Thursday, January 1, 2015

Thoughts for Worship Leaders

I was coaching a young worship leader recently.  He has a lot of raw talent, but is new to worship leading.  I gave him some advice that I thought other worship leaders might find helpful.

David shepherded them with a devoted heart,
      and led them with skillful hands.
- Psalm 78:72 ISV
I see a couple of important things in this verse.  It was David's devoted heart that earned him the right to shepherd God's people.  But it was his skill that caused them to follow him.  It takes both heart and skill to be a worship leader.

We've all seen worship leaders that had no business singing, much less leading.  They had very little musical gifting, and were usually in the position of leadership because of their relationship to the pastor or one of his "cronies."

We've also seen people with amazing musical skill that are in it for themselves.  It's just another gig for them - a chance to show off their gifts.

We have to remember that our gifts are simply that: gifts!  We didn't earn them.  We can't take credit for them.  Yes, we did have to develop them.  But in the end, they are still gifts from God that were simply entrusted to us.  Those with high gifting will have people that follow them.  We should never take this lightly.  God will hold us accountable for it.

With that in mind, let me give you five things that you need to be mindful of as you lead worship.

1.  The Holy Spirit - We need to have a plan.  We need to know what songs we're singing, in which order and which key.  And we need to work out the transitions beforehand.  But we need to be prepared for the Holy Spirit to call an audible.  We don't want to follow our every whim or passing thought... that would lead to chaos.  But we do need to learn to be led by the Holy Spirit.  There may be something He wants to say or do, and we need to be paying attention.

2.  The pastor - He (or she) is ultimately responsible for the flow of the service.  He has prayed out the message God wants him to deliver.  He has prepared to deliver it.  When he's ready to take the service you need to shut down the worship and step aside.  If he wants you to tone it down or speed it up, just cooperate.  Don't be a diva!  It's not about you, anyway.  It's about Jesus and His Kingdom.

I've seen far too many worship leaders that think their part of the service is the most important.  You, as the worship leader, may not agree with how they are leading a service.  That's okay.  You need to submit.  Later, behind closed doors, you can discuss what happened, if you feel it's appropriate.

And if you are going to play while he's talking (prayer, altar call, etc), be sure to play UNDER him.  It's not the time to show off your new riff.  You are there to set the mood so people can connect with God.  Remember: "God is not a God of disorder but of peace." (1 Corinthians 14:33)

3.  The congregation - Confucius is credited as saying, "He that thinks he's leading but no one is following is merely going on a walk by himself."  We have to connect with the congregation where they are and then bring them into God's presence.  You've got to learn to read your people.  If you start to lose them you will need to either draw them back in or wind it down.  You always want to leave them wanting more, rather than wanting less.  By the way, don't give a sermon... that's the pastor's job.

4.  The music - I know worship leaders that get so caught up in the moment that they either lose the beat (adding or subtracting a beat) or lose where they are in the song.  This doesn't help anyone.  You've got to develop the ability to connect with God's presence while maintaining a musical flow.  This only comes through practice.

5.  The band - Some worship leaders are more gifted than their band.  Others just forget to let the band know what they are doing.  This leaves the entire band looking bad.  You should always practice the types of intros, "outros", tags and transitions that you might do.  I like to go with the flow, so I've developed some signals and give vocal cues that I give to my band and singers.  It helps the flow of worship if we are all on the same page.

Join the conversation... what thoughts would you add?


  1. Great post! On our worship team we also strive for musical excellence, but that goes way beyond our technical ability. We all have different levels of ability, but we try to focus on timing (playing tight) and the dynamics of the song. And with that we also realize how important transitions are. We will spend as much time rehearsing the transition from song to song as we may on the actual song! It tightens us up, and lessens those awkward moments between songs.
    We've found that the more we rehearse a song, the more comfortable we are flowing in the Spirit. It makes us a lot more flexible during the service.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Jim. I wholeheartedly agree that the more comfortable we are with the song (which comes from practice), the easier it is to follow the Holy Spirit's leading. This is why I encourage teams to do away with their charts while onstage. They should KNOW the music by heart.