Conquering Stage Fright: 4 Steps to Go from Crippling Anxiety to Confident Authority

  • Written By 
  • Kelly Thompson

And so it begins. You stomach drops. Your hands become clammy and begin to shake.

You hear the cue in your monitors “verse…2…3….4.” You open your mouth, but no sound comes out. Suddenly, all eyes are on you and you think ‘I just can’t do this.’ Stage fright has begun to set it.

Does this sound familiar? 

For many, this nightmare situation is very much a reality. For many others, this is only a nightmare, because the thought alone of being on a stage is enough to never let that dream become a reality. 

As I was praying about what the Lord would want me to convey to this amazing community of artists and creatives, I felt a burden to talk about a specific (and all too common) type of anxiety that has plagued and tainted dreams. The kind of dreams that once fueled us, full force, towards our future- now feel like a kerosene can, and you’re ready to douse those dreams and strike a match. 

Stage Fright is actually a big deal. 

The ADAA (Anxiety & Depression Association of America) says that although ‘many of us feel a degree of nervous apprehension to speak or perform in front of a group, many others are filled with a feeling of sheer dread and panic at the thought of being the center of attention. This may be a form of social anxiety disorder.’

Many who have or currently are in the midst of battling with performance anxiety often suffer in silent terror. And because they feel embarrassed, people tend to keep their fear a secret, even from close friends and family.

Performance Anxiety is said to be the biggest fear reported by American Adults, topping the fear of flying, financial ruin, sickness, and even death. 

SO LET’S TALK ABOUT STAGE FRIGHT! You are not alone.

Aside from having the honor of being a part of the Worship Online team, my husband and I are Worship Pastors at Cary Church in beautiful Cary, NC. It is our passion to lead people into worship while simultaneously, inviting and ushering in The Spirit through the mighty power of music. 

In my years of worship leadership, I have seen A LOT of people who have struggled with stage fright. 

Over the years I’ve learned what works for conquering stage fright anxiety, and more importantly, what doesn’t work.

I have seen people go from nearly passing out on stage, to those same people confidently leading a room of several hundred people. I have seen some of the most anointed voices and instrumentalists stuck in such a stronghold of fear, that they have given up on their dreams for good.

I want to give you some tangible tips and resources to make sure you don’t fall into the later category of those two examples.

Shift your Focus 

Sounds simple enough, right? It’s easier said than done, but can be accomplished with time and practice. 

The trick here is to shift your focus from yourself and your fear to truth! It’s about replacement here, not removal.

Declare scripture over yourself and use it to remind yourself of who God says you are.

 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

When that all-too-familiar stage fright anxiety begins to kick in, remove yourself from the equation altogether.

Then remove blaming the fear. At this point, you can begin to think of the contribution you have to give, and the value of that contribution to your audience (your audience being the congregation and God!). 

If you believe that God has given you a gift, then you have to believe that He can use that gift!

Begin to believe that you are called to more than performing, more than even leading- you are a vessel of the gifting the Creator of all things, has already put inside of you. It’s time to let it out.

Find Safe Support

I want to preface first the keyword, ‘safe’. 

The majority of people with crippling stage fright are often walking through it alone. 

But as with any other type of anxiety or trauma, it’s a very vulnerable situation and does not warrant just anybody to have access to all your innermost thoughts and fears. However, when you find someone who is trusting and willing to pray with and for you, believe in you, and walk through the healing process alongside you, it may be the most valuable resource you’ve got. 

Here are some crucial things to ask yourself in your search for a Worship Mentor: 

  1. Do they care about me and want the best for me?
  2. Is this person an active listener?
  3. Does this person provide honest feedback?
  4. Do they bear healthy fruit (joy, kindness, love, self-control, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, peace)? 

Prepare for Imperfection

Perfection is an unattainable expectation even for the most-seasoned, confident, talented musicians and speakers of all time.

It’s time to give up on attempting “perfection” and know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Be natural. Be yourself. We often tend to scare ourselves with thoughts about what might go wrong. Fight those fears with thoughts and images that are calming and reassuring. 

On another note, I have seen too many churches that have lost sight of what true worship and the role of a worship leader really is.

It’s become all about curating a “perfect performance” that elicits the strongest emotions- and there is simply no room for mistakes in that type of culture. 

A healthy culture will provide opportunities, and honor your growth. 

Being a worship leader does not mean you have to be a “perfect” singer or player. Whether you are a lead singer or instrumentalist, it means demonstrating surrender and authenticity. It’s modeling how to worship in a corporate setting. Being a worship leader means being a welcomer of people. 

When you are clear on what your role as a worship leader is and is not, you can let go of the need to be perfect.

Embrace the Process

“Growth can be painful, change can be painful; but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong. Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow- it only empties today of its strengths.”  – Charles Spurgeon

This quote has always stuck with me in the midst of anxiety both on and off stage.

Change and growth is not comfortable. Jesus makes that clear in scripture.

At the end of the day, I have to lean into the process… my own personal metamorphosis. I have to declare in my heart (and even sometimes out loud) that I choose obedience to God’s call over comfortability. The “process” may look different for everyone. 

For many the process looks like learning the art of patience…being patient with yourself both emotionally and musically. 

There is incredible growth that comes with the grace you give yourself. Being a confident and composed leader will not come overnight. Embrace the time you’ll need to put into developing your craft, healing your heart, and leaning into God’s call.

And ‘oh hey, current Worship Pastor’- Likewise, I ask that you embrace the process with those under you.

Don’t put pressure on “up-and-coming” leaders to skip steps in order to fill a spot. Embrace their process, develop their skills, pray with and for them, and encourage and acknowledge their efforts. Then when the time comes, you’ll have a healthy leader amongst your team who has proved that they are ready and willing to put in the work to serve the Church and ultimately, God. 

These are just a few steps on how you can start navigating through the journey of overcoming stage fright.

This is not a one-size-fits-all, surefire fix. This is, however, exactly the encouragement I give myself and give to so many others who I have witnessed overcome their fears and step into their calling.

With God and prayer (of course), a shift in your focus, a community of safe support, mental preparation for imperfection, and a warm-embrace of the process, you’ll be on your way to a life filled with full-fledged authority on and off stage. I am expectant, excited, and am fully anticipating your breakthrough. 

Lord,

Today is a day to push the boundaries of comfortability in order to breakthrough to the next level of the calling you’ve placed on our lives.

As we take steps towards heart healing and steps toward achieving our dreams, we pray for Your nearness. With You, Lord, we have the strength to do hard things. Lord, I pray for an outpouring of supernatural strength and confidence over every person navigating this battlefield of the mind. Thank You for the gifts You’ve placed on my life. Help me to be a vessel of Your love and light on and off stage. 

It’s all for Your glory God.

Amen.

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