Why I Ask My Worship Team to Be a Little Disingenuous
By Neil Oldham
What?! Disgusting! Didn’t Jesus rail against hypocrites, actors, and the disingenuous religious leaders of his day? Yes, he did. Yet I’ve sat across from my team as they’ve looked at me with uncertainty and said, “What you’re asking—I’d feel like I was being disingenuous.” But I keep on asking because I believe we’ve lost sight of what it means to do our job.
For years, the worship community has fought against anything that reeks of performance. We’re not to perform; we’re to worship. We want team members who are the real article—who they are on the stage matches who they are off the stage. Nice sentiment! And I wholeheartedly agree when it comes to the heart of the individual. However, this has carried over to the way worship is expressed on stage versus off stage. And I don’t wholeheartedly agree with that.
I imagine we all have worship team members who feel that expressing worship differently on stage than they do off stage would be fake, phony, and even hypocritical. Maybe you feel that way too and you’ve been rather uncomfortable with this blog post ever since the title. Well, some will call this being disingenuous. I call it doing our job.
And what is our job? Certainly to worship God and genuinely, at that. But it’s more, because everyone in the church has that job. Our unique task is to lead others to worship God with us. There are perhaps a handful of people in this world who can effectively lead a crowd just by being their everyday selves. They just ooze charisma in their casual existence. The rest of us have to behave differently than we normally would in order to move, motivate, and lead people.
We don’t question this in other arenas of life. Football players don’t run around smashing people in the streets, and we never call them fakers for not doing so. Motivational speakers aren’t that revved up around the dinner table at home, but we wouldn’t label them phonies. Drill sergeants are unlikely to scream and berate their date the way they would their soldiers. Even in the church, we want our preachers to express themselves more artfully on stage than they would in everyday conversation. They’re just doing their jobs.
Our worship teams have a job to do too, and it’s time we ask them to do it well.
I’m guessing that your context isn’t much different than mine: On my worship team, there are many individuals who are uncomfortable expressing their worship outwardly. Period. Over time I gently ask them, coax them, to try and get past that because here’s the deal: Maybe they’re worshiping God in their hearts more intensely than anyone in the room, but the church will have no idea unless they express some of that outwardly. And if the church can’t see us worshiping, how are we effectively doing our part to lead them to worship God in their hearts?
But let me clarify something. I’m not talking about asking anyone to go from 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds! That would result in your team looking and feeling quite awkward. And the goal is not to have a team of people jumping and dancing around on stage, in the first place. Rather, the goal is to have leaders who actually appear to mean what they are singing and playing. For that matter, which is truly more disingenuous: Singing “Joy Unspeakable” with brow furrowed or face blank of all expression? Or singing it with a broad smile painted across your face?
So maybe you need to ask your team to be a little disingenuous too. A smile on joyful songs is a good place to begin. Keep challenging your team to find better ways to express their worship and you just might see them and your church grow as worshipers too.
Neil Oldham is the pastor of worship arts and administration at LifeQuest Church in Springfield, Missouri.