When I first began leading worship in middle school, I was incredibly nervous whenever I got up on stage. I developed a bad habit of closing my eyes and keeping them tightly shut until the songs were over. It was a coping mechanism and it helped me feel safe, but I carried this bad habit throughout high school and into college and it was a tough one to finally break. Keeping your eyes closed when you’re leading worship limits your effectiveness in a number of ways.
First, you can’t communicate with your band very well without eye contact. You can only give so many cues with your hands or your guitar neck. You need to be able to catch your drummer’s eye to give him a heads-up that the song is about to end, or glance at one of your vocalists to let her know you want her to lead off on a verse. Don’t make your worship team guess what’s coming next. Go out of your way to communicate with them clearly – look them in the eye.
Secondly, you could completely miss major distractions if you’re in your own little world. Keep your eyes open so that you’ll know if the projector shuts off, or someone faints in the third row, if no one is singing, etc.
Thirdly, if you’re leading worship and your eyes are tightly shut, no one can communicate with you. Your pastor might need to signal to you that he wants to say something after the song. The sound engineer might need to motion to you to plug in your guitar. Your band members might need to tell you that you’re in the wrong key. Check in visually every once in a while with various people who you know might need to catch your eye.
It’s generally a good idea to be looking at the people you’re leading. It’s OK to close your eyes, but not for minutes at a time. When I’m leading, I’ll close my eyes at times, then open my eyes, scan the room, look at the Pastor, look at the screen to make sure the right verse is up, scan the room again, etc.
The challenge for worship leaders is how to be 100% engaged in worship, while at the same time being 100% aware of the band, the people, what’s coming up next, the clock, and where the Holy Spirit is leading in the midst of it all. With experience you’ll get more and more comfortable with this. And with practice you won’t even think about whether your eyes are open or closed – it will come naturally. If it’s not so natural right now, stretch yourself and make an effort the next time you lead to open your eyes. No one will be making faces at you. I hope.