Open Your Eyes

Laurie SingingWhen 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.

Projecting Excellence – Part II

Last week I suggested worship leaders can’t be oblivious to what’s happening on the screen during a worship service, since even the little things can add up to create big distractions. Bad line spacing is one little thing, and the size of the font is another.

If your font size is too big, then you wind up with a slide that is screaming at people and is sensory overload:

How Great is Our GodBAD2

If your font size is too small, then you wind up with a slide that isn’t readable to anyone standing farther back than the first two rows, anyone with poor vision, or anyone who didn’t bring binoculars with them to church.

How Great is Our GodBAD3

A well-chosen font size is neither too big nor too small. It leaves a nice margin around the text box on all sides. It allows the text to fill up the screen nicely so that there isn’t tons of empty space, but it also allows some empty space so that your eye isn’t overwhelmed.

How Great is Our GodGOOD

Things to keep in mind:

  • Can you read the slide comfortably from the very back of the room?
  • Are the words too big? If you’re using a font size 42 and up, the answer might be yes.
  • When you look out on Sunday morning, are people squinting? Your font size is too small.
  • Are people moving their heads in order to follow all the words in the slide? Your font size is too big.
  • Ask some people what they think. Can they read the words comfortably? Ask them to be honest with you.

The size of the font that you use in your slides is not the most major issue you will deal with as a worship leader. But caring about these small details is one way to be faithful even in the little things.

Leading Music During Communion

Yesterday morning at my church we celebrated communion together. It’s always a challenge to lead the music during the portion of the service when people are coming forward to receive.

Every church celebrates communion a bit differently, but in our case, it’s a 15 to 20-minute long portion of the service when all 700 – 800 people either come to the front of the church and kneel at the rail, or go to stations spread around the back aisle. Lay Eucharistic Ministers (we call them LEMS – not to be confused with Lemmings) disperse around the room to serve the congregation. Acolytes hover to provide more bread and wine when those LEMS run out. Ushers prompt each row when they should get in line. Kids get rowdy. People are standing up, sitting down, and walking up and down aisles everywhere you look. This portion of the service is filled with distractions, and it would be easy for the music to become “filler” while people either wait in line to receive, or wait in their seats while every one else does.

How do you lead the music in such a way that helps people focus on God’s amazing grace and not the distractions all around them? A few thoughts:

Set the tone from the beginning
Starting off with a song that isn’t intended for the congregation to sing – whether it’s an instrumental piece, a choir anthem, or a solo – can send a message that music is being performed for their listening pleasure and the corporate portion of the service will resume momentarily. But starting off with a congregational song helps keep the congregation engaged and involved. It will serve the congregation if instead of passively listening to music and watching the clock, they are actively singing songs that focus on the good news of the Gospel and articulating thanksgiving and praise. Set this tone from the beginning. It’s certainly possible to do this with a song that isn’t congregational or familiar to everyone, and it’s a good idea to not do things the same way every week. But in general, people are more engaged when they’re singing than they are when they’re listening.

Model heartfelt singing from up front
At any given point during our communion services yesterday morning, anyone who looked around the room would have had a lot of activity drawing their attention. LEMS, ushers, acolytes, cute babies, lines up and down the aisles, etc. As a worship leader, I can’t do anything about those distractions. But I can make sure that when people look at me, they see someone who is not just singing songs and filling time – but someone who is genuinely singing from his heart. If the worship team models this kind of singing to the congregation it will help put the distractions in perspective.

Offer encouragement from time to time
While a statement like “let’s sing that third verse again and thank God for his unending mercy” sounds really simple, occasionally offering brief, gentle, and appropriate words of encouragement can wake people up if their minds are starting to wander.

Don’t rush the ending
Nothing sends a message to the congregation that communion music is “filler” like stopping whatever song is being sung – regardless of where you are in the song – once the congregation is all back in their seats. Instead of bringing a song to an abrupt end, let it continue, encourage the congregation to stand, and have an extended time of singing after everyone has received communion. There may be reasons why you have to wrap it up quickly, but if you have some extra time, don’t rush it. Too many Anglican/liturgical churches miss opportunities to draw out times of singing because of the seeming urgency of what comes next in the liturgy. Sometimes it’s OK to relax!

Learn to live with the chaos
There’s no way to serve communion to 700 – 800 people, or even 50 – 100 people without there being a certain level of chaos. Getting stressed out won’t do you any good. Leading in settings like this are opportunities for you to grow in the area of patience, and in your love for the congregation you serve.

Should the 4th of July affect our Sunday planning?

fireworks-fourth-of-july-2This is a question I struggle with with every year, particularly since George Washington attended my church (a few years ago…) and many members of our congregation serve in politics, the government and the military.

Bob Kauflin at www.worshipmatters.com has a great post about whether or not the 4th of July (and other national holidays) should affect our Sunday planning.

Happy 4th of July and thanks again for stopping by this new blog. See you next week.

One sure way to grow as a worship leader

microphoneAt my church, we record each weekend’s services from start to finish. The sermons are uploaded to the website for downloading and streaming and the music is put on a CD for me to listen back to. No editing, no auto-tuning, no pitch correction, and no overdubbing. Listening back to these CDs is one of the best ways I know of to keep growing as a worship leader.

It keeps you humble
I’m sure none of you ever struggle with this, but sometimes after a service I’m tempted to replay in my head how good I sounded on a certain song, how something I said really came across well, how my glissando on the closing song was awesome, etc. This is pride, in case you’re wondering, and if left unchecked it will lead to major problems. Listening back to a service is one helpful way to keep seeking humility. I realize I didn’t sound so good on a certain song after all, how I could have spoken more articulately, how my glissando sounds totally out of place and distracting, etc.

It’s not a good idea to bash yourself or be overly critical, but a healthy dose of honest self-evaluation will do you a lot of good. It’s also a way of heart-checking yourself each week. Am I drawn to listen to myself sing and/or play a song over and over? That’s a warning sign that God’s glory might have slipped down a few notches on your list of priorities.

It points out your bad habits
I began to realize a few years ago that I had a bad habit of clicking my tongue whenever I said something, probably two or three times per sentence. I also would drag out the last note of a song for waaaay too long, slowly getting more and more flat, creating a sound that I would liken to a plane rapidly losing altitude. I didn’t know I was doing either of these things until I listened back to myself leading worship.

It gives you perspective
In my post on “How to handle the Sunday blues” I mentioned that worship leaders can sometimes dwell on the insignificant after a service (i.e. broken strings, forgotten lyrics, etc.). There have been times after a service when I’ve walked away thinking that we had had a major train wreck on a song, only to listen back later and realize that it wasn’t that big of a deal and we had all maneuvered out of it just fine. When you listen back to the recording of a service after you’re less emotionally invested in it – you’ll be able to more objectively evaluate which issues need to be addressed and which ones can just be forgotten.

Another way it gives you perspective is that you can get a sense of what direction your worship team is headed. I listen back to recordings of us four years ago and realize we’ve come a long way and that we’re headed in a good direction. But perhaps someday I might listen back and realize that we used to be tighter than we are now, and that we’re becoming sloppy. Long term perspective is a must-have when you’re a worship leader.

You never know when you’ll need a record of something
A few years ago I was leading the singing for the Saturday morning session of our men’s retreat. Towards the end I had a strong impression that I should sing a spontaneous/prophetic song over the men, conveying God’s heart of a Father toward them. It wasn’t planned, so it wasn’t written down anywhere. Several men were deeply affected by the song, and later asked me for the words. If we hadn’t been recording, I could have given them a pretty accurate guess of what the words had been. But thankfully, we had been recording the music so this was possible. Most of the time your recordings can just go into a filing cabinet after you’ve listened to them, but every once in a while you might really need them.

It’s good for your sound engineer
A mix straight from the board is hardly ever a good gauge of how it sounded in the room, but it can help point out if there are instruments or vocalists that are consistently too prominent, not prominent enough, nowhere to be heard, if there are issues with microphone placement, etc. If you and your sound engineer can listen back to a service’s recording, I bet he or she will notice some ways they can improve.

If you’re not already recording your services, I’d strongly encourage you to start. It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it will definitely help you grow. At my church we record the services onto a computer and then the sound engineer puts the music on a CD for me, but there are other ways too. Some churches record directly onto a CD, while others still record onto tape-decks. If none of these are options for you, you can purchase hand-held recording devices at most electronics stores. Don’t put it off because you’re afraid of how you might sound. If the congregation has to listen to you every week, you should probably share in the experience too!