The Outward Appearance
by Jen Testroet
On June 14th Evangel Worship hosted its 2nd annual Worship Team Workshop. We had over 100 people attend, and it was a day filled with inspiration, training, and sharing. In our final Q&A session someone asked, "Do you talk about stage presence with your teams?" We addressed the question at the workshop, but I want to share this discussion with a wider audience. The short answer is "Yes!"
Our keynote speaker Mark Alan, Lead Worship Pastor at Emmanuel Christian Center in the Minneapolis area, referenced 1 Samuel 16:7b as a support for considering our stage presence: "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
Normally we focus on the second part of this verse, "the Lord looks at the heart." In the context of the verse, Samuel is looking within Jesse's household for the next king of Israel. Samuel thinks Eliab surely is the Lord's anointed because of how he looks, but God reminds him that He is looking "at the heart." God eventually picks David whose appearance must be much less impressive, after all, his own father didn't consider him an option! (Read the whole story: 1 Samuel 16:1-13)
When it comes to leading corporate worship, like He did with Jesse's sons, God sees the condition of our hearts. He cares more that our hearts are right than that we've developed our talents, rehearsed the team, or put a smile on our face. No matter how good we are at acting like all is fine and dandy, He knows and therefore can address the prideful attitude, secret sin, or hopeless feeling going on in our heart.
However, the first part of this verse also applies to leading corporate worship: "Man looks at the outward appearance." We have to remember we're leading other humans in worship. In our human nature, we interpret the attitudes and intentions of people by how they look and act. Even Samuel, a prophet of God, based his initial judgement on what he saw. People entering our church are going to automatically read us from our outward appearance.
Thus, we need to give attention to what our appearance is conveying, and we may realize our default expressions are sending the wrong message.
As we sing about the goodness of the Lord, a person joining our congregation might think the music-stand-focused guitar player looks confused, the expressionless singer looks bored, the under-experienced drummer looks frantic, and the closed-eye worship leader looks disconnected. All of them may even have the right heart, try to do their best for the Lord, and mean every word they sing. But that's not how the humans in the audience interpret it.
Often in discussions about stage presence, there is concern about worship becoming a performance. It's true that focusing only on our appearance would make our worship superficial. However, I'm not talking about putting on a show or an act. I'm talking about telling our faces what our hearts believe. Has God been good to you? Has He given you joy and peace? Has He shown you mercy? Are you forgiven and free from sin? Then you have a reason to smile, sing, clap, shout and even dance!
If we can move our focus from singing about our joy and freedom in Christ to showing our joy and freedom in Christ, our songs will become more believable and impactful to the people we're leading. Our worship should make people think, "I want to experience whatever is making that person so excited and happy today!"