You might think it odd that I’m addressing stage presence in a worship leading context, but all too often I see worship leaders struggling to maintain a leading presence for their congregations. It might be a confidence issue, or they worry about getting in the way of God and “humble” themselves too much, trying to become invisible. Unfortunately, this can actually become a distraction. Our congregations need us to fulfill our role with authority and confidence so they can worship effortlessly.
So how can we be confident, while still honoring God with humility? Here’s some things I have learned:
There are certainly moments when closed eyes are appropriate. But excessively closed eyes can create an invisible barrier between us and the congregation. A friend told me once, “Our worship can still be personal without being private.” That’s the key: communal worship is not a time for us to close off from the people we are leading. We are there to worship together! Incredible personal connections are made when we make eye contact – it engages people, helps them feel known and loved, and communicates a shared feeling. It helps us draw closer to God together.
Have you ever been led in worship by a person who seems afraid or uncomfortable on the platform? It’s uncomfortable for everybody and can create tension in the air. Open yourself up to your congregation: stand up straight, facing front and sometimes tilting left or right to physically address every person in the room. This stance is engaging and conveys confidence. Don’t deny the authority God and your community have given you. In addition, people need to see our visual cues for where the song is going. Most people in our congregations are not musical and don’t feel things like musicians do. We need to guide them well with our body language.
Visual & Verbal cues:
We may have heard songs like “Mighty to Save” a hundred times and could lead it in our sleep, but there will always (hopefully) be people in our congregations who are new and need some guidance. If we do a good job communicating where the song is going, we eliminate distraction and it’s easier for everyone to focus on worship. Giving some quick & simple cues can help people follow along and this builds trust between you and the congregation:
Visual: Use of hand gestures to signal when we invite them to sing, stepping back from the mic during instrumental breaks, emoting through our body language when appropriate, raising our hands or clapping to encourage others to do the same, etc.
Verbal: One option is “vocal lead-ins” – singing/saying the first couple words of the next phrase to let people know what to sing next. You can invite them to sing by saying things like, “Let’s sing that again.” or “Raise your voices with us.” Also, you can communicate what’s happening – “Will you stand and sing with us?” or “We invite you to sit and rest to soak in these words.” Develop some ideas ahead of time that feel appropriate for you and your congregation.
Don’t be afraid to talk, pray, or lead a meditation in-between songs when appropriate. Don’t be afraid to share why you chose a song and what it means to you. Don’t be afraid to be authentic on the platform. Our congregations want to worship deeply, but we may need to teach them. Find ways to help them experience songs in such a way that they don’t go home saying, “That was a cool song!” But they go home saying, “God spoke to me through that song.”
Feel it out:
Be attentive to the congregation and their needs. If you sense in any moment that worship needs to go differently than your original game plan, don’t deny that feeling. Sometimes the congregation is so caught up in worship, that it would be a disservice to end a song early. Conversely, maybe you’ve totally lost them – communicate with your band to end a song earlier than planned. It’s sometimes good to leave people wanting! Prepare music as best you can during rehearsals, but be sensitive to the congregation throughout the set, figure out what their needs are, and be willing to improvise. Congregations can sense when we are connected to them, and this again builds trust and confidence in us.
I used to be a hesitant, eyes-shut, closed-off kind of worship leader, but was inspired by a dear friend to try leading in this way. Everything changed for the better. Once I began opening myself more to the congregation and addressing their needs (still with my deep desire to facilitate worship), I began to see God work in new ways. I received affirmation that people were connecting more, not with me, but with God. And that, after all is the goal.
Honor the authority you’ve been given, find the balance of confidence, communication, and humility, and lead well, friends.
I would love to hear feedback on this, and I encourage you to check out www.expressiveworship.net to dig deeper into some of these concepts and utilize their resources that have helped me so much.