Overcoming Performance Fear
It’s 10:25am and it’s time to get up on the platform. The butterflies are starting and I’m beginning to feel a little anxious again. I love being on the worship team, but is feeling like this every week really worth it?
Is this you? Have you been about to walk on to the platform and really wished you could just run out the back door? Well, don’t beat yourself up, because this is a fairly normal feeling for many worship team members on Sunday morning. As a matter of fact if you survey any sizable group of Americans you’ll see that speaking or performing in front of a group of people is their greatest fear. Jerry Seinfeld once said that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. Even when we’re praising God we are not immune.
Performance Anxiety, or “Stage-fright” as some call it, shows up in a variety of forms. The first one is probably the most common which is experienced as intense fluttery sensations that typically precede a performance, but disappear shortly after the performance begins. This anxiety doesn’t last long and is usually a positive thing actually indicating a readiness to perform. This can even become a source of energy that improves the performance. If this is your experience, I believe this is healthy overall. I prefer this to overconfidence.
The second kind of performance fear is also common and is more “reactive” than just being a sense of fear or anxiety. This occurs as a result of insufficient preparation, lack of performance skills or experience on the part of the worship team member. The best way to overcome this is through practice, preparation and just being on the team on a regular basis. Repeated exposure to any activity will naturally lessen the anxiety.
The third common fear, when it comes to performing, is the fear of rejection. This can show itself as minor pre-performance jitters or more obvious signs and is characterized by negative physical manifestations such as incapability to perform, panic attacks, trembling without reason, acute and sudden thirst, intense sweating and so on. Whether you experience minor or major symptoms we need to realize that these come because we have a mind set that says that the audience would be judging you and find you inferior. If this is the case, we need to get a clear look at who our audience is. We’ll talk about that in a minute.
If you fall under the second or third item mentioned above, you are dealing with real performance fear; however, no matter what your circumstance, the fact remains that the feelings are real and we need a way to regularly overcome performance fear. Let’s talk about this.
A GENTLE REMINDER
Let’s look at the source of our strength. When Moses and the Israelites sang to the Lord as recorded in Exodus 15 they sang these words; “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” Now, since we’re talking about the worship service, this should be obvious, however I have learned that many times there is a huge gap between saying these words with our lips and owning them in our hearts. I latch on to verses like the one above because it talks about strength in the context of singing. He is MY STRENGTH and MY SONG. Although I think we are quick to just throw out scriptures as the sole answer to the problem, I do think that a subtle reminder here is necessary. We really “…can do everything through him who gives me strength.”!
THE ISSUE OF PREPARATION
This is real and even causes me a fair amount of anxiety before a worship service. I find that striving for excellence and doing all to the glory of God keeps me under a certain amount of healthy stress. For this segment we’re going to assume that the worship leader has done his/her part and the team has been prepared by getting you charts and having an adequate rehearsal time. Even with that, there are times that we just don’t feel ready to execute on Sunday morning. I think that we spend a lot of time on the actual service preparation (the music) and not enough time on personal preparation. This is our own mental and spiritual preparation.
PREPARING MENTALLY REDUCES PERFORMANCE FEAR
After the rehearsals and sound check are done, it’s time to focus. Here I find it really important to focus on both the task in front of me and on the Lord. One thing that I remind myself of is; what is MY ROLE in the service. We’ve been using the word “performance” here, but let’s remember we’re not performing for people, were performing for the Lord. Our relationship to the congregation is not as performers but as prompters. We are there to support the worship experience with instrumental music and singing. This should go with out saying, but from the tech side our role is the same, it is to support and enhance the worship experience. I find that the larger the event or service the higher the stress is on tech teams as well, and although I am focusing on the music team here, let’s remember that our technicians are part of the overall worship team and can experience the same type of stress from behind the scenes.
There are a few things that can add to our stress as a worship leader and as a member of the team. The first is the pursuit of a smooth service. Let’s come to grips with the fact that when something goes wrong it is rarely any one person’s fault, so to begin with the odds of ME doing something that will tank the service is extremely low; and in the case that something goes wrong, there’s really no reason to be upset. Remember that Jesus gave his life to save humanity. Therefore, I think it’s probably okay to be human.
The pursuit of excellence and the overall desire to be effective can also be a distraction. We aim for excellence because we want to give God our best. We want people to have a good impression of the Lord that we serve. That’s the right motivation for sure; however, we do not make Him greater by excellence. Again a reminder of our role here is good. Recently I heard a pastor refer to their expression of worship as “Raw Beauty”. I really like this, because it takes the pressure off. We’re going to try to do our best, but if something doesn’t go well, God is still glorified in the fact that we tried!
THE BEST FEAR REDUCER IS SPIRITUAL PREPARATION
This sounds obvious but I find it’s not always the case. The first point here is to begin with prayer; but I can’t stop there; I have to talk about that prayer. If I’m painfully honest, I have to say that our prayers are sometimes very perfunctory, rushed, and repetitive as we pray before worship. As in any activity that we repeat weekly, we tend to pray for the things that we think we should be praying for. I have begun asking the worship team to begin our prayer time with a few seconds of silence. This serves as a time to “find ourselves”. YES, I said OURSELVES! God is interested in us as people first and I think it’s vitally important to focus, or center, our selves in the presence of the Lord. Getting a good look at my own heart helps me to lower my stress level. The reality is that by the time pre-service prayer begins, we have learned the music, we have rehearsed, we have worked out all the transitions and as long as we execute as planned the rest is in God’s hands.
And really… even if we don’t execute as planned, the rest is still in Gods hands. I think some of the best spiritual preparation comes from Psalm 139; Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Getting in touch with God this way does several things for me. First of all I become open to His power or what some may call “the anointing”. Whatever we call it the point is that His power and work in the service is way more important than anything that I will do. It also allows me to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This applies in all areas of life. As a worship leader I want to hear that still small voice at any moment that he wants to talk to me. As a team member it allows me to see much more clearly what God is doing during our times of worship through music; and finally it allows me to take off the cares of performance and allows me to see my role as a servant. Through just being faithful to Him and using my gifts I can actually impart a blessing to others. You see, it’s not really that important how well I perform. It’s much more important that I have set the table in such a way that God can interact with His people in a real and tangible way.
The bottom line is that when I see my role as less of a performer and more of a delivery boy, it’s hard to be really stressed and afraid of anything.