Take Us There With You

Man in musical art concept
“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.” (Psalm 47:1-2)
Wayne Stewart, Worship Pastor Christ Community Church—Ames, IA

One of the most eye-opening moments for me in leading worship came when (apparently) my eyes weren’t open.

After services one Sunday a man I greatly respect encouraged me to think about my platform leadership posture. He shared that my habit of closing my eyes during much of the songs might come off as distant, disconnected from the congregation. I, of course, took this to heart and immediately set about finding ways to improve in light of his gentle prompt.

Wrong.

I sulked. I fought him in my mind and, yeah, I won those debates. Handily. But, while keeping his advice at a distance, I couldn’t shake a certain something he’d said:

“Wayne, obviously you are connecting deeply with the Lord as you lead. I just wish you’d take us there along with you.”

That one landed. And it’s helped me think more clearly about being a leader of gathered worship ever since. While the heart of the matter in worship is always, well, the heart, what we do in front of people can be of help or hindrance, and quite often without us even knowing it.

For better or worse, we are on a literal platform most of the time when leading others in gathered worship. Not surprisingly, some basic rules apply to the people and presentation dynamics of such a thing. Let me offer up two broader principles (among many, I am sure) and one action step as we seek to grow into better worship leaders and avoid repeating my own “eyes wide closed” moment.

 

Principle 1: Be Yourself but Remember Your Role

Consistently inhabiting the list of top issues in worship teaching, conferences, and blogs is authenticity. While important, leading with authenticity can be a slippery slope to manage. Here’s the thing that keeps us heading in the right direction, and it’s a bit of an “unsolvable” tension:

We must be ourselves… but we are called to be ourselves as we serve others. (1 Peter 4:10)

That sweet spot is where your life and faith come across as honest while at the same time extending yourself to the needs and vibe of the congregation.

Given your own individual tendencies, here are two questions to ponder:

1) What does my most natural body posture, facial expression, and countenance call people to? And is this (______________) what I actually want to call them to?

2) Does what I am doing invite them to engage and linger, or simply move on to the next thing in the service?

Be encouraged. These are usually the 5% adjustments that yield great benefits.

Got that mastered? Excellent, let’s move onto…

 

Principle 2: Match the Moment

Human beings desire congruency. So, a decent link is required between what we are all engaged in and how our bodies and faces (as leaders) represent that moment in time. Think of it like plot holes or factual inconsistencies in a novel. The bigger the gap, the more people check out, disconnect. In some way they think this isn’t real.

That makes me super sad. The greatest reality of all, flattened and greyed due to unintended messaging. Rest assured, the finished work of Christ and the indwelling of His Spirit are what gain us access to the Father and the vibrant interactions He intends for us as local congregations. Still, we need to be sure what we are doing up front is actually helpful.

Songs of proclamation call for a certain sense of assuredness. A physical presence that falls in on itself or looks down tends to offset that purpose. Adoration, reflection, and repentance have their own material and musical context. Lament is hard to lead without some measure of angst, either quieted or released.

We’re not trying to be actors. We’re just trying to keep things aligned for people so they can engage to as great an extent as possible.

You get the idea.

Which leads us to our next-step

 

The Tape Tells The Truth…

Video.

Ughhh. I get it, I get it. Nobody likes to view themselves on-screen, but there really is no other way to get at this. Unless of course you are brave enough to have someone else watch and then critique you personally. Since I am betting most of us would rather walk over hot coals, let’s cue up the services and take a look. But here’s what I want you to do: turn the sound off completely. For the moment we are not interested at all whether you can actually sing or play an instrument. Watch the service order (and the lyric cues if present) to get a sense of whether or not your demeanor is truthful to you and also a good match for the moment.

 

Summary

Our gatherings are taking their cues (in some measure) from us. Are we signaling to them warm, honest invitation? Indifference? Boredom? Frustration? Reverence? Anticipation? Humility? Celebration?

Thanks to my friend’s gentle reminder that he really wanted to worship alongside me, I hope to be getting a little better at this along the way.

You can, too.

Now, go watch some video. And be yourself but remember your role. Oh yeah, and match the moment. Now, go watch some video.

 

For Reflection:

What are some general statements that stuck out to you from the article? Ones you resonated with? Something you had a question or concern about?

Which of the two principles presents the greatest challenge for you? How so?

Can you think of a time when someone’s upfront leadership in church made you want to engage or connect? What might have been helpful?

What about a moment where an upfront leader did something that made it harder for you, or maybe led to a bit of a disconnect?

If you did the video exercise, what did you learn or observe? Some things to try moving forward?

Suggested other readings on this topic: Chapter 21 from Worship Matters (Kauflin, Crossway 2008); Pgs 142-144 from Heart of the Artist (Noland, Zondervan 1999)

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