Worship leadership 101: a worship leader does a whole lot more than singing songs in front of a congregation on a Sunday. This is obvious. The task of a worship leader is so much more than that. In fact a worship leader is called to help shape the corporate worship life of a congregation.
Here are at least 5 functions which I believe a worship leader must fulfil:
1. The Worship Leader as Worshipper
The worship leader must first be a worshipper. What you do in public should be an outflow of your personal devotion.
Matt Redman once coined the phrase “lead worshipper”. This means that a worship leader is the first to worship, i.e. the worship leader leads by their example of worship.
2. The Worship Leader as Leader
The worship leader leads. A worship leader must be able to influence people into following him. John Maxwell quotes the following proverb: ‘He who thinks he leads but has no followers is only taking a walk.’
As a worship leader, you lead two groups of people. First, you lead the congregation. Lead them by giving them examples of how to express worship to God in a corporate setting. If you don’t lift up your hands, you can’t expect the congregation to do the same.
The second group of people you lead is the band. Make sure you give them a direction and vision for where you want to take the service. Even though I’m not a technical musician, I always approach a worship set having mapped out its ebb and flow; its dynamics and the spiritual direction. I’m also at pains to make sure that I give the musicians and singers a set of accurate chord charts well in advance so they can practise and have some certainty to navigate with me. I do what I can as a leader, then I delegate the more complicated technical stuff to the music director!
As a worship leader, you should also lead confidently.
3. The Worship Leader as Facilitator
I like the term “worship facilitator” because it makes it clear that the worship leader is not the only person who “does” the worship. The whole congregation must engage and the role of the worship leader is to make it as easy as possible for as many members of the congregation to engage in worship.
This will mean choosing songs that are easy for the congregation to sing; pitched comfortably; properly directing the congregation to participate. Most of all, it means not making the stage the focus of attention!
4. The Worship Leader as Pastor
Although the worship leader must be worshipping, they should not get ‘lost in worship’. It is important to be keenly aware of how people are responding and how the Spirit is moving.
I have always thought that I wasn’t a “pastoring” kind of person, which is why worship ministry is great fit for me. I thought I could simply “inspire from afar”. But good worship leading is practised in the trenches, especially if you are leading a congregation regularly. You have to interact with people in the life of the church, get to know them better, talk to them, get a feel for their expectations etc. And serve with them, in cell groups, on mission trips, in prayer meetings.
Too often worship leaders have a sense of contempt for the people – “they don’t understand how to worship”, “why can’t they worship like me”, “if only they did God would really show up”, etc…. That’s called pride.
I heard Andrew Ironside say this once: if you’ve got a few minutes before the start of the service and the sound’s not ready, you have a duty to make sure the sound is good so that the people can worship. He said that the worse thing you could do in that instance was to pray!
It was a bit of a hyperbole, but you get his point. The worship leader must love the people he leads.
5. The Worship Leader as Prophet
A worship leader must continue to break new ground in worship expression, for example, in introducing new styles of worship and new songs.
Why? Because otherwise, we can rely so much more on tradition and ritual than to really worship God. Can you imagine waking up one morning and saying to your wife: “Honey, truly thou art beautiful and thou dost smell like the sweet fragrance of a bouquet of flowers”?
The next day, you do the same thing.
And then the next day.
In due time, what was once a sweet spontaneous gesture has become a rote thoughtless ritualistic repetition.
Yet, many of us hang on to tired old familiar songs and expressions even though they have ceased to be meaningful to us, and presumably also to God.
Worship leaders need to continue to keep on the prophetic edge, in the sense of both exploring new songs and new expressions and also in allowing a sense of unpredictability to come into the worship.
But it is also very important to balance the ‘prophetic’ and ‘pastoral’ role. That is, we need to find the right balance between the desire to break new ground and the desire to take people with us.
So those are the five functions I think worship leaders need to fulfill. Are there more? Share your thoughts with us!