One simple thing that many worship leaders could do that would immediately increase their effectiveness by leaps and bounds would be to stay on the melody. By resisting the urge to break off of the melody and sing higher, or sing harmony, or sing a cool little blues run, they would instantaneously be easier to follow, less distracting, less annoying, and more confidence-building.
The average person in the congregation is an average singer. You have some who are really good and some who are really bad, but most people are just average. They can carry a tune, enjoy singing, and while they wouldn’t want to sing in front of people with a microphone in front of their face, are generally willing to give most songs a try.
If you’re leading worship it means that, for the most part, you’re somewhat comfortable singing in front of people. You might have a great voice, you might have an average voice, and you might have a below average voice. But that doesn’t matter. Whatever kind of voice you have – you should be singing as averagely as possible. Nothing exciting, nothing special, and nothing noteworthy except for it’s averageness. Sing the melody, sing it confidently, sing it clearly, and sing it only.
I know, I know. There are occasions when it works to go off the melody a little bit. But those occasions are (or at least, should be) so rare, that your general rule of thumb should be to sing the melody and only deviate from it when it won’t throw anybody off. Anybody.
Most of the time when a worship leader sings anything other than the melody, it throws people off. Maybe not everyone – but someone. This is why it’s usually (always?) a bad idea. Control yourself, keep it together, and sing so Felix the dishwasher repairman can follow you.
I think there are several worship-leading vocal myths that can get into our head and make us distracting singers. See if you recognize any of these:
The higher you sing the harder you worship
The more you emote the more they’ll emote
You should sound like the guy/girl on the recording
You should be able to sing as high as Chris Tomlin
The level of your anointing directly corresponds to the highest note you can hit. If you can break an E – you’re really anointed
You can make people get into it if you sing really intensely (and maybe even growl)
None of these are true. But we can start to believe them and before we realize it we’ve developed some bad habits.
Really – worship leaders should be singing the melody 99% of the time. If this isn’t a big problem for you, that’s great. If this sounds impossible, then I’ve got a fun challenge for you: the next time you lead worship – sing only the melody on every single song. Your congregation will thank you – probably quietly – but trust me, they’ll be thanking you. They’re the ones who asked me to say something to you about this. I’m kidding. Or am I?