Should stage presence even play a part in worship leading? I’d argue that it’s crucial. But I fear that in an attempt to appear “humble”, we’ve destroyed stage presence in churches everywhere and severely limited the impact of our worship services.
The heart behind it makes sense. We want to put the focus on God and the Message, not on the performers on stage. We want to differentiate ourselves from self-serving pop divas who seem to care more about their wardrobe than the people they’re playing for. I get that and I agree. But we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water.
We all know the type. We can see that they’re on a tiny stage in a tiny church, but somehow it seems that they think they’re rocking out in front of a million people. We can feel it - they’re more aware and attentive to the fact that they’re on stage than they are to the needs of the people in the room, let alone what God may be saying to them as they perform. The disconnect between how they’re coming across and what we can plainly see as reality makes it feel fake. So we don’t want that. Agreed.
But our solution is just as bad. Now we hear them saying things which are rich with meaning and excitement. “The sin we used to carry on our shoulders has been lifted off!” “It’s now possible to communicate with God!” “We now have a presence and a power in our lives that helps us through the darkest times - we’re not alone!” “We can be brave in the face of death!” We hear them saying these things, but if we were to plug our ears and just use our eyes we’d assume we were at a funeral. The performers are all looking down (at their chord charts, but since this is the 100th time they’ve played this song you have to wonder if it’s because they need the chords or because they’re afraid to look up). They hardly move. They don’t look at each other. They’re dressed like they’re headed to a business meeting. The lighting is perfectly still. Is this really any better than the original situation? Does this feel any more real?
… But at least no one can call us prideful.
We took the safer route, but the outcome is exactly the same. Just as fake and just as self-centered as before.
I suggest we stop self-protecting and start focusing on creating continuity between what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. It’s a very fine line. But it’s not between humility vs pride. It’s between generosity vs self-protection.
There’s a one-pixel line between faking and vacating. It’s the place where we mean what we say. Where we do what we do to help others. Where we’re ok with looking stupid.
A great performer’s (and worship leader’s) job is not to play great music. It’s not to entertain people. It’s not to come across this way or that way. Those are all self-centered motives. A great performer’s job is to risk rejection, every moment they’re on stage. That’s generous performing and it’s the one-pixel line they must walk if they ever want to help someone other than themselves.
* A very practical note for worship leaders: The way you want to come across visually from stage dissipates over distance. If you’re bobbing your head a little bit to the music, the guy in the back sees you standing still. Remember, you don’t want to be fake, but you are trying to communicate visually as well as audibly. The PA amplifies you audibly. You may need to increase your movement a bit if you want what you’re feeling to be perceived visually. It’s not being fake, it’s communicating clearly. Don’t feel guilty about this. If you’re unsure, ask someone you trust from the crowd how you’re coming across and adjust.