David RayMinistry, Music, Stuff I Had to Learn, WorshipLeave a Comment

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About Stuff I Had to Learn: I’ve been leading worship for almost two decades now.  I started out thinking I knew everything, while actually knowing very little.  Now I’m painfully aware of how little I know, even though I know much more about my craft than I did seventeen years ago.  Along the way there have been a host of people, circumstances and difficulties that have taught me invaluable lessons.  Stuff I Had to Learn is a collection of lessons I’ve learned – from the mundane and practical, to the sublime and spiritual.

Have you ever noticed that when they hide someone’s identity on the news or in a magazine they just place a black bar over the eyes?  I used to be that worship leader.  You know, the one that closes his eyes when the set begins and doesn’t take a peek until the last chord is finished; the one who looks like the corporate worship just interrupted his own personal prayer time.  You might as well have put a black bar over my eyes.

Thank goodness for Professor Woods.

After I led worship one morning for chapel during my sophomore year at Greenville College, Professor Woods, who directed the concert band, approached me.

“You know, you do a great job leading worship, Dave,” he said.  “I just wish you would look at us.  We need to see your eyes.”

I had never thought about it before.  I closed my eyes because it felt safer – and because I didn’t have to look at the disinterested faces that somehow manage to stick out like sore thumbs in every congregation.  But since that time I’ve made a conscious effort to keep my eyes open during most of the worship set, and I’ve realized there are quite a few good reasons why.  Here’s a sampling:

  1. Open eyes help to establish connection and trust.  Eyes play a HUGE role in human communication.  Jess likes to tell me that over 90% of communication is non-verbal (which must be why I feel so confused all the time) and if that’s true, a huge percentage of non-verbal – and sub-conscious – communication takes place through the eyes.  It’s why we write love songs about people’s eyes.  It’s why a suspicious person is often described as having “shifty eyes.”  It’s why your mother tell you, “There is a spanking waiting for you when we get home,” without ever moving her lips.  Don’t cut off that means of connection with your congregation. The trust and connection you establish with them will not only help them worship, it will be an invaluable aid to your ministry.
  2. Open eyes communicate emotion.  Think of all the emotions that can be communicated with just a look.  As worship leaders, one of our jobs is to model authentic, heart-changing worship – and that means displaying the emotions that are appropriate for the song.  (And don’t forget – you are never NOT communicating.  Everything communicates something.)  Closing your eyes greatly inhibits your ability to express emotion, particularly any kind of joy.
  3. Open eyes allow you to see people worshipping.  There’s a practical and a spiritual side to this.  Practically, opening your eyes allows you to gauge how your congregation is responding to worship.  Do they need prompting?  Do we need to repeat a chorus or create a moment?  Should I never play this song again…ever?  These are things you need to know.  But more importantly, I have found that nothing inspires worship in my heart like seeing someone in the congregation caught in adoration.  It never fails to put a catch in my throat.  At a previous church I served, one of my friends had been through significant medical difficulties.  I would look in her direction whenever we sang a song about healing and invariably would see her soaking in those lyrics.  As I saw her heart surrendered in worship, it added incredible depth and meaning to my own experience of worship.

If you’re a “black bar” worship leader like I was, beginning to open your eyes takes courage, I know!  So start small; take a peek out from behind those eyelids every now and then.  Before you know it you’ll be confidently sweeping the room every few seconds and staring down the guy in the second row drinking coffee and texting on his iPhone.  And if you’re already keep those bright eyes open, keep it up!  And don’t forget to use every tool at your disposal to communicate the worship that God’s love and presence inspires in your heart!

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About the Author

David Ray

David Ray is a worship leader, artist and songwriter from Houston, Texas. He and his wife, Jess, are the creators of Doorpost Songs, a series of songs and resources designed for kids worship, multi-gen worship, and family worship. Dave and Jess are the parents of three rambunctious kids and they love getting to serve churches and families across the nation.

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