A few years ago, an electric guitarist on the worship team at my church told me that, from time to time, I would “glare” at him when he messed up. I thought he was crazy.
Then one of the pianists, in good humor, told me that, from time to time, I would “scowl” at him when he made a mistake. I thought he was overly-sensitive. And crazy.
Then my drummer, in love, told me that, from time to time, I would give him “the evil eye” if I didn’t like how he was playing. This drummer also happened to be my older brother.
Maybe there was something to this whole glare-scowl-evil eye thing after all.
Turns out my electric guitarist wasn’t crazy and my pianist wasn’t overly-sensitive. They were right and I was oblivious. I’m grateful that God used them to bring this nasty habit to my attention before I inflicted my “look of doom” on anyone else.
In my mind, I wasn’t doing anything wrong. If I heard sounds emanating from the electric guitarist that more closely resembled a screeching cat, I should shoot him a “what is that horrible sound?” look. If my pianist had forgotten that we were supposed to modulate six measures ago, I should give him an “are you crazy?” glance. If my drummer was speeding up a song to the point of insanity, I should grab his attention with an “I am going to break your arms” scowl.
This would get them to play better. This would make them aware of their mistakes. This would make the worship team not sound as bad. I have to keep them in line. If they don’t like it, tough.
That strategy might work if you’re the “Worship King” and your musicians are your subjects. With one glare you can shake them into submission. But that strategy might not be such a good idea if you’re the worship pastor and your musicians are men and women from your congregation who are there to serve the church. With one glare you can embarrass, confuse, hurt, and belittle them. That’s what I was doing, without even realizing it.
So my encouragement to worship leaders is to beware “the glare”. A furrowed brow, a look of disappointment, an expression of frustration, a “are you nuts?” look of bewilderment, or a stern glare might seem like a relatively minor thing to you, but to a volunteer musician who really is just trying his or her best it will be multiplied a hundred times into a harsh and public rebuke.
Now, if my electric guitarist surprises me with a loud, distorted power chord at the beginning of a quiet and gentle ballad, I’ll look at him and grin. I know he didn’t do it on purpose. He probably feels terrible about it. He hopes I’m not angry. I’m not angry. Just laugh about it and move on.
Or if my pianist suddenly loses all muscle memory and begins to sound more like a toddler banging his hands on the piano in random places, I’ll pat him on the back afterwards and say something like “will you show me how to do that later? It was amazing!” He’ll know I’m joking, we’ll both laugh about it, he’ll know he needs to practice more, and I won’t have made him feel deflated.
And if my drummer tries to do a fancy fill and fails miserably, I’ll just pretend it didn’t happen for a couple of measures, then catch his eye and smile at him. Instead of scowling at him and making him feel small, I want to encourage him and let him know I still love him.
This kind of response helps foster humility, not humiliation.
There is a time and place to address mistakes, especially consistent poor musicianship or lack of preparation. But while you’re leading worship is not the time or place. A good rule of thumb is to encourage publicly and admonish privately. And never break your drummer’s arms.