This past Saturday morning we had a breakfast at my church for a bunch of volunteer worship leaders. After we shared about ourselves, I shared on how important it is as a worship leader to be easy for people to follow. I did this by modeling and talking about 10 ways to make it hard for people to follow you. I’ve listed them below.
1. Be timid
Timidity begets timidity. Confidence begets confidence. If you’re timid, unsure of yourself, and insecure, the people in the room are going to feel sorry for you, want to help you, think you were put up front too soon, and will pull back. As my old professor Steve Brown says, do some self-talk before you get up front and say to yourself, “I have been commissioned by the High King of Heaven…” and lead with boldness.
2. Play too much
If you overplay, you come across like you’re angry. If people in the room sense that you’re angry or intense, their defense mechanism is going to be to want to protect themselves and they won’t let themselves trust you. Don’t play too much. And back to the first point, don’t play too little. Find the right balance.
3. Sing the wrong melody
I once sat in a church full of people while the worship leader sang the wrong melody (on purpose) for every line of the chorus of “How Great is Our God”. This was ironic since the chorus says “…sing with me…”. They couldn’t sing with him because he wasn’t making it easy. We want to make it easy for people to sing along with us. Sing the melody, sing the right melody, and sing it consistently throughout the song. If you veer into harmony, you must (1) make sure someone else has taken clear leadership of the song from you, and (2) use a different “voice” (i.e. breathier, softer, back from the mic). (I wrote a post on this a while ago here.)
4. Sing/play impressively
Leading worship requires most of us to set aside most of what we are really capable of doing, for the sake of serving the congregation and serving the song. If every singer and instrumentalist on stage was demonstrating the full scope of their respective skill-sets, it would be a disaster. Your job is to insert yourself into people’s consciousness as seldom as possible during a time of singing. So stay simple.
5. Sing the wrong keys
C to shining C is a good rule of thumb. Guys are mostly comfortable from a low C to middle C. They can dip lower and pop up higher, but do best in that octave range. The same principle applies for women, but up an octave. If you want people to sing with you, you’ll need to think through keys carefully, often taking songs down from where they were recorded, into more singable keys. (I wrote a post on this a while ago here.)
“What did he/she say?” is one sure way to distract people. Speak slowly and articulate well when you’re speaking. And don’t try to say 4 sentences in the space of 2 measures.
7. Inconsistent tempo
The average person in the room can’t identify specific things/instruments/notes that are “off” during a time of worship. But they can identify that something is off. Tempo is one of those somethings that, if not consistent, and if unpredictable, can make people feel like something is wrong. Set the right tempo for a song either by using a metronome or by singing a quick section of the song in your head before you start to establish the tempo of the song. Once you’ve established it, stick with it.
8. All over the map themes
Songs should connect with each other. Don’t try to pick a song list in 5 minutes. Give yourself time, chew over it, pray over it, consider the scripture passages and sermon theme, and come back to it a few times during the week if you have to. You want your songs to go somewhere – not just all say the same thing, and not all be randomly placed.
9. The worship leader voice
Seriously. Just use your normal voice. Don’t contort your vowels, get growly, get breathy, raise or lower your pitch, or talk differently than you’d talk if you were greeting someone at your door. You might not realize you do this, so ask people who know you. Or record yourself leading and listen back. You might be surprised. People can spot fake-ness from a mile away. (I wrote a post on this a while ago here.)
10. No clear leadership
In the absence of leadership, people don’t feel safe. With too much leadership, people want to shut down. It’s a tricky balance, but it’s really a simple biblical principle. We want to say to people, in the words of David, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!”. That’s what our role is: to call people and to help people magnify and exalt the name of the Lord together.