Take a Stand against the Stand

I want to preface this post with a plea of humility. Because this is typed and not spoken, it could easily be mistaken as condescending....I promise it's not.

This is simply something that I've observed and I want this to be constructive criticism.....take it as a challenge.

This critique isn't a monumental, philosophical change. It's simply just a tweak. It's a small improvement. It's a spoke in the wheel of small improvements and tweaks we can constantly make to strive to be better.

I want to talk to worship leaders...mainly, worship leaders who do this full time.

God bless you for what you do each and every week. Thank you for serving God and his Church. Thank you for inspiring people to worship. Thank you for enduring the occasional critic of your setlist. Thank you for modeling worship on and off the stage...

...but, I want to challenge you...better yet, I want to encourage you.

I want to challenge and encourage you to take a stand against the stand.

I'm not questioning your heart or motives. I'm not questioning your work ethic or effort.

I'm simply challenging a practice I've noticed that has become somewhat common...

...the Music Stand.

I personally have no issue with the support band with stands in front of them.

I'm talking about worship leaders and vocalists. The one's whose voice is preparing and leading the way.

Using a stand doesn't automatically make you less of a worship leader, just like lacking a stand doesn't automatically make you more of a worship leader. If you are a worship leader that uses a music stand while you lead, you are not alone. I've seen this quite a bit, and I've heard the reason why..."I'm bad at memorization." That may be so, but that doesn't eliminate the issues with the stand.

The issues I see with having a music stand in front of you, as a worship leader, are important:

1. DISTRACTION FOR THE CONGREGATION - When you have a music stand in front of you, it's obvious to the congregation that you are not confident with these songs, and that can become a distraction in worship. Should it be a distraction? NO! When we're focused in prayer and in worship, things like that do not tend to distract us, because the Lord's presence is amazing. Unfortunately, not everyone in our congregation has that tight of a focus and can get distracted easily at times. The obvious music stand can serve as a distraction for our people.

2. DISTRACTION FOR THE WORSHIP LEADER - When you have a chord chart on a music stand in front of you, it automatically is sharing your attention, as a worship leader, with the congregation. When you're reading charts, it's hard to connect with hearts. The less focused you can be on the musical part of worship, the more you can be focused on the spiritual part of worship. The stand can definitely stand in your way and distract you from shepherding your congregation towards an encounter with the presence of God.

For some worship leaders, the stand is necessary. This is a negative thing, because this can only mean that the time has not been put in to memorizing songs. For others, the stand is comfort. It may not be necessary, but it's security...JUST IN CASE.

Now, a critique without a solution is annoying and useless...so, let me offer a solution.

Two Things:

1. COMMITMENT - Make sure you commit yourself 100% to memorizing the songs you lead. I think you can get away with cheat monitors on the stage or in the back, because at the very least, it allows you to keep your head lifted and there's still the opportunity for you to stay connected with the congregation. The stand tends to draw your eyes and attention down, instead of up. BUT....what if technology fails you and the monitor cuts off? What then? That's where memorization becomes your friend. I remember the first time I led the song "In Christ Alone". I made myself memorize all those words...JUST IN CASE. Sure enough, that was the Sunday that our monitor bit the dust. Because I dedicated to memorizing the song, all was well. Commit songs to memory. And to the guitar-playing worship leader, at the very least, memorize the chords. When you do, you'll escape the bondage of the stand and become free to lead your church spiritually, as much or more than musically.

2. CONFIDENCE - You probably know worship songs better than you think. Too many worship leaders have fooled themselves into thinking they don't know the songs. If you've committed the time to memorization, then you have to practice some confidence. When you use the music stand, you tend to use your brain less. If you're reading it, the recollection part of your brain takes a break. Be confident, not only in yourself, but in the Spirit of God in you. If you've memorized it and taken these songs to heart, be confident that they will come out just as God has planned.

Church is people. The reason you're called a worship leader is because you're leading people, not a song. You want to make sure that every hinderance, whether physical or spiritual, is eliminated when you take that leadership position in the journey and experience of corporate worship.

Don't let anything stand in your way...not even a stand.


Chad Jarnagin said...

here here!

good practical post Gary.

keep it up.

Unknown said...

Well said. However, I'd go a step farther with this and extend it to the band as well. When I think back on the times when I've been most engaged as a worshiper in a congregation, the band wasn't using music stands. They weren't professionals either.

I'm sure the had some notes on the ground or something, but they weren't glued to it. Its more an issue of preparation than performance, even though they effect each other.

What's better than two engaging worship leaders? A band full of them.

Great challenge and word, Gary.


Bobby said...

Well said. I do think it depends a lot on the culture of the church and the way it worships, however. We have a tight liturgical structure at Sojourn. Our leaders read a lot of scripture and prayers each week. Since most of them are volunteers, I don't think they could memorize that many lines week in, week out.

We do encourage them to know the songs though, and to connect with the congregation through eye contact, gestures, etc.

Unknown said...

Love this!

I am not currently a worship leader, but I have served on several worship teams. I have witnessed worship leaders using music stands and I have a noticed a large disconnect between the leader and the congregation. When their eyes are travelling back and forth between the congregation and their music stand it makes me think that they aren't entirely engaged in the worship and they aren't confident in their worship.

When leaders, and even members of the band, don't use music stands I've noticed a huge difference. I've also experienced this difference. For almost two years I used a stand and after a while I seemed stagnant in my worship, but I couldn't pinpoint exactly why. It wasn't until a few months ago that my worship leader had begun to encourage me to get rid of the stand. I was very hesitant for his request, but I took a step of faith and removed the music stand. When we started the first worship song I could immediately feel a difference in my music. When I set aside the worries of "I hope I don't mess up" and trust that God will use my worship it allows room for the Holy Spirit to come in and completely immerse my heart in a genuine state of worship.

I would encourage everybody to get rid of the stand. Sometimes I even cheat and write down a couple of chords on a piece of paper and put it on the floor in front of me. The freedom that comes with not having to rely on that music stand is so overwhelming. It has truly changed how I worship.

Chris said...

I want to preface my comment by agreeing that this is a good challenge for all who are on stage, be it the worship leader, pastor, or worship team. I agree that a stand in your way can be an obstacle to engaging the congregation which is why confidence monitors became so popular. Even those can become a crutch and give team members the ability to not spend time working on the music outside of rehearsal. My biggest challenge as a worship leader is training team members to give up the idea of getting the music 'right' versus showing their heart as they worship.

I do want to share a perspective that I have learned over my 20 years of leading worship, giving concerts, etc. It was a difficult lesson to learn and one I hope is out of the norm for most of your readers. I am a singer/songwriter/worship pastor and have led worship in church, for conferences and events, and during my own concerts. I had the honor of playing with some of the best bands and artists during the 90's. For that reason I had to challenge myself to not be chained to a stand and you're right, it took lots of time and dedication. It was something that could be done. For me it all changed when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and the first surgery removed a big part of the brain that deals with music memory. I woke up and almost every song I'd ever heard, much less played, was gone. The brain is an amazing thing and over time it began to compensate. But during that time of relearning to play and sing I relied on cheat sheets. I eventually could memorize words but putting them together with chords was too much. God's grace and a lot of work later, I was out there again and a few years later I was coming back to where I was comfortable starting to move the stand away. It was at about that point of comfort when I had a double recurrence. This took the rest of that portion of my brain entirely. God has been so faithful through all of this and today I am again playing. I don't travel anymore but I'm back to full time leadership at my church, though with a music stand. I have learned to memorize a line or two ahead so I can maintain eye contact. I've learned to let my eyes 'wander' across the page as I scan around the worship center. It has brought variety into my leading as I use momentary musical lapses to focus only on the words that I sing.

I say all of this to share what I learned along the way about myself. My worship teams and bandmates over the years have been filled with all kinds of people, younger, older, and all sorts in between. It did frustrate me when some didn't seem to practice enough, didn't seem to take it seriously enough, and just couldn't seem to understand how important it was for them to engage with the people versus stare at a piece of paper. But I never took into account, much less asked, if some of those people physically couldn't leave a stand entirely. Or maybe they needed to spend a little more time looking at the monitors. Did I assume it was laziness or a lack of confidence, and never consider a physical need? And if so, were they not good enough for the stage then? Or could I help them to learn to compensate as I did?

What I went through has taught me to train people in a different way. To help them to find themselves in the song again if they became lost, to learn to model worship for the congregation even without the words being perfect, and to learn to rely on other team members while they reconnected with a song. God gave me my voice and hands back, and a chance to keep using my gift. I hope I can honor Him by helping others to do the same, even if they need a little extra help.

kingmedia said...

And I just bought a nice stand yesterday for $10.

Unknown said...

I agree with your premise, but I do think it is funny that when I saw Delirious in concert a few years ago that Martin Smith had a binder laying on the ground and he was flipping the song lyrics during the concert.

Gary Durbin said...

Thanks for all the comments.

I certainly don't think the stand or lack of determines the ultimate impact of the leader, and its just a small area of improvement, but it's a tweak that will, if at all possible. Thanks again!!

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree with the premise that all members of a worship team need to be music-less. I myself play guitar and have never been very good at memorizing a particular chord progression. I can play it for hours and hours, and still mix up songs in a set list.

My sheet of chords on the page is not what I play off of, rather, it is the tool that helps me remember and not have to second guess myself on which song I am playing next. Which would be more distracting to a congregation: the music stand or a horribly out of place minor where the root should be?

The idea that worship exists in a particular way for a particular person is a premise that I think we should reject. Everyone has a way that they worship, and varying degrees of image about those things. The heart of worship, however, is this: offering up your praise, AS BEST AS YOU CAN, to the Creator. "Make a joyful noise..." says nothing about "while looking good and doing everything to not be distracting to the congregants."

Congregants are made up of a heterogenous group of people that will find different things distracting. I know many times my cell phone has been the most distracting thing in the room. Sometimes it's the baggage of the day before. Sometimes it's the person in front of my raising their hands seemingly out of context. Sometimes it's the polish of the leader leading the song. Yes, the polish can be distracting for me.

I strive to memorize my music, but I don't feel that the music stand handicaps me in a significant way that affects the ability that I have to worship our Lord. Call me crazy, but I think that I am at my best leading a congregation when I am comfortable and not second guessing myself because I know that I am bringing the best that I can to the King. If anybody is called, and equipped, to lead a congregation in worship and does so using a music stand, I do not think that should be cause for them to feel as though they need to "step up their game."

We need to get back to the "Heart of Worship" to use a horribly cliche line. We are at our best as musicians/worship leaders when we are worshiping God, not when we are worried about every detail that we think can be distracting. Worship is not about performance; hence visual performance should also be removed from our library.


JK said...

I don't think it really matters. If you are so easily distracted by a music stand in the congregation than clearly your focus is on the wrong thing. and I'm not even a proponent of having a music stand- I don't use them, but I get annoyed with people making excuses (and a music stand "separating me from my worship leader" is an excuse) of reasons why they don't "connect" during worship.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comment SM left on January 9, 2013. Thank you for this comment. It is so good to hear that i am not alone in what i feel. The music stand is not the issue when it comes to authentic worship. It's presence or lack of, should never be used as an excuse. For all the WLs out there that continue this pounding on their team members, i'd say, instead of trying to "humble" your members into submission and subservience, try inspiring them. Are you worshiping as a WL? Are you authentic in your walk with Christ? Are you putting God's vision in front of your own stubbornness and agenda? Then inspire your team to worship HIm. Teach them and lead them. If you do that right, then you won't have to worry about the congregation following or getting lost, because they'll be lost in worship as well. Just my two cents. God bless. STL.

Anonymous said...

What about the hundred of years when men like B.B. McKinny and Charles Wesley led worship from behind a big pulpit. Were they not led by the Holy Spirit and did they not connect with the congregation? Many times the presence of the Spirit is dependent on the musical tune and words. Don't throw out the baby with the water.

Anonymous said...

I'll preface this response by saying:
1. Thank you for your preface... it was necessary... I get the heart from which you are sharing.
2. I do NOT personally use a music stand and I have been leading worship nearly full time for the past 15 years.
3. I might actually disagree almost entirely with the perspective on this blog.

The heart beat of most worship teams is the humble offering of volunteers. Most church bands and most worship leaders are folks who are working full time outside the church... They're scrambling to pick up their kids from soccer, scarf down some grub and hustle off to rehearsal to offer their labor of love... Truth is - making it on time to rehearsal is a miracle for some. Very few... perhaps a mere fraction have the luxury of kicking back in their church office woodsheding tunes.

Their commitment to serve is awesome! (you and I agree)
Holding them to a touring professional's standard (pros who incidentally play the SAME set list night in and night out) might be absurd.

Does anyone expect their pastor to memorize the passage before preaching? I've never personally found the bible and podium a distraction on the weekend. It never dawned on me that he just isn't that committed to learning the passage.

I personally find the train wreck of frequently forgotten lyrics, spicey & misplaced notes and wandering road maps far more distracting in worship than a music stand. When forced to choose... opt for a music stand - PLEASE!!!

While Jesus Culture (a fab traveling worship team) does not use music stands... You'll find that Bethel Church (home of Jesus Culture and a fab collection of folks who play a new set list every weekend) does use music stands. I have not noticed how the music stands have hindered the richness of worship at Bethel.

I suspect a greater hindrance to the depth of our worship could be our preoccupation with our individual and collective appearance... We are so obsessed with our style.
(our hair, shoes, jeans, belts, beanies, gear, piercings, ink, blah blah blah)

I suspect the collective worship we offer would thrive from week to week if we were as committed to the substance of our offering as we are to the style of it. What if we kept the music stands and merely committed a fresh effort to co-pastor from the platform with biblically sound doctrine in every song, prayer and exhortation we offer. What if we stopped viewing ourselves as the Pastor's opening act and committed to using our talents to make disciples as we make much of Jesus and far less of ourselves by sing songs that magnify Him exclusively and that are in their essence "Stones of Remembrance".

In worship leader utopia I suspect we would all memorize the lyrics, chords and roadmaps... That would be awesome... I'm all in! Yet I have a tough time believing music stands are anywhere near the top of the list of issues we need to address.
"Rend me your heart, not your garment."
Peace & love to all (even in disagreement).
- Casey

Ps. Many of the killer venues I've enjoyed that have great production value are pieced together with paid/professional musicians that have their music on the floor, a mic'd band captain calling out roadmaps to your in-ear mix, set lists taped to their gear and lyrics projected on the back wall.

Anonymous said...


If you really don't think it's THAT important, why blog about it? I think it's fair to say you haven't impressed a few people.