What They See is What You’ll Get

CongregationThey just stand there looking disinterested, disengaged, and unaffected by what they’re singing. Their bodies are stiff and their faces are stoic, betraying no emotion, no joy, and no life. Their eyes are glued to the lyrics in front of them as if they’re in a trance. The men don’t even sing. They all look uncomfortable. They look like they would rather be somewhere else. To call them “reserved” would be an understatement. They suck the energy out of the room.

And they call themselves the worship team!

It’s an interesting phenomenon for worship leaders to grab hold of: what they see is what you get.

Disinterested worship team = disinterested congregation.

Male instrumentalists not singing = men in the congregation not singing.

Zero expressiveness on the platform = zero expressiveness in the pews.

Worship leaders shouldn’t be surprised to look out and see a disinterested congregation if that’s what’s being modeled for them.

I am increasingly persuaded that this is the case: a congregation will not go beyond what they see modeled from up front.

A few months ago, I led worship for an evening session of the Anglican Church in North America’s inaugural assembly. To say that it was a challenging setting in which to lead would be an incredible understatement. We were in a crowded tent with low ceilings in the middle of summer in Texas. Five industrial-sized air conditioners lined the entire back wall going at full-blast (imagine the noise). The screens which were there to project the lyrics could hardly be seen. For many of the attendees this would be the first time they had ever heard a worship team or sung anything outside of a hymnal. The sight of drums on the platform could cause some to go into convulsions. The sight of an electric guitar could cause them to fall into a coma. During our sound-check people were plugging the ears and telling the sound engineers to “turn it down!” We had zero rehearsal. I had never played with half of the worship team before.

This was going to be interesting.

7:00pm rolled around and I welcomed the people – trying to read their faces and gauge whether or not they would even sing a single word once the songs started. We stood to sing and started off with Chris Tomlin’s “Holy is the Lord” – hoping that it would be a “new” song that most people would know.

The song began “We stand and lift our hands for the joy of the Lord is our strength.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw my electric guitarist and bass guitarist with their hands lifted in worship, singing to the Lord. Then I looked out at this group of Anglicans, who, five minutes earlier had been plugging their ears and looking a bit uncomfortable. I saw them, hundreds of them, with their hands lifted in worship, singing at the top of their lungs.

What they saw on the platform – I saw replicated in the congregation.

You can stand in the back of a room during a worship service and see this phenomenon displayed. Look at the worship team and then look at the congregation. They match!

A lot of instrumentalists and singers on worship teams don’t consider themselves “worship leaders”. They see that as the job of one person, and their job is to provide musical back-up to that person as he or she “leads worship”. That mindset leads to worship teams who just stand on a platform, with their faces buried in their music, offering no real leadership to the congregation. My goal is to cultivate members of the worship team who see their role as being a worship leader alongside me. Their musical responsibility is secondary to their primary responsibility of leading the congregation in encountering the greatness of God. When this priority is made clear, the dynamic on your worship team and in your services will change.

Look in the mirror the next time you lead worship. What do you see?

4 thoughts on “What They See is What You’ll Get

  1. Abram September 21, 2009 / 9:27 pm

    Hi, Jamie! I’ve been enjoying this site for a while now, and figure I ought to comment every once in a while…

    You really nailed it here. From the point of the view of the congregation, I always love it when I see instrumentalists who don’t have mics who are singing *anyway*. It really does add a lot of authenticity to the worship environment.

  2. Andrew AV September 22, 2009 / 10:28 am

    As an occasional instrumentalist, I’ve found that knowing the songs cold helps a great deal with this. If I haven’t learned the songs well enough, I’m distracting myself by not wanting to distract the congregation by playing wrong notes. Of course, if being visually expressive is the priority, that means playing less or playing simpler if I haven’t devoted sufficient time to musical preparation.

    You’ve discussed the need for worship leaders to spend the time learning songs, practicing them, even memorizing them. If instrumentalists are to effectively come alongside the worship leader in modeling physical expressiveness, I think they need to have the same priorities as the worship leader not just while leading the congregation, but also in devoting sufficient time to musical preparation.

  3. Joel September 26, 2009 / 7:39 pm

    Agreed. I have been to too many churches where the instrumentalists are just that. They don’t sing, It gives the impression that it’s just another gig for them.

    Too often worship leaders (not just the head guy, but everyone on stage) forget the role that the Tribe of Judah played in leading the nation of Israel into war. Worship is spiritual warfare!

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