Long title, I know.
This may be a jumbled mess- so bear with me. Thanks
I've been a worship leader for 7 years at our church. I currently am the only musician we have- been the only musician for years. I've got a pretty involved "rig" that consists of two keyboards and a drum machine. I'm the lead vocalist. There is a lot of stuff going on in my head during a sunday morning worship service (tempos of songs, drum patterns, chords, lyrics, pitch...etc) I've gotten pretty good at balancing all of the necessary components that I have got going on musically and still be able to lead people into worship. It has taken a lot of hard work but it works. It's not what I want- but it's what I've got and I'm making the best of it.
I know that one of my weaknesses is that I do not "engage" the congregation very much during worship. Most of the time the pastor opens up the service and then hands it over to me- and we just dive into worship. (I feel that a second greeting or a second service opener would be awkward and redundant). Recently my Pastor (who is also my dad) made a passing comment in a conversation that really has bothered me and I think would bother any worship leader: "You give a good concert every Sunday". I was kinda devastated by the comment because that's not what I'm about. and if it was- then in my mind- it's not even a GOOD concert (where's my band? where's my lighting?- you know what i'm saying?) and that comment was made because I don't "engage" the congregation.
I find it extremely difficult to do that because there is so much running through my mind to make the worship set "GO"- to make the music aspect of worship happen. I've got drum pattern numbers and changes- I've got 4 foot pedals to deal with, etc. I pray in between transitions (when necessary) and when worship is going on I close my eyes (not the whole time) but it just helps me focus on what I am doing. I don't know what to do to engage people in worship. because at the end of the day- people do what they want: they will either engage in worship or they won't- I can't make them.
and then- I read articles like this one: http://churchrelevance.com/top-10-pet-peeves-about-worship-leaders/ which don't help- because I don't want to turn into one of these pet peeves.
So all that being said- What does "engaging the congregation" look like? How do you engage the congregation on a sunday morning? Where's the line between leading worship and giving a concert? What tips do you have for somebody who can't let the kick drum start off service while we greet people at the opening of the service?
My heart is not in concert performance. My heart is in leading worship.
Please don't feel bad - your dad was trying to compliment you. He appreciates your hard work.
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Technology is your strength. Don't compare yourself to others, but concentrate on becoming the best 'you' possible. That includes working to improve on your weaknesses.
I can relate, because I am a musician but am weak in relating to others in worship. Behind the keyboard is my refuge. Over the past year I have been forced to sing out more; the best I can do in 'leading' worship is to say, 'sing with me', or 'worship Him' in between vocals. I am in no way a 'lead' singer. Yet I have gotten compliments on how my vocals have improved.
You may see or know an 'awesome' worship leader who can't read music or play chords.They may look perfect but often they wish they had a portion of your talent and skill.
God made you the way you are - let Him work through you to touch the congregation....
I was lone worship leader for years and it's a strange place to be. Here's a few things that might be of help.
(1) You're not there by accident. Whatever happened to place you as "lone" worship leader, God ordained it. Be blessed in all you do and try to do it for God every time you step up there.
(2) When you're leading worship, make sure YOU'RE worshipping - the congregation will follow.
(3) You have a personality that God gave you. If you're naturally a chatter, an out-loud pray-er, someone who sings in the spirit, someone who enjoys bass-runs in the music or a-capella verses, do what's natural. God didn't invest these likes and abilities in you for no reason. Don't let people force you to become a fish out of water. You're not a fiddler or a guitarist - you're a keyboard player/vocalist. That's what you do. Do it to the best of your ability and for God. The congregation will follow.
(4) Don't take any notice of pet peeves articles. If people care that much, why don't they offer to help instead of venting their spleen about spelling mistakes and leaders' personalities. You'll never be all things to all men. Try to be the best you can be for God, that's all. That way there's no way that anyone can criticise you, and any explanation for what you do is easy, straightforward and honest. In order to improve what you're doing, seek counsel from one or two close friends who you know will tell you the truth and not just tell you what they think you want to hear.
(5) In order to take some of the pressure off you, you could ask one or two people you trust to become part of the worship team - in a non-musical capacity so that they can help you set up and pack up etc. Maybe, if you feel that you want to share Psalms or readings, you could ask them to prepare something for the service so that it takes the pressure off you and gives the congregation a lead to feel that they can further contribute. This might also be an offer you could make to anyone who might feel the need to criticise what you're doing! ;-)
I hope this helps. Reading it back, it looks a bit dictatorial, and I'm sorry for that. However, you're a precious part of your Church and please don't be discouraged. God has given you an amazing ministry and be encouraged and be blessed. You're leading your Church into a special place each Sunday and I'm sure that most if not all of the congregation are very grateful for it. Be you, and do it as well as you can. They'll see you're sincere, they'll see you worshipping and they'll follow.
Graeme's input sounds real good to me! I would consider all he said.
Thinking on a little bit different angle ... and maybe you already do this ... in an effort to build relationships, perhaps you could get all the preparation done well in advance, and spend a little time before the service starts conversing with some of the congregation ... same thing after church as well. Think of the congregation as "part of your worship team" and help them to feel that way when they walk in the door!
Just an idea from a bass player ...
Hey Justin, I agree with the comment that your dad was most likely trying to compliment you, and if I know dad's, he's quite proud of you. So just try to hear his words in the right light.
But it's also good that what he said is now making you think. I would guess that not only is it hard for you to engage the people when you're multi-tasking like crazy, but that the people may also not be connecting because they can see how much you're concentrating. Maybe they're watching to see what comes next. That's what we do when we see a performer on a stage, right? We don't sing along; we hold our breath and wait for "the moment." It's not bad; it's just different.
This might sound scary...but maybe it's time to simplify.
What would happen if you just sat down at the piano with a mic (or even better, can you play a guitar?) and just talked with the congregation while you noodled between songs, and then led simple songs that you can do without all the extras? You might be surprised at what happens.
Honestly speaking, some of my most memorable worship times where when the band didn't show up.
Blessings on you, brother.
Excellent excellent post/question. I have struggled with this very much. I don't know if your dad has anything in mind or not, but the fact that you are self-conscious is the key. Forget what he said, you think you should do more and if you think so, maybe you should think about doing more.
I've worked hard to create a comfortable "stage presence" and "act" that is totally honest and from my heart with the goal of engaging my congregation in worship. I completely resonate with that link. I don't plan anything the night or week before because I would have to rehearse it and that would make it look like I've practiced it. (This is just how it works for me.)
I have some little rules:
- Start out with something kind and genuine like, "good to see you this morning, please stand..." Look at them as friends.
- I like clever openings that cause a little chuckle, it breaks the ice. We need ice breaking. But I don't laugh or expect laughs.
- Never do the same thing from week to week (other than introduce / stand the audience).
- Only clever phrases or themes or scripture verses come to mind on Sunday morning are fair game.
- If I don't feel like I have anything useful other than "please stand", I don't do anything other than "good morning, please join us..."
- I try to lift my eyes up often and look at people and smile when I sing/play.
- I move to the music a bit and let it move me.
- I might have a verse that applies or seems to fit before a song. I might read it or have someone else read it. I might say something like, "when I sing this song, it reminds me of this verse...", or "this song has so many great biblical themes, like Isa xxx and then read. Never anything long.
- I never preach or put in a mini sermon. I just like to make the congregation aware of how the songs relate to scripture or Christian life or whatever. Keep it very short.
- I never say anything that I don't feel for myself.
The overriding theme for me is to open them up and make them feel comfortable with me so that when I open up and worship, they come with me. It's amazing how they respond to natural and honest approaches.
This is just how I do it. Others may be able to pull off more rehearsed and planned stuff, but I can't do that with worship. I'm totally the opposite with sermons. I script them out and seem to be pretty good at making them natural. (I do go off script a lot too...)
What does engaging the congregation look like?
To me, it's like providing a path they can use to climb the mountain, with simple hooks they can get hold of to pull themselves up. Musically speaking it avoids 'clever rhythms', difficult melodies, keys that are hard to sing in and chords that hinder the flow of the song. Very often simplicity in music is a powerful way of engaging people's hearts and minds, provided the simplicity is still able to tell a story and transport people. Dynamics are also a powerful tool, but need to be used carefully or they become predictable and expected. Songs with actual tunes can help quite a bit, as can lyrics that focus on God, rather than on what he's going to do for us or what we're going to do for Him.
Tonight I played alone using a guitar synth, mostly as acoustic guitar, adding strings a little in choruses as backing. While playing, I was listening to hear where people were going, and to try to augment what they were doing in the quieter songs. It seemed to engage people, especially on the last song which was mostly very slow, but with a rousing chorus, and by keeping it simple with strong dynamics it was natural for people to be involved.
A big issue for some worship music can be that it's all very 'perfect' and complete, and there's no way for the congregation to contribute, so instead they watch. People need to contribute to belong and feel part of a church - where they are unable to give something of themselves then quickly they either become pew-fodder or leave.
In the past couple of years I've had to "dumb-down" my arrangements, simply because I never knew who or what instrument would be around when it came to my turn on the rotation. As a musician, I don't like it, but my wife who sees it from the pew side of life tells me that the less people I have on stage the better the worship times are. Go figure...
Do you have the heart to possible learn a new instrument? It's going to sound like out of left field, (and maybe largely off-topic) but unfortunately I've had the tragedy of having two friends who are piano/keyboardist who frequently emote that have trouble having an intimate relationship frow behind the grand piano/keyboard. One of them is a Royal Conservatory trainer pianist with their performers certificate. Hardcore. Constantly struggle engaging the congregation. Sometimes when they are off in the corner behind our grand piano, it sounds like the James Earl Jones as the ghost of Simba's father in the Lion King, a voice coming out of nowhere.
It's nothing personal against piano/keyboard, but some of the great acoustic performers were guys & their six string. Usually in most churches the grand piano is in a awkward place where the congregation can't see the face of the pianist. Keyboard users feel like they have a table between them and the congregation. I can really only think of great pianist like Billy Joel or Elton John or MWS or maybe Sarah Mclaughlin?, but there is a laundry list of solo guitarist. Even someone like Diana Krall, it's more a Jazz lounge type of performer (and observer) relationship. It's not a sing-a-long.
Even Michael W Smith, in his old age is now in front & center playing his Yamaha guitar in concerts/worship sets for certain songs (and trust me, his guitar playing pales in comparison with his piano skills, he was remember Amy Grant's piano player).
Without belittling guitarists, playing basic rhythm guitar can be done with very little effort. This allows for more brain and concentration on vocals and engaging the congregation.
(For Greg Moore, I've never seen a worship leader lead from behind the organ. Usually they look like mad scientist, trying madly to use every limb God gave them... )
If I had to pick one instrument to make an intimate setting, it's my acoustic guitar on stage, in almost a "coffee house" unplugged setting. (Think Eric Clapton unplugged concert.) Simple, simple guitar, if adding any embellishments, probably done via vocals. No guitar solos.
So yeah... out in left field. Probably has a lot to do with perceptions and prejudices, but just my experience. Not saying it's can't done, just you're already working uphill battle. Don Henley and Phil Collins made great vocal leaders from behind the drums, but I wouldn't call it common place. Maybe there is a reason almost every rock band the front-man, if he/she plays anything it's a guitar?
Maybe you can guy a keytar! :) Welcome back the 80's. The artist Lights does that..
"Without belittling guitarists, playing basic rhythm guitar can be done with very little effort. This allows for more brain and concentration on vocals and engaging the congregation."
There goes my ministry down the toilet again.... 35 years of learning, practice and preparation, of learning to listen while playing, of overcoming my natural reticence, of learning to rhythmically embellish so as to not sound boring, of developing different finger and plectrum styles, new chords, open chords, barre chords, part barre chords, jazz chords, power chords, suspensions, inversions, running bass lines, syncopation, metre-shifting, riffing, knowing when and when not to play, learning to select the right effect for the right song, whether I should play my Washburn, My Tanglewood, My Yammy or the Strat on each song, folk-style, rock-style, pop-style, 30s, 60s, 70s, 90s, noughties.
Rhythm guitar is often seen as the job that "the guy who can't cut lead" gets. "You're not good enough to play lead, so let's give you something simple to do, 'cos it's easy, isn't it?"
You've certainly belittled me with that comment.
Having said that, who cares? After all, I'm "only" a rhythm guitarist. God obviously never intended my ministry to be any good!