Reflection #7 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number seven in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #7:  Confidence monitors, which allow musicians on stage to see the lyrics being sung by the congregation, sometimes do more harm than good.

At Judson University, our worship arts students take several communication classes to help them more fully appreciate how all the elements of dialogical worship can be Brendaenhanced by an understanding of some basic but important principles of communication.  One of those classes is a 400-level Communication Theory class taught by my colleague Dr. Brenda Buckley-Hughes.  Typically, halfway through the semester, students’ heads are swimming; by the end of the semester, most of those students have become equipped to bring a deeper understanding of what worship leaders can (and, we would argue, should) bring to corporate worship.  It’s amazing to see.

Basic communication theory dictates that communication happens best when obstacles (physical or psycho-emotional) are removed between the sender and the receiver.  That’s part of the motivation at work when pastors use a small music stand or a hightop table, instead of a massive pulpit, for their messages.  The smaller the obstacle in front of the speaker, the more clearly the message will (have the chance to) be heard by the audience.

The response to this well-intended urge as it relates to praise bands often finds vocalists, in particular, going without music on stands so that they can make better eye contact with congregations.  Because your typical praise-band volunteer doesn’t have the time in her schedule to memorize music–and because even the best of us fail to remember memorized material from time to time–most churches project the lyrics to the songs on a screen at the back of the church, colloquially known as a “confidence monitor.”  This takes care of the cluttered-stage-as-inhibitor-of-communication problem, to be sure.

The problem with confidence monitors is that they too often provoke slavish attention from musicians to the extent that the very-worthy goal of increasing eye contact with the congregation gets lost.  Only the most disciplined singers seem to be able to avoid staring at the confidence monitor in the midst of leading the people’s song.  This really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise nowadays.  How many of us discipline ourselves with any kind of regularity when eating at a restaurant that features a TV in every corner?  Not too many.  I know several people who purposely ask the hostess for a table where they will least likely be distracted by a TV screen.  I do this myself whenever possible, especially on date nights with my wife.

The Worship-Leading 101 solution I’m going to suggest here is easier today than it ever has been, what with more-than-adequate videography available from a simple smartphone.  You can tell your praise-band members not to stare at the confidence monitor as often as you want, but nothing will grab their attention like watching a video of an entire worship set in which they have served.  Pastoral worship leaders will want to undertake this exercise with grace and a light-hearted spirit.  Staring at a video screen as opposed to communicating well with the congregation via excellent eye contact is not the Unpardonable Sin, but if all of us desire to bring our best to the altar in worship, neither is it inconsequential.  It will also help in the feedback process if you, as the worship leader, can point out in the video an observable area or two where you can improve as well.  Nothing helps build community in your team like fostering the (true) notion that while you are the designated leader, you are still first among equals (with “equals” being more important in the equation than “first”).

The Lord be with you as you and your praise-band teammates strive to communicate effectively in corporate worship!

Coming next week (Lord willing): The pastor’s wardrobe.

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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