Don’t Give Me That Look

I had a good conversation with a singer on the worship team at my church a few days ago when she asked me whether I want singers on the team to (a) close their eyes, (b) keep their eyes open, or (c) look people in the eye as they’re singing up front. She had heard different thoughts on this from different people and wanted to know what I thought.

If there’s one thing that really bugs me about most worship teams that I watch on the internet these days, it’s when they have a front line of 5 – 10 singers, and each one seems to be some sort of Disney robot. No offense, of course. I’m sure they’re nice people who love to sing. But they stand there and look straight out at people, smiling and pointing and nodding their heads, making direct eye contact (I’ve even seen some of these singers wink) and I can’t understand what this is supposed to accomplish.

My answer to the singer from my worship team was to (a) be engaged with God in heartfelt worship and (b) be aware of the people you’re standing before. This does NOT mean working the crowd, making direct eye contact, smiling at people and employing cheerleading tactics.

When I look out on the congregation when I’m leading worship, I’m looking out as if I’m looking through a periscope on a submarine. I’m scoping out what’s happening but I’m not staring directly at people. I am confidently cocooned inside of myself, worshipping God, aware of my surroundings and my fellow musicians, and I make sure to regularly scan the room with the goal of seeing what’s going on.

I’m trying to make this as uncomplicated as I can. So I’ll try to phrase it differently.

Worship leaders/singers/musicians should avoid the kind of eye contact that performers are taught to employ. This is what I mean when I describe a Disney robot. It’s an uber-happy, I-am-singing-right-at-you-right-now, are-you-feeling-good-too?, disingenuous, direct eye contact.

Instead, we (a) should definitely avoid squeezing our eyes closed the entire time, (b) open them regularly, and (c) when we do open them, scan the room broadly, continuing to engage with God, not the people, and adjust our leading if necessary.

It’s a subtle but important distinction. We are seeking to model engagement with God. If we model engagement with the congregation, it changes the whole dynamic and makes people feel like they’re an audience at a show. So definitely open your eyes, but don’t try so hard to engage with people directly. Hope this is helpful. 

3 thoughts on “Don’t Give Me That Look”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Jamie. I hope you don’t mind if I say something to the contrary.

    To suggest that we are engaging with God INSTEAD of engaging with people misses a significant part of the purpose of corporate worship, in my view. Colossians 3:16 urges us to “speak to one another” in psalms, etc. I think if I as a leader only look upon the congregation to gather information (e.g., How are people responding? Are they singing? Are they distracted?), I am missing an opportunity to personally connect with people as we proclaim to one another the gospel of Jesus.

    Of course I agree that we’re not “working the crowd” or trying to manipulate people into feeling something, but I don’t think making eye contact with someone in the congregation while you’re singing necessarily has to be guilty of that.

    I’ve often heard people say that when we sing, on stage or in the “pews,” that we should “forget about the people around us” and just “focus on God.” But if I’m supposed to forget that there are people around me, then why can’t I just turn on a worship CD at home and praise God that way? There’s not much point to worshiping corporately if you train people to ignore the corporate aspect of it.

    Am I making sense? I hope this is received with the warmth and grace with which it’s intended.

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