“When I lead worship (or preach, for that matter), I look angry and uninterested…yet that couldn’t be further from the truth! How do I reflect and exude joy without I guess ‘acting’?”
I can relate to this worship pastor. When I’m leading worship, I often have a pensive look on my face as I’m contemplating the deep gospel truths we’re singing, or as we’re singing confessional lyrics and crying out to God in a song of repentance, or as I’m reflecting on the brokenness and suffering in the world while singing about the justice and vengeance of God. But in other moments my face reflects joy as I dwell on the salvation that is ours in Christ and His promise to return and make all things right (and many other aspects of the gospel). Whenever and wherever I worship the Lord, I want to be honestly pouring out my heart to Him, and that should produce a variety of honest expressions on my face.
I haven’t always born a smile or joyful countenance when leading worship, however. My mom, who’s been leading worship for 35+ years alongside my dad, encouraged me several years ago to smile more when I was singing in worship. She had observed my stern countenance as I was leading a women’s meeting and intended only to encourage me to exercise my facial muscles in a way that more appropriately expressed the truths we were celebrating in song.
It wasn’t easy for me to receive her constructive criticism. I defended myself by reminding her what a deep, almost constant thinker I am, and that my brows are always furrowed when I’m thinking, and that I’m naturally focused and thinking when singing/leading worship. She responded to my defensiveness by encouraging me to “think” about smiling when I was singing songs of joy and gospel celebration. She wasn’t encouraging me to pretend or be insincere in my worship.
Facial Muscles, Meet The Heart
I submitted (somewhat reluctantly) to her counsel and started to exercise my face by intentionally smiling while singing lyrics that inspired joyful celebration in my heart. Initially, it took lots of mental reminders to turn my mouth upward as I sang, but the more I practiced this, the more it felt natural to smile. I didn’t feel like I was pretending at all when I wore a joyful expression — it was just a matter of training my facial muscles to agree with my heart.
Most of us naturally do this when we’re talking. However, there are some who are much more emphatic and dramatic in their expressions than others. I’m not saying we all need to be and look the same. We need to be who God made us to be, while also being willing to have His Spirit stretch us in ways that will serve His gospel purposes. If that means leaving our “monotone” expressions and training our mouths to turn upward in joyful expressions as we declare the gospel, then this will be a helpful practice for some of our worship leader readers.
Don’t Let Musical Mechanics Turn You Into A Robot
On a practical level, there have also been times when I was concentrating so much on the musical mechanics of my role that my face was expressing nothing related to what I was singing. I was caught sporting focused, “thinker” face that had nothing to do with pondering anything deep—I was just trying to keep up.
I have since been convicted to take adequate time before the worship service to work out the mechanical kinks in rehearsal (by myself and with the band) so that my mind and heart and face are free to fully engage with the truths that I’m singing while leading worship. This also may be a helpful practice for some of you to begin.
Having disclosed all of that, I also believe it’s important for worship leaders to encourage their congregations to sing out with conviction and integrity. We can invite them to sing out with joyful hearts without misleading them to express indifference to the suffering in our lives and the world around us; rather we can encourage them to be confident in Christ’s beautiful redemptive work, His supreme power over Satan, sin and death, and His promise to return and deliver us completely from all suffering here on earth.
We can and should celebrate the goodness of God together as we reflect on His kindness to us and His right judgment of our sin in mercifully pouring out His wrath upon His Son instead of condemning us sinners. And we can worship the Lord with joyful hearts, singing with conviction and integrity, while wearing faces that express a full range of emotions from pensive thankfulness to exuberant gladness and gratitude.
We don’t need to “put on a happy face” to please the Lord or anyone else. He, more than anyone else, sees right through us. But it would be helpful for us leaders to humbly examine the true nature of our facial expressions and, if necessary, challenge ourselves to train our faces to appropriately express the words we’re singing.
Thank you for reading our post. You can download our 4-song worship album “The Whole Big Story” for free in the top-right sidebar of this website. We’ve also heard from many churches who have enjoyed leading these songs in worship services. If you’d like to do so, download free chord sheets from the “Gilles Music” tab at the top of this page. And you can subscribe to this blog for free by clicking the RSS icon or signing up via email in the right-hand sidebar.
– Bobby & Kristen
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