“This is Boring. I’m Bored Now.”

(by guest blogger Matt Quillen at Overcoming Average)

First, I’d like to address the fact that people other than Karl can and will make references to 30 Rock. Also, this post will look very boring, mainly because I hate looking up YouTube videos no matter how hilarious they might be.

Okay, let’s get down to business. What I want to talk to you guys about is something that I’ve seen run rampant on stages in churches everywhere. No, it’s not the needless investments in Aviom systems and drum shields  . What I’ve seen that’s particularly disturbing is how bored everyone looks on stage.

Stage presence can be a divisive topic. On the one hand, of course you want an awesome performance. Who wouldn’t? On the other, how can people focus on God if they’re only looking at you? As Christians, we (meaning me) tend to look at gray area dilemma things like that and immediately have the gut reaction of not wanting to do anything that would take anything away from God. That may bear a little examination though. Does that gut reaction come from fear or conviction? One thing I’ve learned is that fear doesn’t come from God, and doesn’t do Him any honor if our actions come there. So, if you’ve been holding back in your performance out of fear let me encourage you that it is perfectly fine to put on an amazing performance, even in church. Even for 30 people. Even before noon on a Sunday.

So that’s why it’s okay to give a great performance. Now here’s why I think it’s imperative that we do. First, there’s that thing I mentioned earlier about people focusing on you and how that might be a bad thing. The problem with that is this: where else would they look? You’re the one the chairs are pointed towards, and if they’re looking anywhere else that’s not a sign that they’re focusing more on God. Second, you have to come to terms with a harsh reality: if you’re playing music and for some reason less than 100% of the congregation is truly worshiping, for the rest of the audience you’re simply entertainment.

Another gut reaction, right? There’s nothing wrong with being entertainment, and whether you’re seen as entertainment is a decision that’s only up to the people watching you. You can’t make people focus on God, but you can set an example of being excited for a God that promises abundant life and a reason for joy. My God isn’t boring and He’s the one who gave us music and a reason to play it. Shouldn’t that translate to every detail of our performance, including how we look when we play?

As with everything when I make a blanket statement, there’s a couple caveats. Don’t go overboard. That’s when you transition from entertainment to train wreck, both of which are fun to watch, but for very different reasons. Also, stage presence should be a focus, but never the focus. You’re playing music, not choreographing a musical.

A few tips on developing better stage presence. These have helped me immensely and I’ve seen them work for others, too. (Bullet points!)

  • Be musically prepared as best you can. If you’re not confident in what you’re playing, you’ll never be confident with expressing yourself on stage.
  • Remember that you’re displaying the emotion of a song. Try to feel the song with your whole self.
  • Do what comes naturally. Some do the head-bob, some the foot tapping, but there’s no real wrong answer here.
  • Record your set on video. See if what comes naturally looks good, fits the songs, and then readjust. There’s bound to be some growing pains here, but don’t worry. It’ll be okay. The first time I ever saw myself on video I nearly died of shame. So awkward…
  • Ask people you trust who aren’t on stage for real feedback. See if any changes have made an improvement.
  • Remember that lighting and/or stage props do not equal stage presence. It helps, but there’s no substitute for actual people displaying the emotion of the song.
  • Have fun. It’s not the most important part of performance, but it helps!

Resplendent.
Matt Quillen.

(Matt is a prominent worship, band, and studio bassist in the Southern California area. He runs the blog Overcoming Average.)

33 thoughts on ““This is Boring. I’m Bored Now.”

  1. good thoughts … every time this topic is discussed, I’m always reminded of how David responded to Michal on Samuel 6.

    20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

    [quote]21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” [/quote]

    as my friend always say, “Play it like you mean it”! ;)

  2. Nice post! This is one of my biggest peaves with worship teams. They dont display any emotion when playing the song. It leads to everyone on stage being sticks and it looks like they are forcing it. It doesnt look like natural worship. Get excited!!

  3. A standing ovation for that article. I see people so focused on “we have to be reverent” that they look like matchsticks with guitars. They are missing the point.

    • I agree. I get so disappointed when worship becomes soft and “reverent”. God is fun and loving…while at the same time we should show fear and respect, God wants us to be excited for Him. Not being so quiet and reserved.

  4. When you are selected to play on a worship team the church leadership has identified you as an experienced, trained worshiper. As a trained worshiper we need to do our best to demonstrate worship for those who are not trained. I think we forget that we are skillful in worship and have a special responsibility to lead those who are not skilled. How do you worship when no one is looking? thats how you should worship on stage – demonstrating true, uninhibited worship.

  5. Awesome post man!! I agree with everything here. Thats the problem with a lot of Christian bands, they act like its a chore to be up there and play.

  6. Thanks for posting this. Stage presence is one of the areas where I need to improve.
    It’s nice to see people smile when they are playing – show us your joy!

  7. Thank you guys so much for the positive feedback! I’m honored to be welcomed into this community.

    -rhoy, I’ve always enjoyed that little story. It’s only three verses long and speaks volumes about what it means to be not be afraid of being in front of people in service to God.
    -Shawn, think you hit the nail on the head there. It just doesn’t look natural.
    -Brandon, thanks man! Glad you enjoyed it.
    -Matt Corn, thanks! Also, great name! You are clearly a good looking man with musical prowess that others cower to behold ;)
    -chris, thanks so much! That’s great: “matchsticks with guitars…”
    -Jon Hicks, great points there man. We have the responsibility to demonstrate how to worship. Couldn’t have said it better. I also really like the idea that because we’re trained at it necessarily implies that an amount of work is required in order to do it well.
    -Zach, thanks dude! That irks me, too. How could music ever be a chore?
    -mapleneck, it’s always nice to see the joy onstage, isn’t it?
    -Don, good call. Over thinking more often leads to disaster than not. Glad you liked the post.

  8. Great post. Definitely some good thoughts. You hit on something that I feel is very important making sure you addressed that you can’t just make a blanket statement about anything.

    We recently addressed a similar topic with our worship team. If we shouldn’t have people looking at us during worship why are we on stage? Why don’t we go in a back room and just have the congregation out in the auditorium looking at the words?

    Especially as Christians we should be people of excellence. We shouldn’t focus on it and let it take away from us worshiping but we definitely shouldn’t be satisfied with the sub-par.

    • Thanks for the compliments. It’s something I’m learning too, that there’s a lot of grey area in Christianity where the non-negotiables are concerned, and it’s kind of exclusionary to say things like worship/sermons/service/ministry styles have to be a certain way. God looks at the heart.
      Love that your team discussed that. Cause if you shouldn’t have people looking, you should be off stage. And if you’re off stage, why not just play the CD? Thing is, people have to be *led* into worship, especially inexperienced folk.
      And yes, God desires (even demands) our best.

  9. My main criticism of this is that some people just aren’t like that, it’s not in their personality to “rock out” or outwardly display their passion for worship, and there’s nothing wrong with that (right?). If that’s the case, then said person would have to “practice” being more outwardly passionate on stage, in other words “practice” to entertain, and something about that doesn’t sit well with me…the fact that you have to force yourself to do this for the sake of the audience, not God or your own worship.

    This might be a tangent, but with the church I’m at, many people raise their hands during worship, and it would be easy to assume the people who don’t raise their hands or clap along are not “truly” worshiping. But I understand that being on stage where people will notice you is a different situation, and with all this being said, I still agree with you on this topic for the most part. I just wanted to provide another possible opinion for discussion.

    What you said about being musically prepared is probably the root of the problem, at least in my experience. If the music really comes naturally to you, then you will just “feel” it, that’s the power of music. But if you’re nervous about what and how to play, nothing will come naturally, and you’ll just be a stick on stage. That was me when I first started playing electric for worship a few years ago.

    GOOD POST!

    • Hey Bernard, totally agree on the musical preparedness being a key factor. You brought up a couple other points that I would like to address though.
      In my experience there’s very few musicians who do absolutely nothing on stage because that’s what comes naturally to them. The only times I’ve seen someone who did that was someone who wasn’t actually passionate about music. If that’s the case, I have to wonder why they would be on stage at all. I could be wrong and am willing to admit it, that just hasn’t been my experience.
      Also, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with practicing to be entertaining. You practice to play your guitar, and that’s entertaining. The job on stage is to be a facilitator between the audience and God; to make it easier for them to commune with God. If they can feel your energy and excitement in whatever form that takes, even if what you’re doing is walking aisles with the collection plates (also worship), I firmly believe that the audience will see God’s love. Practicing that for the sake of the audience seems downright selfless to me.
      Great reply man, I’m loving the discussion.

  10. “When you are selected to play on a worship team the church leadership has identified you as an experienced, trained worshiper. ” This must be a reference to the fairly small number of large churches. Most churches aren’t very big and to a certain extent you’re lucky to have enough volunteers to do the service needed. But yes if you’re going to sing you have to be able to carry a tune/ stay on pitch. If you’re playing an instrument you can’t be brand new on it.

    I’m lucky in that most of our worship team is very “outgoing” and upbeat as they sing/play — not a somber face in the group.

  11. even if you don’t visibly rock out. things like eye contact and smiles can make a huge difference and make people feel comfortable with showing some emotion themselves. you don’t necessarily need to be doing headbangers and guitar swings, but there should still be an effort to show genuine worship in whatever context that is true for you.

  12. “My God isn’t boring and He’s the one who gave us music and a reason to play it. Shouldn’t that translate to every detail of our performance, including how we look when we play?”

    Yup… enuff said…

  13. I enjoy playing guitar when I’m up on stage, mainly because I enjoy what I play, and it shows. Even for songs where I don’t like what I’m playing as much (compromises to fit the music better), I still can usually get into it. I know I tap my foot and move around but I don’t focus on that. I just focus on playing good music, and that “helps” me to do it. And if I remember how I really am worshiping God with what I’m doing, it’s exciting. I do have to remind myself, sometimes several times.

    Good point about entertainment. Hadn’t thought about that before, at least in a positive light. I think it’s good for Christians to have to deal with circumstances we don’t like or hadn’t chosen completely, because we tend to not do as well when we can’t control other people’s perceptions. We want everyone to have “holy thoughts,” or see our “holy intentions,” but that’s not always possible. And we tend to worry when it’s not. It’s freeing to let it go–if someone finds you entertaining when you’re worshiping God with all your heart, what’s wrong with that? Aren’t you doing what you’re supposed to do, which isn’t a failure simply because you can’t coerce someone else who has free will just like you do?

    Good post. :)

  14. Seems a little steep, as they sell new for $200. There’s one selling for $140 “Buy it Now” on ebay, http://cgi.ebay.com/Boss-DD-20-Delay-Guitar-Effect-Pedal-/200612189056?pt=Guitar_Accessories&hash=item2eb56b1380 with free s&h, and another for $140 w/tap-tempo footswitch http://cgi.ebay.com/Boss-DD-20-Delay-Pedal-/220789339462?pt=Guitar_Accessories&hash=item336811f546 but I think you can get them even cheaper than that–around $90-$110 or so I’ve heard.

      • I don’t think you could go too wrong with $150 total for the tap-tempo footswitch and dd20–I think those foot switches themselves are an extra $25-30 themselves. Plus if you buy used you don’t lose as much money if you resell it.

  15. If I wasn’t content with my current delay setup I would get the one on eBay for $140 with the FS-5U. I think I’m good with my Nova-DD-7-Carbon Copy set right now.

  16. Nice job Matt, with a few more U2 quotes and a little more self-depreciation I could have been fooled into thinking you were Karl.
    I’m glad to hear that someone else is tired of bored-looking people. Everyone on the team is the “worship leader”. It’s your job it lead enthusiasically whether you feel like it or not. I’m not an extravert and this doesn’t come naturally to me but it is important and it’s not disingenuous to worship whole-heartedly when you don’t feel like it. In fact, it may be even more important to give praise when you don’t feel like it than when you feel like it and it’s easy.
    It’s not a case of fake-it-till-you-make-it. If you were rostered to be a greeter on the front door and you were having a bad day, you wouldn’t stand there all sullen and give people a limp handshake and expect them to ask if anything is wrong, you’ld suck it up and do the best you could and serve God the best you could in that position. IMO, Same goes for being on stage.

  17. - Randy, it gets tough when you only have so many people to work with. Glad your team doesn’t have that problem
    - ben, totally agree with the little things that can make a huge difference. Facial expressions are something I still need work on.
    - gitpa, thanks man.
    - caleb, thanks so much for your additional thoughts. I have to remind myself about being “in it” sometimes too. Love your points about coercion there. It’s funny how much I still worry about it. The Bible tells us that only the Holy Spirit can change hearts.
    - To everyone talking about the delay pedals, I’ll just go on record as saying that I’ll probably never change out my Carbon Copy, which makes me the weirdest bass player EVER.
    - Mark Colvin, thanks so much for the compliments. I consider it high praise to be compared to Karl. Good call on just sucking it up if you don’t feel like it. It’s serving the church no matter how you slice it.

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