Anxiety, Performance, and Comparison in Worship Leading

March 02, 2022 |

Anxiety, Performance, and Comparison in Worship Leading

I have wrestled with anxiety while leading worship for years, yet I've hardly ever spoken about it
publicly. My silence around my struggles with anxiety has been partly because of uncertainty
around how people will react, but mostly because I have thought that not many people share the
same struggle. To my surprise, through many conversations with worship leaders, especially in
recent months, I have realized that I am wrong about that; many worship leaders are wrestling
with anxiety while faithfully serving their local church. For many, the struggle is silent, invisible,
and at times, nearly debilitating. I can only speak to my personal journey with anxiety, which
was, for many years, the grounds for the most significant spiritual battle I have faced as a leader.

During the years of my greatest struggle, nearly every time I would lead worship my chest would
tighten, my palms would sweat, and I would feel light-headed as if I were going to pass out.
There were Sundays when I almost didn't make it. There were many worship services where
outwardly I looked fine, yet I was in turmoil inwardly. There were weeks that I couldn't wait to
lead worship, and there were others that I dreaded it––not because I didn't love to worship with
the Church, but because I knew the feeling of panic that would rush over me as I stepped onto
the stage to lead. And the worst part: I couldn't control it. All the while, I was doing my best to
engage the congregation, lead the band, remember chords and lyrics, and somehow engage in
worship myself each time I led. To say it was a struggle is an understatement. That's why I used
the words "wrestle with anxiety" in my opening sentence. Because it wasn't easy. It was a fight.

I' would bet that many of you reading this are in that same fight, the fight for mental health while
being an upfront leader. If that is you, I want you to know you are not alone. If you're reading
this and you've never had these types of struggles, I can almost guarantee you that someone you
know has. Maybe it's your pastor, friend, or someone who leads on your team. And perhaps my
words here can help you come alongside them in the future, which would be a fantastic gift you
could give them.

Getting to the root cause of our anxiety can be a complicated process, one that takes much longer
than a single blog post. For me, it has taken years of prayer, counsel, and spiritual assessment to
uncover the "why" behind my anxiety. I encourage everyone to invest the time and energy into
the process of bringing your struggles into the light because that is where healing and health are
found. As I have done that myself and walked with other worship leaders, I have discovered
what I would call two "key contributors" to many worship leaders' anxiety. These key
contributors are pressure points in our current culture that, if we are not careful, add to our
anxiety and threaten the very work of ministry that we are called to. Let's briefly look at these
two key contributors and discuss how we can move toward health in each of these areas.

First up, perfectionism. 

I am a recovering perfectionist.

Perfectionism has been one of the leading causes of anxiety in my life and the life of many other
leaders that I know. The combination of the pressure we put on ourselves and our current cultural
obsession with self-image creates a weight that can be crushing. For me, I have found that both
the internal and external pressures of perfectionism are very real. Internally, you and I can
unknowingly hold ourselves to so high a standard that that standard can never be achieved. We
become our own worst critic, never allowing for imperfection, never giving ourselves enough
grace to celebrate our victories, and always seeing what could have been better instead of what
we did well. Externally, we can feel the pressure of someone else's standards that we must
consistently achieve. That standard of perfection can come from other leaders around us, our
own church culture, or even our friends and family. In our minds, we fear that our imperfections
will disappoint the people we highly esteem. These internal and external pressures create intense
anxiety because they set the bar so high that it is practically unachievable.

For those of us who have this struggle, no matter how well we sing, speak, or lead, we will find
ourselves disappointed. And frankly, we'll never reach the bar of perfection because, well, none
of us are perfect. At its core, our struggle with perfectionism is rooted in performance-based
leadership. We believe the lie that we must perform flawlessly to be accepted.

So what does it look like to bring our perfectionism into the light of Jesus? It can look different
for all of us, but for me, it has primarily meant two things; (1) learning to accept and even
appreciate my imperfections, and (2) learning to rest in the reality that I am already accepted in
Christ. Learning to accept my imperfections has been easier said than done. I am prone to take
myself and my work too seriously, so learning to laugh at my mistakes instead of beating myself
up for them has been a process. However, it has been so beneficial for me to learn to be easier on
myself for my mistakes. I've learned a critical lesson as I have sought to embrace my
imperfections, and it's this: I am not God. I know that's obvious, but for me, I had to realize that
the human ascent to perfectionism is a rejection of what it means to be human in an attempt to be

Therefore, learning to accept my mistakes is really what it looks like to learn to accept my
humanity. And the more I accept my humanity, the more I see my deep need for Jesus and his
renewing work in my life.

But this is only half of what it's looked like for me to bring my perfectionism to the feet of Jesus.
Additionally, I've had to learn to truly receive the fact that my heavenly Father already accepts
me. This is something that I knew cognitively but realized requires a much deeper work in my
inner being. When I remember that the chief lie of perfectionism is that I must perform perfectly
so that I will be accepted, I can begin to see that I am buying into the deception that I must earn
my acceptance, rather than resting in the acceptance that is already mine in Christ. Again,
practically speaking, I needed to learn to rehearse my standing before my Father before leading
so that it would sink in deeper.

I'll often pray things like this before I walk onto stage;

"Father, help me remember that I already have your acceptance and favor on my life through
your son, Jesus. Therefore, I couldn't possibly mess this up so bad that I lose your favor on my
life, and I also couldn't do so well that I earn more of your favor. So I step forward to lead as
your son, nothing more to gain and nothing to lose."

It's hard to describe just how impactful it is to live into the reality that we are already accepted in
Christ. But when we do this, we bring our struggles into the light of Jesus, and the deceptive
power of perfectionism begins to loosen its grip on our lives.

A second contributor to our anxiety is comparison.

Comparison is the thief of joy. But that is not all that it is the thief of; it also robs us of peace,
rest, and thankfulness. In many ways, perfectionism and comparison work hand in hand, fighting
against our sense of being and belonging, raising our anxiety levels as leaders. Again, for me,
comparison was a silent war that was raging in my inner being. At its root, comparison was
stealing two things from my life; (1) my ability to celebrate how God made others and (2) my
ability to see and appreciate how God made me.

It's so easy to get caught in the trap of comparison. We watch other leaders lead via social media,
Youtube, or in our own community, and oftentimes, by default, we wonder how we stack up. Am
I better at "fill-in-the-blank" than they are? Who has the most followers? Which culture is more
influential? The list goes on. I'm not sure any of us are immune to comparing ourselves with
others. And maybe this is one of the reasons so many of us are wrestling with anxiety in our
lives? It was for me. So how do we bring comparison into the light of Jesus? Again, it can look
different for all of us, but for me, it meant learning how to see more like God sees. I needed to
see other people and myself as God sees us. This meant learning to see other people as God's
"image bearers," not as my competition. Ouch.

As much as we don't want to admit it, it's easy for us to view other people as our competitors
instead of our brothers and sisters. I needed to learn to see the people around me as uniquely
created image-bearers of God in the world. And practically speaking, I needed to learn how to
verbally celebrate their unique gifts, especially those in the same field of work as me.

Consequently, as I began to celebrate other people more often, I also learned to appreciate how
God has made me. I've grown aware of what I'm good at and what I have to offer, as well as
what I'm not good at and should leave to someone else. This was a process, but as I have slowly
learned (and continue to learn) how to see myself and others more how God sees us, the grip of
comparison has significantly loosened in my life, and my anxiety levels have followed suit.

The difficulty of writing about my personal struggle with anxiety is knowing that we are all
different and there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution to mental health struggles. I've tried to
highlight perfectionism and comparison in this article because I have seen them jeopardize health
in various artist communities, worship teams, and many individual leaders. I pray that some of
what I shared here will be helpful to those of you who are like me in your struggles. Yet, I know
that some of you will read this and realize that perfectionism and comparison aren't primary
contributors to your anxiety. For you, I hope that this article might assist you in some way as you
do the good, hard work of diving into your own story and uncovering the root contributors to
anxiety in your life. And for all of us, I pray that we grow in the understanding that we aren't
alone in these struggles and that we have a Savior who knows what it's like to be a human being.
He has compassion and grace for us in our journey as leaders. Let's look to him as we seek to
become healthier leaders to the glory of God and for the good of his Church.

Aaron Williams

Aaron is a worship leader and songwriter passionate about seeing a spiritual awakening in this generation. Aaron has had a heart to write worship songs from a young age, and now, more than ever, seeks to write lyrically rich and musically beautiful songs that help the Church voice its worship to Jesus. Over the past few years, Aaron has invested more and more of his time and energy into building up and training worship leaders and worship teams in various settings. Whether it’s investing in a small group of leaders in a living-room setting or leading with a band in a large auditorium, Aaron’s leadership is consistently thoughtful, creative, and Christ-centered. Aaron is the co-founder of Dwell, a parachurch ministry serving both the individual Christ-follower and the church.