, you’ll find that it’s profoundly worth it to master the complexities so that you can lead your congregation into the glorious, simple worship of God.No one starts out as an expert...succeeding as a worship leader requires intentional work and dedication. Click To Tweet