Creating a Culture of Expressive Worshipers: Part 1

In order for us to create a culture of expressive worshipers we must first be expressive worshipers ourselves. Our physical posture and countenance is one of the most important things a worship leader should consider.

90% of communication is nonverbal. Think of kids. They can’t hide anything, especially how they feel. Even though he is an infant I can tell when my son is happy, sad, angry, mad, or even just being goofy. Not just when we’re kids but even as we mature, there is something innate about our expression that reveals the true feelings of the heart. And as worship leaders, we need to be conscious not just of our expression but of the heart it’s showing.

“Countenance is a person’s face or facial expression in support of or for something.”

How many times have you been led in worship by someone or seen people on stage that look it, sing it, and play it, but you just don’t believe that they believe what their singing? It’s written all over their face. Countenance is non-negotiable when it comes to leading others in worship.

When you smile on stage, you’re teaching others that it’s ok to do so. Some of the best advice I’ve given to worship leaders is to show your congregation that you actually enjoy worshiping God. If a particular line brings you joy, peace, hope, encouragement or any other kind of emotion, show it. So many people think that expression in worship is for the charismatic, when actually it’s for the Christian. Even a simple thing like a smile can change the way we sing. Moreover, it’s pretty hard to make a joyful noise without having a joyful expression.

However, I know there are days and there will be days when you just don’t want to lead worship. Yes, young worship leader, those times will come. What do you do then? What is your countenance then? Do you just go on stage and recite words not thinking about the meanings, or play parts not thinking about what you’re actually doing? Do you begrudgingly walk on the stage thinking, ‘Man these people don’t get it. My band is mediocre and I don’t want to be here right now?’

No. To be honest I’ve had days like this, and more often than not, God kindly reminds me of the reality of what He has let me into. Worship leader, you actually get to lead the bride of Christ — the church body, God’s children — in worship. When I let this truth hit me it brings me to a place of humility and an understanding that God doesn’t need me, but He wants me to play a part in what He’s doing by leading His people to worship.

Are you leading out of that? Are you relying on the truth of Scripture to turn your heart’s affections to a holy and perfect God, or are you relying on the right guitar parts, melodies, number of hands being raised, or your own emotional experience? If you’re not worshiping, how can others follow you in worship? I think most leaders don’t think about their role in this way because they’re too carried away by their songs, parts, people, and other distractions. The things that should point us to Jesus are distracting us from Jesus, and we must fight this tendency.

One of the best ways we can fight our distractions and point people to Jesus during corporate worship is through our own personal time spent with Him. The natural responses you have alone with Jesus will and should carry over to the worship service. But remember we as worship leaders are not the focal point of our services. Jesus is. Our goal for the people we lead in worship should be that they have an encounter with Him, not that they have a memorable experience for themselves. It’s true that we don’t want to distract them at all, and the best way to prevent distractions is by putting the focus on Jesus. We should be praying and asking the Spirit to lead us to that end.

Are you singing and playing with such passion that your worship points people to Jesus even if they can’t see your countenence or physical posture? Is your countenance such that it points people to Jesus even if they can’t hear any notes being sung or played? Something amazing happens when our singing reflects our posture which in turn reflects our soul. We lead others to worship.

You may be saying to yourself, ‘How do I make this happen in my church, or how will I learn how to do this well?’ Here are a few key things to remember and possibly implement:

1. Our goal for people when we lead worship should be that they have an encounter with God, and we can’t just measure this by raised hands or loud singing. We should pray that our people would have an encounter with the one true living God, and not only that, but that we as worship leaders would have the same encounter every time we lead.

2. Direct your people’s attention to God and the gospel, don’t dictate what they need to do. Remember you yourself are responding naturally to the God who affects your soul like no other. Just like the gospel affects your soul, let it affect theirs.

3. Teach them how to respond according to the Scriptures and not just to what their leadership says to do. The Bible is the final authority, so point them to Scripture as the model of what their response should be. Some Christians are just unaware of what Scripture says about clapping, singing, bowing, kneeling, lifting hands, shouting, playing instruments, dancing, and standing in awe. These are all responses that are encouraged and modeled throughout Scripture.

Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy! 6.Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
-Psalm 47:1, 6

The people bowed their heads and worshiped.
-Exodus 12:27

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
-Psalm 95:6

Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
-Psalm 134:2

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
make melody to Him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to Him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
-Psalm 33:1-3

Praise Him with trumpet sound;
praise Him with lute and harp!
Praise Him with tambourine and dance;
praise Him with strings and pipe!
-Psalm 150:3-4

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him!
-Psalm 33:8

4. Address hindrances to physical expression in worship. Some people have just never been taught and just don’t know. Some have approval issues and are afraid of what others may think about them. Frankly, our responses to God should be based on His worthiness, not on some image or reputation we may be trying to protect.

5. Teach consideration of others. If someone is doing something distracting or inappropriate, the pastor or someone in leadership should address this, but in a loving way. At the same time those that are more reserved members shouldn’t judge, thinking that the expressive people are looking for attention, or just plain rude. They actually might want to consider what they can learn from the unhindered and sincere expressiveness they see.

Lastly, the people in your congregation should be following your example and direction in the area of expressiveness. So the question isn’t how do I make this happen in my own congregation, the question actually isn’t a question at all. It’s a prayer, a prayer of simply asking God to do a work in your own heart that your worship response may be true and genuine and that it would show through your physical posture and countenance.

Our physical posture and countenance are two of the most importing things a worship leader should be aware of. In order for us to create a culture of expressive worshipers we must first be expressive worshipers ourselves. God is worthy of our deepest, strongest, and purest affections, and our bodies should show it. As worship leaders, let’s pray that God would do a work in our own hearts that we may lead by example, and in turn teach our congregation to have a natural response – affection, mind, will, and body — to who God is and what He’s done.

Jimmy McNeal

About Jimmy McNeal

Jimmy McNeal has a sincere desire for the body of Christ to devote their whole lives to worshipping God not only inside, but outside the walls of the church. Serving as one of the Worship Leaders at The Austin Stone, God continues to challenge him and his bandmates to live out the call He has placed on their lives through love, service, and missional living.