It’s 10:15am and people are milling around before the service starts at 10:30. You’re the worship leader.
The songs are picked and rehearsed, the microphone and guitar amp are set up, the projector is connected to the laptop, the PowerPoint slides are ready to go, and you’re starting to feel really nervous. You have that feeling in your stomach like you’re on a roller coaster that has reached its peak and is about to drop you straight down 200 feet.
There’s an old man sitting in the third row with his arms folded and you’re afraid he’s going to hate all the songs you chose. There are 200 chairs set out, but only 25 people have showed up so far. No one is talking. It’s now 10:20 and your hands are starting to sweat. This whole leading worship thing sounded like a good idea a few hours ago, but now you’d rather be sitting on your couch at home.
On the worship CD the crowd screamed and cheered, but you’d be shocked if this crowd even sang along. At the worship concert the musicians rocked and rolled but you’d be grateful if your pianist even played the right notes (she’s 73 years old and prefers Bill Gaither music). Your “lighting system”? Fluorescents with a noisy hum. Your sound system? A couple of old microphones, a 2 channel mixer, and speakers built in to the ceiling. Your in-ear-monitor system? You wish. Your “ambience”? Cinder-block white walls and dark brown carpet.
Now it’s 10:29. Now there are 33 people in the room. Now you’re really really nervous.
Leading worship at your local church is not as glamorous as it looks at the worship conferences and concerts, and it doesn’t sound like the worship recordings by Tim Hughes or Matt Redman. When this reality hits you five minutes before the service starts, it’s easy to become nervous, fearful, and discouraged. You end up rushing through the songs, stumbling over prayers and transitions, shutting your eyes tightly, breathing a huge sigh of relief when it’s all over, and never wanting to do it again.
A few words of encouragement for those of us who lead worship in the real world.
First, relax. Your only job is to be faithful.
Hundreds of concerns, doubts, and questions can flood your head before you step up to lead worship, and when you get in your car to drive home. Some of them are valid, most of them are not. The one question that matters most is “was I faithful?”. Was I faithful in prayerfully trying my best to help these people encounter God in song? Was I faithful in making the Glory of God in Christ central? This focus on what matters will give you one of the most important qualities of an effective worship leader: a humble confidence.
Ignore the silly concerns that get you nervous and panicked like “will the old guy on the third row hate these songs?” or “this song sounds so much better on the CD” or “I’m not a very good guitar player” or “no one is lifting their hands” or “I wish I was at a different church”. Focus on being faithful. If you are, it won’t matter if you’re leading 33 people or 3,000, if everyone sings or if everyone stares at you, or if you “feel” good about the service or not.
Secondly, relax. Your only boast is in the cross.
Paul writes in Galatians 6:14 “…far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
If you don’t have things like expensive sound systems, professional musicians, lighting, staging, new instruments, totally engaged congregation members, packed-out rooms, video screens, in-ear monitors, tons of experience, and multiple services, be grateful. While none of those things are inherently sinful, they can become major distractions and sources of pride. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t “need” any of them in order to effectively lead people in worship.
If you’re nervous before you lead worship because you feel inadequate and small, you’re in a good position. You are inadequate and you are small! But don’t allow this realization to be a source of nervousness for you – let it become a constant reminder that your only boast is in the cross. Jesus has covered your inadequacies and sinfulness with his blood, making it possible for you to approach the throne of grace not with nervousness, but with confidence. Effective worship leaders are the ones who boast only in the cross.
And thirdly, relax. You’re only leading one service.
Think back to Sunday, July 27th, 1997. Did you go to church that day? If so, do you remember who preached? What was the song list? Did the guitarist play the right arpeggio on top of verse two? Did the drummer remember to play the open hi-hat instead of the ride cymbal on the last chorus? Did the worship leader fumble over his prayer after the opening song?
You can’t remember?
Don’t allow yourself to feel overwhelmed before you lead worship. Take a deep breath and remember that it’s just one service. There will be more. Many more. You might make mistakes, there might not be very many people there, and you might be inexperienced. But there will be a service next week, and the week after that. The weeks will turn to months, and the months to years. You’ll get more experience. You’ll get more comfortable with being in front. No one particular service, in the grand scheme of eternity, is critical enough to the souls of whoever will attend, for you to feel sick over. Effective worship leaders have long-term perspective and patience.
So, just relax the next time you get ready to lead worship. Pray and prepare as much as you can, show up early, and then when it’s time to start, be faithful and trust that the Holy Spirit will do his work. He will!