One of my greatest struggles as a growing song worship leader was overcoming stage fright. For years, nerves impaired my ability to execute my worship plan well, whether it was saying what I wanted to say, in the way I wanted to say it, interpreting a song well, or even hitting the high notes on some songs. This resulted in embarrassing mistakes and gaffes.
If you, or somebody you know, has struggled with this, you may be wincing in agreement. Being nervous while in front of people is no fun! There is good news, however: you CAN overcome it.
Nerves can hinder worship. If you’re uncomfortable, your congregation will be too. Nerves can create an uncomfortable or distracting situation, which defeats the purpose of an expediency like a song worship leader. After all, if he is not expedient, why do we need him? Needless to say, I believe a skilled worship leader is expedient to powerful worship, and the advice in this blog post should aid good leaders into becoming great.
1) Practice (boring, I know)
There are very few skills that you can master with sheer repetition and no direction. You know the old saying: “practice makes perfect”, but another saying contradicts it, contending that practice simply makes permanent. “Perfect practice makes perfect”, a good friend of mine likes to say. I’m a big believer in intentional practice, especially for the budding song worship leader, but one of the most effective ways to overcome nerves is to get used to being in front of people, and not just leading singing. Preaching, teaching, praying, Scripture reading, and delivering announcements are several ways to get comfortable being in front of people. Practice in front of a mirror and be honest with yourself. You probably don’t smile as big as you think you do (it feels weird to smile big for most people). Ask a spouse or someone close to you to offer positive critique. Emphasis on positive.
2) Be a Servant
Song worship leaders are servants, just as preachers, elders, deacons, and Bible class teachers are. Growing in our service to the Lord should involve serving in one or more of those capacities, as well as many less public areas. Worship leaders, don’t be divas. Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 don’t even mention song worship specifically (though I hold the position worship leading is a teaching role), so find your place in the Body and give the Lord 110%, whether or not your service involves music. By the way, great teachers make great song worship leaders because they have not only grown more comfortable with their stage presence, but they also plan worship very thoughtfully, and have garnered the respect of the brethren for blessing the Church through ministry and wisdom from the Word of God. Trust me, it is easier to get up in front of a group that reveres you than one that doesn’t know you well at all. Be a servant-hearted worship leader.
3) Internalize Your Worship Plan
Nerves rear their ugly head at the worst of times, and for many reasons. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I forget that verse I excluded from the slide sequence? What if the projector fails? What if I freeze? These are all questions that may run through our minds before—or even during—worship, causing us to be anything but relaxed. Even worse, thinking these negative thoughts may create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Well, you can’t predict whether or not the projector will fail, or if you’ll have a temporary lapse in memory, but you can take measures to ensure that technical difficulties won’t cause a problem. Preparation goes a long way into leading worship comfortably, so don’t lead haphazardly. Unless you were just asked at the last minute to lead, take an hour or two to internalize your songs, including the order, and take a few other precautions. They will make your life so much easier!
- Don’t plan complicated song interpretations that require you to think about nothing else but which half phrase you’re repeating, or which random ad lib you’re going to do. K.I.S.S. You can lead a very God-honoring, congregational, artistic, and emotionally compelling worship service without over-complicating it. Besides, if you are struggling to remember the 20 seconds of instructions from the beginning of the song, your congregants probably are too. Remember, K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Silly)
- Write out your worship set, or type it and print it. Memorize it. If you’re not used to doing this, don’t overthink it. It’s easy.
- Don’t rely completely on technology–have a backup plan or two (pitch pipe, paper song list, hymnals)
- If using slides, be sure to have a few songs ready in case of a baptism, or have a short list of salvation songs and use hymnals in the pew.
- Memorize songs. If you have sung a hymn all your life, you don’t need to look at the book or the screen. You will probably need to glance at it from time to time, just to remember the order of phrases and to make sure you and the congregation are still together (if the slide guy or gal has lagged, you may need to adjust your timing/phrasing, for instance)
- Lead from a hymnal in the pulpit, or printed sheet music. Just don’t hold it, if at all possible. 99% of the time, leaders hold the sheet music because they think they need to read it the entire time instead of engaging the congregation. Don’t be that guy.
4) Singing School
One of my favorite resources for all things worship leading and church music is a good week-long Singing School. There are several around the country, and most all of them have a song worship leader track that will challenge worship leaders of all abilities to plan deep, theologically rich worship services, thoughtful song selection, led with emotive, lively energy. The singing schools provide resources and techniques to teach you music theory, conducting, vocal care, and methods to continuously improve. The continuity of 5 back-to-back days of leading and positive critique will make you better. Continued practice multiplies the benefit of your time investment manifold. This is a super under-rated resource. Don’t knock it till you try it, even if you have music credentials!
5) Take Voice Lessons
You possess the greatest instrument in the world–your voice. Learn how to use it well. 99% of the effort involved in hitting that F at the top of the staff is mental. If you are thinking about how difficult it will be to hit that F, you will have difficulty. Relax! Tension is the worst enemy of your voice. Take voice lessons from somebody that understands your goal of leading congregational singing well, and have them work with you to get stronger at leading hymns that perhaps you have struggled to lead before, due to your vocal range or other difficulties. If you are confident about your range and your voice, you eliminate a common cause of nervous tension.
6) Public-Facing Occupation
You may or may not have a client-facing occupation. If you want to grow in your public speaking ability, a client-facing role such as customer service, sales, or the like can be a powerful resource. A management role that involves presentations would be even better. Some of my friends adapted from complete introverts to warm and professional personalities after going to work for Chick Fil A for a year or two.
Your secular occupation can be powerful in developing your communication skills in this regard. If you’re a man of the cloth, consider a tent-making role that will strengthen your skill-set in this area. Besides, most in the ministry like to diversify their livelihood with a “tent-making” something-or-other. Your occupation can absolutely impact your growth as a worship leader, and most importantly, can make your work effective in helping the brethren to experience life-changing worship. This is our ultimate purpose. You CAN do this!
If you have read this far and are still looking for more resources to help (as I certainly would have in my desperation to overcome my nerves), here are a couple of book recommendations:
You CAN improve. God is worthy, and His church is too. Know that I am praying for you to become the best version of yourself that you can possibly be, to His praise and glory.