“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:3
These words, first spoken by John the Baptist to a group of some of his disciples, should be a worship leader’s first and last prayer every time he or she stands before a group of people. That the glory of God, as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, would be magnified, and that I would not receive one bit of the worship that is due Him.
Here are a few practical ways (there are more!) that worship leaders can “decrease”.
Get your face off the screen
If your church utilizes screens to project the image of whomever is up front (i.e. big churches with big screens), ask the video crew to not project your face during the time of singing. If, in between a song you offer a word of encouragement or a prayer, then it might make sense for your face to be on the screen. But during the time of singing, when the priority is the congregation’s active participation in singing praises to God, one good way for you to decrease is to not have your giant face projected behind or above the song lyrics.
Take your name off of things
I’ve visited church services where the music director or worship leader’s name is not only featured prominently in the bulletin, but also repetitively. It’s on page one, front and center, after every song he or she leads, and on the back page too. I understand wanting to communicate “who’s who” to the congregation – but some worship leaders seem to enjoy seeing their name in print a bit too much. If you’re going out of your way to make sure the bulletin gives you credit for every single thing you do in a service, every song you play, and every ensemble you lead, you might be craving more attention than you deserve.
Don’t dress to impress
I’ve seen some male worship leaders wear shirts that are either too tight, built to show off their muscles, v-necked to give their chest hair room to breathe, decorated with graphics or text that resemble a Rorschach test, or are two sizes too small. I find myself too distracted by what they’re wearing to focus on what I’m singing about. Not good. Worship leaders need to be careful about what they wear. Err on the side of boring, baggy, and bland. I’d rather blend in than stand out.
Don’t talk too much
There are times when it’s helpful for you to talk (What Are You Talking About Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5), but most of the time it’s more helpful for you to just sing. Resist the urge to say something in between each song. Stay away from personal stories. Keep it simple. Generally, the more you talk as a worship leader, the more your presence in a worship service “increases”.
Sing the melody (the right one)
Stay away from vocal embellishments, high notes, runs, “yeah yeah yeah’s”, “oh, oh, oh’s”, and switching back-and-forth between harmony and melody all the time. People will find themselves more focused on trying to figure out what in the world they should be singing, than actually singing it. They’ll either become frustrated with you, or content to just listen to you display your vocal prowess.
No one likes to be yelled or growled at. Be careful not to yell at people when you’re leading them in singing. It’s good to be confident, enthusiastic, and to model what it looks like to sing with your whole heart – but effective shepherds don’t beat their sheep.
Choose songs wisely
If I’m asked to lead worship for a small church’s retreat in the mountains of North Carolina, my priority will be singing songs they know, and teaching songs they’ll be able to sing. In whatever setting you lead – don’t choose your songs based on what you like – choose songs that will help people encounter the greatness of God. It might mean choosing songs that are older, quieter, or different from what you prefer, but it’s worth it.
Don’t sing at the people – sing with them
There is a subtle difference between singing at people and singing with people. You sing at people when they come to your concert. You wear nice clothes, look them in the eye, grin at them, work on your “stage presence”, point a lot, and revel in their applause. You sing with people when they come to encounter the greatness of God. You humbly stand before them, lead them with your example and God-given gifts, and sing with one voice to the one who is great and greatly to be praised.
I’ve heard it said that the role of a worship leader is similar to that of an usher at a wedding. An usher at a wedding is prepared, kind, there to serve, shows people how to get where they need to go from where they are, and does everything he can to make the wedding go smoothly. If the usher does a good job, no one leaves the wedding talking about the usher.
If a worship leader does a good job, no one leaves the service talking about the worship leader. That’s a sign that the worship leader’s prayer was answered – that “He must increase, but I must decrease”.