Stage Presence and the Worship Leader

All sorts of websites, blogs, and resource pages have “Stage Presence for Worship Leader” articles and quite frankly they are just not helpful. Well, not for me anyway. “Know where the Spirit is taking you”, “Pray beforehand”, and “Read your congregation” have no practical ramifications. This article is going to actually offer practical ways to improve your worship leading stage presence.

Now, to stay consistent with my attempt at reconciling theology and praxis, let us look at a couple of theological ideas that shed insight onto what it means to have good stage presence as a worship leader.

The idea that worship leaders usher the congregation into the presence of the Lord is an incredibly misleading theology that needs to be reconsidered. God calls His Church to the assembly and He is our host. Therefore, in our response to assemble we enter into the presence of God. For worship leaders this ought to be liberating! You are not responsible for bringing the congregation into the presence of the Lord. By the faithful’s decision to assemble they have already entered the presence of God.

This has implications for the congregation as well. Your church leaders are not responsible for making you feel a certain way or to say something particular for God’s presence to arrive and being “moving” in you and the rest of the faithful. No, by responding to God’s call to assemble the church has e
tered into God’s presence and she ought to anticipate having a conversation with God Himself.
So if the worship leader’s role at the beginning of the assembled event, what is the worship leader’s role? The worship leader’s role is to lead the congregation in their response to God (which, by the way, opens up some interesting dynamics for the relationship between the pastor and the worship leader). This is what it means to be a worship leader: to lead the congregation in their response to God for his Word and works, especially as it pertains to the salvation story.

Once again, this ought to be liberating for the worship leader. You do not have to initiate anything. God begins the work and we simply respond to His Word.

Now in a lot of evangelical churches the worship service begins with a song set. How does this correlate with the idea that the worship leader is beginning the service? By leading songs at th
beginning of the service does the worship leader not initiate the worship and establish how the service will go?

These are valid questions. Remember, however, that God is the one who called us to gather and our response consists of assembling. After we have assembled we now “make known his deeds among the peoples” and “Sing to him…[telling] of all his wondrous works!” (Psalm 105) It remains a part of our response to God calling us to gather. What a beautiful act that the church participates in and that the worship leader has the privilege of leading

Here are 7 ways that a worship leader can improve their stage presence:

Communicate

This may seem like an odd way to begin talking about stage presence practically. I could write preparation, but communication brings alive the fact that you are coordinating any number of individuals. The reality is, however, that the better prepared you are, the better your stage presence is going to be. If you are still looking for someone to read the Scripture for the day 15 minutes before service, it is more than likely going to affect your ability to read. Do not think you are above feeling the pressure of whether the person is going to come up at the right time and/or is going to pronounce the words right and read well. It takes its toll. Eliminate every stressor possible by communicating well and in a timely manner.

You also need to communicate during the service. Whether it be calling an audible or helping your beginner rhythm guitarist start the song with the right tempo, you have got to be able to speak up during the service when needed. You are liberated to

Take control

Again, maybe an odd trait to bring up, but this one may be even more important than communicating. Now what do I mean by “take control”. It is hardly worth noting that the worship service is obviously not about you, so what does it mean to “take control”, especially if you are working with one or more other church leaders? I mean to own the responsibility you have been given. You know what you have been tasked with, so take it and run with it. You have communicated everything that needs to be communicated, practice has occurred, and now you trust everyone to come through.

Stand still

While this one seems to run contradictory to the ever-growing Charismatic/Pentecostal influence on contemporary evangelical worship, its impact can significantly improve your stage presence. It demonstrates confidence in what you are doing and tells the congregation you are comfortable onstage and leading them in worship.

Speak confidently

Think about your high school speech class for this one. This means no more uh’s, um’s, ah’s. It is amazing how this can be the first suggestion for better public speaking and yet worship leaders rock fillers like their power chords. Know what you want to say and say it! This ties into taking control, or owning your responsibility. Know the service better than anyone else and how it is going to go. This will allow you to speak with confidence.

Enunciate clearly

If you want to lose your ability to lead your congregation in a hurry, this may be the topper. When the people cannot hear you, they will not follow you. It is as simple as that. You can practice by reading aloud. Give your “d’s” a note and make sure your “t’s” come through. Open your mouth when saying your vowels. This one seems like kindergarten but think about the last few churches you were at. How many people on stage did not speak clearly? I am sure at least one at each church. You will not get better unless you practice, so start reading aloud!

“Eat” the microphone

I said this article would be different than your other worship leaders and stage presence articles and so it is. I said this one would be practical, and this one though it may be the most ridiculous; it plays into your stage presence. Always speak into your microphone and just stand right up to it. First, your soundman will appreciate it very much. Secondly, with amplified sound, this is important to making sure everyone hears you. Speak confidently and with good enunciation but it will not matter if you do not speak consistently into the microphone well.

Be consistent

We all have good days and bad days. Some days you lead worship and you know that is what you are supposed to be doing, and then some days you wish you could sleep in on Sunday mornings. First off, this is okay. It happens. Do not beat yourself up on those days. But by the time the band starts showing up, it is time to work. You are a leader who people are looking toward to follow. You cannot allow your bad morning to interfere with your work. This is not inauthentic. There is a time for everything, and leading worship on Sunday morning is not the time to allow your personal ups and downs to dominate your leading.

These are practical ways to improve your stage presence. It is an art, not a science, but it something every worship leader needs to work on. Practice in front of a mirror, work through worship sets as you plan on executing them, stand on the stage and work through the sets, practice improvising, read aloud, and get better! Worship leading is like any other skill: it requires practice, thoughtfulness, try something different, try something new, and become good at what you do.

Since it is a form of leadership and communication, it will take time to find your voice and through your life journey, your voice my change. The salvation story does not change and the Word does not change, but your personal voice my change. Continue to refine your work. Rarely do I hear of worship leaders discussing how they are improving themselves and their onstage presence. It is assumed that it will improve or that they already have good stage presence. I exhort and encourage all my worship leader friends to work on their stage presence.

As I am closing this article, a passage has come to mind and I think that I will share it with you. From the book of Hebrews:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

JP#4Jason Palmer is the Editor of TalkingWorship.com. Jason has a Bachelor of Science in Ministry with a Worship Arts Major and Music Minor. He has lead worship for evangelical churches for 7 years and desires to see worship leaders become confident in their calling.

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