Hey Church Musician, You’re Leading Worship Too!

There are few things more confusing to me than watching a worship team standing on the platform, and seeing the face of a worship leader who has all of his being in engaged in worship of God. But then as I survey the rest of the team, I see a bass player with a too-cool-for-school scowl on his face or a guitar player with a sheepishly bewildered or bored look on his face. Or a keys player whose face is completely expressionless, glued to a sheet of music.

They are all worshiping the same God, right?

As believers, we are all leaders of worship. Whether standing on the platform or in the congregation, we are all collectively encouraging one another to enter into the kind of full heart, mind, soul and strength demonstration of adoration that our God desires.

This is magnified from the platform. As the privilege of influence increases, so does the responsibility of leadership. That is not confined to vocalists.

The “worship leader” is not the only one leading worship. Bass players… Keys players… Drummers… Guitarists… You’re leading worship too.

Because of the various religious and cultural backgrounds the people in our churches are coming from, the need for unapologetic demonstration of “all-in” worship from the platform becomes increasingly important. Many people are longing to express this type of worship, but are simply looking for permission. Others have been burned by disorderly displays of emotional hype and need to see this done in a genuine, authentic and helpful way. Still others have never had a point of reference for this and need to see it for themselves and be coached along.

No matter where our people are on the spectrum, it is imperative that everyone on the platform is putting forth every effort to serve and lead them. Here are 3 simple ways to do this more effectively.

SING LOUDLY. No believer with a voice is exempt from the scriptural call to sing the praises of God loudly. So even if you’re playing bass or keys or any other instrument – sing along! Not only will this enhance your own experience of worshiping God as you meditate on the truth of the lyrics you are singing, but you will also visibly demonstrate to the congregation the value of singing out loud the praises of God. You don’t have to have mic or even a good voice, but as you play your instrument, belt it out with all you’ve got!

SMILE BIG. Your countenance says a ton about how you feel about God. For example, if you look bored, you are communicating that God is boring. It makes no sense to sing about how great and awesome God is with a smoldering scowl on your face. On the other hand, if you are delighting in God, people will see it in your countenance and know that God is a God to be delighted in. I’m not saying fake a cheesy grin, but I am saying, let your enjoyment of God show. Obviously you should use wisdom… For example, if you’re singing a lament of repentance, a smile might not be fitting, but let your countenance reflect what you are singing.

SHOW ADORATION. True adoration is not limited to our songs and our faces. The idea of loving God with all your strength is using your entire body to express adoration to God. So while you are likely to have your hands occupied for the majority of the songs, try to find moments to raise your hands and worship in other full-body-type ways. You are an example for the church in what is appropriate expression of praise, adoration and thanksgiving to God. So don’t just stand there petrified like a statue – move around.

Musicians, we are on the platform to worship and lead worship, not just to play music. So let’s do everything we can to do this well for the glory of Christ.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:

As a church musician, do you see yourself as a leader of worship? Why or why not?

As a musician seeking to lead your congregation in worship, are there things you would add to this list?

32 Comments
  • Tessa
    February 28, 2013

    Great tips Stephen.

    As a guitarist (but not a vocalist), sometimes I feel out of place on stage. One way I overcome that is by singing along! So, I was happy to see it on the list. I need to work on smiling bigger, though.

    • Darya
      April 9, 2013

      I had never heard it until Friday night at the Easter service. Im not a huge Natalie Grant fan, but I cant get this one out of my head. I dwedloanod it yesterday and have been singing it since. Love this song! And how cool is it that were singing the same songs at Highlands even at different campuses. Love it! Amy

  • Lwendo
    February 28, 2013

    Bless you brother!! Just yesterday we were taking of all these points when we met as praise and worship team. I know all this message was meant for me and the Holy spirit directed me here as the very first thing i have read this morning!! This is how wonderful our God is for sure. Many blessings brother! Please remember our group in your prayers. We are in East Africa, Tanzania in the city called Mwanza.

  • Lia
    March 1, 2013

    As a percussionist and MEAN tambourin-ist… I find my self wanting to “fully” worship but hesitant to understand my role as a “leader”. (It tends to be hard to shake the tambourine without shaking everything else). I’m thrilled to hear someone say encourage us to let our joy of the Lord be known! Thanks for the word.

  • Mike Ruel
    March 2, 2013

    Very helpful post thank you. This is something I think about a lot.

  • Spiritual Klutz
    March 2, 2013

    I like the ideas here, but I admit some skepticism on whether the “everybody smile BIG” admonition won’t result in some awkward stage cheese.

    • Spiritual Klutz
      March 2, 2013

      I think some follow up posts could be really helpful. My interest is definitely piqued.

  • Michael
    March 2, 2013

    That’s nuttin’. At Harbor PC in San Diego, they hire unbelievers to provide the instrument, so a type of stoic reservedness on the faces of all. But hey, the music is seeker friendly and ‘good’ so who am to criticize.

  • Joel
    March 2, 2013

    Then, there are the churches who only use pretty people to lead worship. Seriously, what’s worse? Pretty or emotionless people?

  • Steven Smith
    March 2, 2013

    Boy, I’m really not sure about this. You essentially define the depth of orshiping and / or worship leading by the look on someone’s face. I’m assuming this is the standard eyes squeezed shut from time to time, head back, nodding etc, etc? Or am I missing something?

    I’ve played music for 40+ years, and there are times when I’m comfortable enough with the song, and I know the lyrics well enough to sing along, but I’m here to tell you – you can’t get so caught up in singing the song that you forget to play your part. Remember, you’re leading, not following. To lead, you have to be able to see the near-future pretty effectively, aware of what’s coming up, and how you’re going to execute your part of it.

    The keyboard player? He may well be thinking, “Ok, I’ve got to shift from this B-3 background pad I’m running when the bridge hits in two measures. I need to cue up the little synth part that doubles the guitar going into the bridge.”

    My favorite is the ‘spare’ acoustic player,(you know the guy – the worship leader’s friend) who has his eyes squeezed shut, belting out the song. You’re like, “Dude, if you’d open your eyes for just a second, someone would be able to tell you you’re in the wrong key.”

    My advice? Don’t judge my heart based on the appearance on my face.

    Quite frankly, my preference would be that you couldn’t see my face. Please don’t put it on the screen. That’s why in many older churches or cathedrals, the organist is facing away from the congregation or even in the balcony – so you’d focus on the music and words, and not on the face of the musician.

    • Stephen
      March 2, 2013

      Steven, great thoughts. You can see my post on Worship Leader, Keep Your Eyes Open – I’m not advocating for squeezing your eyes shut and being caught up in a personal experience, but for leading. I am more advocating for being so prepared that what you are doing is as second nature as possible. That doesn’t mean that you default on your responsibility to do your part well. But I think there are moments where no matter what you’re doing on the platform you can engage your full self in worship.

  • Steven Smith
    March 2, 2013

    I’ll give you moments. :-) Your article, though, strikes pretty close to home. I’m the stoical looking bass player. I had a church member approach me asking, “Why I didn’t smile?”

    Well, I usually execute the bass player sway. I try to play my part professionally, musically, and perfectly. I want to be fully engaged with the music and the musicians. There have been numerous times over the years when I’ve gotten caught up in the music, and flubbed a part, much to the amusement of my buddy, the keyboard player. To me, my number one role is to execute my part perfectly. It’s going to be hard for the worship leader to keep that worshipful countenance if the band is hosing the song behind him or her.

    Finally, I was kind and apologetic to the member, but what I wanted to ask was, “Why are you looking at me?” It’s the old “Steve had his eyes open during the prayer”, to which the only possible response was, “How do you know?”

    Keep up the good work!

  • Chelsea
    March 2, 2013

    “Others have been burned by disorderly displays of emotional hype and need to see this done in a genuine, authentic and helpful way.” This is probably me. The thing is, seeing my worship team “smiling big” is probably not very helpful, unless they are doing it genuinely and spontaneously. It is much more acceptable to me to think that someone is really trying to concentrate on playing their instrument (expressionless), then to think they are putting on some kind of “happy show” to demonstrate how I’m supposed to worship. I’ve seen a lot more worship leaders look like they are on speed (really, really ecstatically happy) than anything else– sometimes that’s genuine, but sometimes it is obviously not. I’d rather see “real” people leading worship.

  • Dave
    March 2, 2013

    Worship, for me, takes place when I see God, in His Word – not when I see man leading songs written by, and for man.

  • Monica
    March 2, 2013

    I get your point here, really I do. However I would like to suggest that you cut the musicians a little slack. They are serving the church. They are probably trying REALLY HARD to not mess up. Often there are technical issues to deal with that the people in the pews never see. They (and their families) are usually investing a lot of time and energy the rest of the week to make Sunday service go smoothly. In many congregations, they are not professionals and have a day job so to speak. Despite being on stage, they are often introverts. The ‘worship leader’ is usually the guy with the front man personality. Consider that the other musicians maybe started learning an instrument in the first place cuz they found it hard to speak to people.
    And that musician who is scowling? He can see you too, and he can tell if you are totally checked out of the service. He can see you scowling, or not singing, or sleeping.

    • Stephen
      March 2, 2013

      Great thoughts Monica. I understand that introversion is often a factor and that it is also very difficult to push past the distraction of the people in our congregations with bored, disinterested scowls on their faces as well. Thanks for the insight!

  • Iowa Boy
    March 2, 2013

    Mr. Miller and others,

    A question occurs to me: Who are you — or who am I — to judge the quality of another person’s worship? We know that “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” I would suggest that you not worry about whether someone is smiling big enough.

    • Stephen
      March 2, 2013

      Iowa Boy, not really sure what your real name is…. sorry. You are correct that I cannot judge the heart. However, my push back is that if you are taking up the mantle of leadership by being on the platform, then you really can’t be of the mind of, “Don’t look at me.” because you have chosen to have people look at you as an example of leadership. You are in essence saying, like Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” You have chosen to be a communicator of the glory of God. Depending on what study you look at, communication is 70-90% nonverbal. So if you have chosen to LEAD, you must do so with the tools that God has given you. I am certainly not advocating for faking it. But as holistic creatures, we are designed by a joyful God to find our greatest, deepest joy in him. We are repeatedly commanded to rejoice in him. So while we may have difficulty in expressing that joy now, not one person in Heaven will struggle to express his or her joy in God because we will not be able to contain it. There will not be a single person in heaven with a bored, disinterested look on his or her face. We will be celebrating the holiness of God. Just look at the examples in scripture. It’s pretty far from what we often experience with our human limitations here on earth. But our corporate worship experiences are a rehearsal for and a representation of the ultimate joy we will experience when we all gather together around the throne to worship the Lamb that was slain.

    • Iowa Boy
      March 3, 2013

      Mr. Miller,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my first post. I’m on a low-key worship team, and I’m not expecting or encouraging any person in the church to model himself or herself after me.

      A couple of other thoughts: Heaven will be wonderful, and our praise will be great. But we’re not in heaven yet. We sometimes grieve, cry, are angry or confused or irritated or wounded. If a person lives long enough, he or she will experience all of those things. And on any given Sunday, half of the people in a church service might be experiencing those things too.

      Last thought: Is it possible that you’re laying a burden on the backs of worship-team people, by expecting how they look, or how they get into the worship? In my case, if I took your advice, I’d probably just quit the worship team. Of course, I can only speak for myself.

  • Lyn
    March 2, 2013

    I think if you would all just put down the instruments and sing acapella harmony it would solve a lot of these problems and everyone could be learning to sing harmony. Nothing is more beautiful than that. Also, the voice is more portable and spontaneous and less expensive – leaving more money for missions. Use God’s created instrument (the voice) to worship Him, rather than using instruments created by man. Pure joy!!

  • Brandon
    March 2, 2013

    As a musician in a worship group, I’m encouraged by this post. I think there are a number of things one could add to the list. For starters, eye contact with other worship leaders and worshipers is another good idea (however difficult to practice in a large room)… you can be singing loudly, smiling big, etc., and still appear to be in your own world up there. Just like a good conductor uses body language and facial cues (in addition to arm-waving) to communicate with the orchestra members, church musicians should seek to use all the powers we can muster to lead the congregation. We are limited in our ability to adequately express our worship in musical, verbal, and visual ways simultaneously. But we shouldn’t let our particular gifts keep us from striving to lead the church in all ways during the worship time.

    • Stephen
      March 3, 2013

      Great thoughts Brandon!

  • Ed
    March 3, 2013

    Maybe someday the “church” will realize that worship is about God and not us. It’s not about having a rock concert/laser light show. I am so thankful that God lead me to a Church with no instruments, no PA, no mics, no TV screens etc… Just pure worship.
    Give it a try, it will change your life.

    • Stephen
      March 3, 2013

      Ed, there is something so beautiful about hearing the church sing out. I love that. I agree that worship is not a rock concert or laser light show, but I do believe that instruments can be great tools to aid in the leading of worship. Perhaps that is why David commands the playing of them so often in the psalms. It is paramount that we keep the main thing the main thing (Jesus) and not seek to demonize different approaches to worship leading because it doesn’t fit in with our preferences. I love where you are coming from in wanting to keep it all about Jesus!!

  • Dave
    March 3, 2013

    John 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

    Be who God created you to be. Worship is not external, but rather internal. I am not a fan of the term “worship leader”, and grow weary of the theatrics of those who believe that they are “worship” leaders – as if worship could not take place without them. We are not to worship the people on stage, and if we are a leader we ought to have the mindset of John the Baptist – John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease. Paul even claimed that he wasn’t much to look upon and was quick to correct those when their worship was not focused on God, especially when it included himself…

    It has been about 7 years since I last lead singing. An older married couple sang with me. On Sunday morning the “cookie cutter” theatrics were taking place, eyes closed and hands in the air. I couldn’t shake from my head how disrespectful this woman was to her husband the night before when we were practicing, and said a few words about worship after the song was over.

  • John
    March 3, 2013

    I would love to be able to sing and play drums. I can’t and actually do what I need to do as a time keeper. Should I step aside so someone more qualified who can truly worship take my place?

  • Ted Slater
    March 4, 2013

    As a keyboard player, I try to serve the congregation not only through the notes I play but also through the countenance I convey. I want people to engage the lyrics of the songs, and I want my timbres and notes to facilitate that. And I want my expression to show that I authentically believe the songs I’m playing, that it’s OK for them to express themselves in worship as I am.

    But sometimes factors interfere with my ability to show “worship” as well as I’d prefer.

    This past Thursday evening I played keyboard at a young adults meeting. I’ve been playing for over 20 years, but am a bit out of practice because of 3 job-related cross-country moves in the past 2 years. I wasn’t provided any charts (just the MP3s), and the songs were in keys I’m not that familiar with (Db, Eb, and Ab). In the previous week, I spent nearly 10 hours preparing, and still felt a bit insecure about my parts.

    The day I was to play, the worship leader came down with a bad cold, and was unable to sing. So we had to change the keys of some of the songs to accommodate the female lead singer, and at the last moment we also replaced a couple of the songs with other songs.

    In the end, I played most of my parts right, though I did lean heavily on the “crutch” of looking closely at the charts I had written up. From the congregation, I suppose I could have been seen as “a keys player whose face is completely expressionless, glued to a sheet of music.”

    I wish I could have served the congregation better, but circumstances really made that difficult.

    In the end, I agree that the “worship team” should not just worship the Lord with their fingers on their instruments, but with their whole bodies, in an effort to honor the Lord and serve the congregation.

    At the same time, it’s my hope that those in the congregation would extend grace toward members of the “worship team,” who may not be living up to expectations because of circumstances beyond their control …

  • Harmony
    March 4, 2013

    Yes, all of us in the church need to encourage each other to worship, by words, actions, attitude. But how about taking our focus off each other and not having people up “on stage” or on a platform to be the focus? What a burden for them to bear, and how is it beneficial for me in the pews to make their performance the basis for my spiritual (or more likely emotional) experience of worship? I am by no means against instruments in worship, but I think the best way to lead worship is to make the leaders and instrumentalists as unobtrusive as possible–I should not be thinking about them, I should be thinking about God. Also I’d much rather people were not trying to be happy-clappy but their real selves, whether that’s “on the platform” or in the rest of life.

  • Richie
    March 4, 2013

    Stephen,

    Thanks for the post. Very relevant to where I am right now. I play guitar (and sing backup) for our worship team. I think what we need is balance. I can’t/won’t cheese on demand, but I also realize that I am on stage and have my part in leading worship. There are times when I am comfortable (proficient) enough with the song that I can loosen up a little more and focus on allowing myself to be more expressive. Then there are times when 30 minutes prior to the service is the first time I’ve ever played the song–in that case my focus is on hitting the right chords with the right rhythm.

    I think of an analogy with Scripture. There are times when I am reading the Word and I am struck so much by what God has done in Christ that I cannot help but cry and shout praises at the same time. There are other times when I am struggling to understand the passage, and my intellect is so engaged that I am ‘emotion-less’. My heart for God is not different in these two instances, but the outward expression of my heart is.

    I also think of leading my family in devotions. There are times when I get so excited about what we are reading that I get visibly ecstatic, and other times not so much.

    The dynamics of worship are not unlike the dynamics of a good song. A song with verses and no chorus might be rather dull. One with nothing but choruses would be quickly stultifying. Both are needed to make the song ‘interesting’. If we swing too far either way, we come across as not caring, or forcing it.

    Now I’m just rambling. I’ll stop. Thanks again for the post and for making me think.

  • Richie
    March 4, 2013

    Stephen,

    Thanks for the post. Very relevant to where I am right now. I play guitar (and sing backup) for our worship team. I think what we need is balance. I can’t/won’t cheese on demand, but I also realize that I am on stage and have my part in leading worship. There are times when I am comfortable (proficient) enough with the song that I can loosen up a little more and focus on allowing myself to be more expressive. Then there are times when 30 minutes prior to the service is the first time I’ve ever played the song–in that case my focus is on hitting the right chords with the right rhythm.

    I think of an analogy with Scripture. There are times when I am reading the Word and I am struck so much by what God has done in Christ that I cannot help but cry and shout praises at the same time. There are other times when I am struggling to understand the passage, and my intellect is so engaged that I am ‘emotion-less’. My heart for God is not different in these two instances, but the outward expression of my heart is.

    I also think of leading my family in devotions. There are times when I get so excited about what we are reading that I get visibly ecstatic, and other times not so much.

    The dynamics of worship are not unlike the dynamics of a good song. A song with verses and no chorus might be rather dull. One with nothing but choruses would be quickly stultifying. Both are needed to make the song ‘interesting’. If we swing too far either way, we come across as not caring, or forcing it.

    Now I’m just rambling. I’ll stop. Thanks again for the post and for making me think.

  • David
    March 6, 2013

    Well, Stephen, as a fellow worship leader I say thank for this article. Full of good, friendly advice for any worship team, especially when it gets treated like what it is: a list of useful guidelines, as opposed to a commentary that needs to be scrutinized for potential error. ;-)

  • Avinash
    April 9, 2013

    I had the blessing of worphising with Storyline on this particular Sunday and was able to hear this conversation. Great stuff and well worth anyone’s time to listen. Stay with it all the way

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