Valerie Jones

{Live with Purpose. Lead with Passion.}

I am a blogger, worship leader, and speaker who helps worship leaders and team members connect with purpose and passion in life and leadership by offering encouragement, community, and practical resources so that they can thrive in life and leadership, both on and off the platform.

Thanks for stopping by!

{Silent Voices in the Seats}

I love to gather and worship with a room full of people who love Jesus! I do. The unity in a room where folks are gathered around His name is uniquely beautiful. There are few sounds more lovely than people singing out the truth of God. Which is why it makes me sad when I hear worship leaders say, "If we could just get people to sing along instead of stare at us." It is not uncommon to hear worship leaders describe the blank stares of the people in the seats. In some churches people seemingly have moved from engaging in worship to watching worship.  So, I have to ask: is that okay? I'd say no, it's not.

A lot goes into planning a worship gathering. There are so many moving pieces. It should be important to us, though, that the people in the seats find their voice.  Here's the question: Are we giving them the best chance? Are we creating an atmosphere that encourages participation or one that discourages it? It's a valid question, and one we need to be asking. Here are a few things to consider.

1. Song choice matters. Throwing too many new tunes into the mix week after week is one sure way to keep people from participating. It's not that they don't want to participate, but they can't. They can't participate because we don't give them a shot at learning the new stuff before we move on to, wait for it, more new stuff. Let's talk numbers here, eh? For every 10 - 15 times the worship team hears and/or rehearses a song, the people in the chairs hear it once. We get "bored" with it, so we move on to something "fresh and new" and suddenly the silence coming from the chairs is deafening. We walk a dangerous line if our song choice becomes all about what we like, cool musical riffs, or killer guitar solos without consideration of the people we're leading. Why not pull from a group of songs that are familiar and even, dare I say it, old? I'm talking about songs that people will undoubtedly know and be able to sing. Throw in How Great is Our God or Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) and watch what happens. People can engage without the burden of trudging through new melodies and new lyrics. When we fail to consider the voices in the chairs, we make worship cumbersome and maybe even a bit frustrating. If we're doing that, we are missing the mark as worship leaders.

2.  The overuse of the technology of lights and sound can send the wrong message. I'm all for great stage lighting! And, we certainly cannot underestimate the importance of a good mix. There is no doubt that what happens in the back-of-the-house is crucial to the overall worship experience. These guys and gals are invaluable parts of the team. But, do we inadvertently send a message that says "your voice is unimportant" or " please enjoy the show"? When the mix so loud that people can only hear the monstrous wall of sound slamming them in the face, we cannot expect them to feel comfortable singing. Is it possible that this makes them feel more vulnerable in singing out than confident? There are two schools of thought here, I know, and the spectrum is wide. I suggest that maintaining a healthy tension is important.  When the mix is consistently distracting the people in the chairs, it's time to consider making adjustments. By making the stage lights extra-bright, the house lights extra-dim, and the sound remarkably loud perhaps we're subtly saying, "Hello, pull up a chair and watch us worship"? Here's the cold, hard truth: The people in the chairs don't need a concert. Worship isn't meant to entertain people with great music. It just isn't.  Worship is intended to point people to Jesus.

3. Worship leaders are meant to lead songs rather than perform them. Song choice matters. Yeah, there it is again. When we choose songs that are too high, too low or extra challenging rhythmically or lyrically, we can't expect the people in the seats to catch on easily. Likewise, when we choose a song only because it showcases our vocal ability or is a personal favorite, our efforts may be misguided. Vocalists and musicians are artists, for sure. But, when we step onto the platform to lead people, artistic expression becomes secondary. We don't have to show all our vocal chops or super-rad guitar skills. We don't have to over-embellish. When we step on the platform and lead people, it's not about us. Ever. If the people in the seats are saying "I can't sing that!" then we must take notice.

Here's the thing: When we disregard the silence because we fail to consider the people in the chairs, we make a mockery of something meant to be holy and sacred. Christ didn't die so we could put on a good show. He died so that we could have access to Him, to His presence.  See, worship really isn't about what we want or what we like. What if we ask God what He wants for the people in the chairs, those He's placed in our care? Yeah, what if we did that. It's likely we'd be more inclined to do whatever it takes to help them participate -- even if it means singing older songs or turning the sound down. God delights in the sound of the voices coming from the chairs just as much as He delights in the sound of the voices coming from the platform. Of that, you can be sure.

May I encourage you today to keep your heart tender toward the people you have the privilege of leading? What if we make it a priority in worship gatherings to help people see Jesus clearly in everything we do, so that those who don't know Him will want to know Him, and those who already know Him will love Him more deeply because they've encountered Him in a significant way through worship. Because after all is said and done, isn't that the point? Yes. I'd say that's exactly the point.

Keep singing. Keep playing. Keep leading well.