"Good Music--I Just Hate Looking at the Worship Team..."


I've been talking to my team, especially my vocalists, about stage presence. Team members from secular backgrounds (bar bands, musical theater, etc) bristle at the thought of infusing worship with the kind of "stage presence" they used in performance settings. My thoroughly 'churched' people just give me blank looks.

To find that middle ground, I'm using the terms "worshipful presence" and "worshipful stage presence." There are probably better terms (and I'd love to hear them), but those seems to connect with both the redeemed rock stars and those who cut their teeth on the back of a church pew.

It'd be easy to point to big worship artists and/or cutting edge churches and say, "See it? That's stage presence." But those artists and churches are a bit removed from most of our Sunday-to-Sunday realities.

Let's look instead at our teaching/preaching pastors:

If a pastor delivers great content with no charisma, how engaged are we?

If a pastor seems nervous and/or lacks confidence, it's a long sermon to endure.

If a pastor looks at his notes 85% of the time, we question his preparation (and wonder if he actually cares that we're listening)

If a pastor lacks energy and passion, how convinced are we that he really believes what he's preaching.
Then why is it OK for us musicians to keep our heads buried in our music stands?

Many of us come from backgrounds that relegate emotion and expression to our friends in the charismatic crowd. But if we really cared about what we are singing and playing, shouldn't it be expressed? (Hence, expressive worship.)

So what's the problem? There are several...

#1: Confidence
Remember that test for which you studied your keister off? Something amazing happened: you effortlessly finished it and said to yourself, "I aced this thing!" I remember that feeling well, because I think it only happened once for me. That feeling I had during the test? Confidence. Confidence comes by consciously doing something (badly at first) enough times until I get competent; then I keep doing it till it becomes almost unconscious or effortless. We don't want to sing or play "unconscious" of the what we singing or playing. But when we don't need to concentrate on the execution, we're freer to focus on the Object of our affection.

Fear is also a factor in confidence. If one of your players fears being in front of a crowd, that will diminish her ability to express herself.

#2: Permission.
Team members aren't waiting for a written decree from their leader that says, "Thou shalt show emotion." But they pick up our subtle withholding of permission. In what ways?


We don't model it. Is it our own fear of expressing emotions? Are we just "naturally reserved" people? Maybe we're not putting in the effort that produces confidence. No matter the reasons, if I don't do it my team won't do it. Important caveat: modeling falls short. We can model expressiveness till Jesus returns, but our band and singers will still have the exuberance of tree bark. And here is the more overt way that we withhold permission: 

We don't encourage it. In my vocational ministry experience, I've only had one person take "expressiveness" too far. Rather than deal with that person directly, I avoided encouraging others to be expressive for fear of perpetuating this person's over-zealousness. Dumb move. So encourage your team to let their faces and bodies express what their heart feels.

But that may be the real issue:

#3: The Heart
Jesus confronts the Pharisees in Matthew 15:  
'These people honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain...'
There are several ways we worship "in vain". Both begin with a heart that is far from God (which is always a result of some sort of sin). One way is that we simply "go through the motions." We sing. We pray (or at least close our eyes and pretend to). We do the actions of worship with little or any emotion attached. This could be why someone on your team is non-expressive. Another, and more insidious way to worship in vain is using emotional expressiveness to mask our "far from God" heart. We could probably all point to examples of this - in my case, it's as close as the nearest mirror. You too?

The fear of hypocritical worship should not deter us from encouraging our team to be expressive. We just need to shepherd (teach/guide/exhort) our people towards a practice of ongoing confession, repentance and surrender. And that is the beginning of the practical steps towards cultivating expressive worship.

During this year of 2011, I've told my team we're looking at improving three "Big Things". One of those things is Expression. So as I continue make progress (or fail miserably), we'll continue to look at ways to cultivate expression in worship (and ways that might not).

March 4, 2011


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