Leading with Heart and Voice

The longer I serve in my role working with worship pastors across our state the more aware I have become of leaders who struggle with vocal problems.  I can sympathize with these folks having had a bout or two during my own career with my voice.  I don’t pretend to be a therapist, though I have taken to heart most all the helpful instruction I have received from the likes of Dr. Tom Cleveland and others at the Vanderbilt Voice Clinic.  As far as I am concerned they are the best there is when it comes to voice therapy and dealing with vocal faults.  For anyone having problems I highly recommend getting professional help sooner rather than later as negligence can further risk long term damage.


Vocal problems can be caused by a variety of issues, some of which are unrelated to how we use our voice when singing and/or when leading others in singing.  Physical causes may include acid reflux that damages the vocal folds, poor muscle use, bad posture, or just plain old fatigue.  Problems can also be caused by over-singing, extended singing in the outer extremes of the singer’s natural range, and more.  Worry over continued viability and related psychological impact can just add more stress to an already stressful scenario, which doesn’t help matters.  My experience has been that tension as it relates to singing technique works against the singer, and I have heard that “song” from a therapist on more than one occasion..”relax..relax.”  In a worship leading process, relaxing is hard to do when most of the tension is coming from my racing mind that has me thinking about musical things, personnel things, “what’s next” things, etc., etc.


I trust that many of you can relate when I say that on many occasions I have left a worship environment thinking, “has it come to this?”  “Is all that really necessary?”  I have had the brutally honest moments when I evaluated everything taking place in worship that brings about tension and realized that I planned most of it, and much of it I planned with little more purpose than an emotional kick in the pants, or even a cheap thrill as its intended end.  Yes, I wanted to emphasize the text of a song, or to make sure worshipers got the message, but hard analysis has sometimes led me to believe I am not expecting or asking much on the part of the worshiper.  At times that is probably an insult to the intelligience of those gathered.  It is also probably a means of forming lazy worshipers, prolonging the problem.


A couple of weeks ago I lost my voice due to a respiratory infection.  Sunday came anyway.  I had to just tell folks, “this is called congregational singing.  Since you are the congregation you will need to sing, especially since I cannot.”  It was a fresh reminder to me that I cannot sing “for them” anyway.  I am convicted that much of our on microphone worship leadership that cranks our voice above the congregation is detrimental to congregational singing in worship.  It is unhealthy for the worship leader vocally and unhealthy for the congregation spiritually as they depend upon the platform for the sounds of praise.  When your people think in their mind’s ear of worship singing in your church do they hear a sound of a committed congregation lifting their collective voice to make His praise glorious, or do they hear a worship band, orchestra, or pipe organ just under the decibel level of the voice of the worship leader?  Such a scenario places the worship leader in a posture to sing every word of every verse (adding some shouts and jumping up and down in the more charismatic environments).  It also releases the congregation to simply mumble along and sing out the parts they either know or like best rather than doing the work of singing as a congregation admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.


So, how can we lead without holding responsibility for carrying the proverbial ball throughout the song service?  How can we support worship singing and encourage it without trying to dominate with our own voice.  One of your most important leadership qualities during congregational worship is your spirit.  Your visible, physical reflection of song lyrics, offering demonstration of meaning and significance, go a long way toward helping people move through songs with a sense of what they are saying in their singing.  Obviously their eye contact will be more focused during the most familiar phrases when they are not having to watch every word in the book or on the screen, but even through peripheral vision they usually have a sense of the timbre on the platform among band, choir, praise team, and/or other leaders including the primary leader.


Another very important quality that is most difficult to change if you are use to leading with your own voice is to actually expect more from the congregation and knock the props out to a sufficient point that you can hear what the congregation is, or is not, doing in their song and singing.  If this is a transition for you and them, then introduce the atmosphere with a phrase, or very familiar verse first.  As is appropriate call the worshipers’ attention to the sounds of their own collective voice.  One body, many members (and voices) joined in song.  Sometimes congregations need help interpreting the song so that they might sing with mind and spirit (1 Cor 14:15).  Worship Leader, rather than just singing it for them (or worse, over them), why not help teach them, encourage/admonish them, and then free them to sing worship.  While doing so, you might just save your own voice and add years to your own ministry of singing, while leading with your spirit of worship.  I challenge you to consider these techniques and let me know how they work for you and for your congregation if you do try them.


For the long haul!


Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Hymnals, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

One Comment on “Leading with Heart and Voice”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: