It surprises me when you do a search for help with worship leading online, how often you will find people who advise the worship leaders to do something like, “don’t worry about the people in the pews, just go up front, get into the music, close your eyes and worship God from the heart.”
I’m not a worship leader, as you know, but a pastor. As such, I have to correct what I think is a very misguided view on worship leading. The “just focus on yourself” advice for worship leaders would be akin to my telling a young preacher, “Don’t worry about the people in the pews; just get in the pulpit, open your Bible and talk to yourself about what God is saying to you. If you speak to the congregation at all, let it be to tell them, ‘Just open your Bible and have a quiet time of meditation with the Lord, as I do the same.'”
As a pastor, it is my job to do my private study ahead of time, and to be VERY conscious of the people in the pews as I try to teach them the word.
As a worshiper in the pews, it would be fine for me to just close my eyes and enjoy God’s presence as I sing to Him.
But when you are playing an instrument or singing at the front of the church, you are not there for yourself. You have taken on the responsibility for the people in the pews, and for leading them into the presence of the Lord to worship Him. You had better be VERY aware of them, encouraging them with your song, your eye contact, your smile, your prayers, your words of instruction and encouragement (stuff like “Sing out, now!”), and everything you are and do, to focus on the Lord. It is not about you and your one-on-one fellowship with Jesus on Sunday morning. Be worshiping alone all week to take care of that. When the pews fill up, it is time for you to function as a leader. When you are a leader, you must lead. When worship leaders just go up, close their eyes and sing to the Lord, then the only ones in the pews who worship too, are the self-led. They worship in spite of the lack of leadership. But they are few in number. Most people in the pews won’t do that. So there is absolutely no congregational unity.
A vibrant service is one where the whole of the congregation is heartily singing to the Lord, and that only happens because the leadership leads, as the Spirit of God moves on hearts that are unified in a desire to worship the Lord together as a Body, not as a group of individuals.