When Does the Task of Worship Leading Begin?

I’ve been thinking recently on the question: when does the task of worship leading begin? So I thought I might jot down some points here.

As a preliminary point, we need to understand that worship leading is (obviously) a form of leadership. John Maxwell defines leadership as influence – nothing more, nothing less. A person who thinks he is leading and has no followers, according to Maxwell, is simply taking a walk.

For the gathered congregation on a Sunday, the task of worship leading might begin at the moment when the countdown clock reaches zero, the drums click in, the electric guitar screams and the worship leader steps forward into the spotlight and says something inspiring to get the crowd going. The prominent traits here are charisma and stage presence.

But worship leading begins well before that.

For the music team, worship leading begins when the worship leader charts out the worship set. He or she has chosen the songs, planned the transitions and leads the musicians and singers in a productive rehearsal. Here, technical skills and visualisation are key. (I’m not a technical person by the way, and I failed a recent music theory test. But I recently discovered that one of my giftings is that I am able to work well with music directors – something I’ve been very grateful for over the years of ministry because my hard-working music directors have always propped me up and made me look good!)

Incidentally, visualisation, in my view, is probably more important than technical ability. It is about being able to see the entire worship set being played out well before anyone else does – anticipating how the congregation might react at certain junctures of the set; sensing the ebb and flow and movement of the music; and being able to recite the narrative of the worship journey.

But worship leading begins well before that as well.

There is an interesting principle known as “the principle of Absalom at the gate”. In 2 Samuel 15, the Scriptures give us a pointed counterexample of how influence may be garnered. In that passage, Absalom is plotting how he might usurp David’s throne. So he stands by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Verses 2-7 say this:

Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “what town are you from?”… Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land. Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice.”

Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way towards all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”

It didn’t actually take much for Absalom to win over the majority, and before long, David was fleeing the city.

To the church (and I use this term in the sense of the “local church” and as distinct from the gathered congregation), worship leading begins at the gate! The key issue here is relationship. You might actually say that the task of worship leading had begun ages ago, when you first joined the church. How did you relate to the people around you? Do they like you as person (irrespective of what a wonderful on-stage persona you have)? Do they feel you are on their side?

At the end of the day, you can’t lead people who don’t like you. It’s actually a really simple proposition. And it’s also a simple proposition that it doesn’t take much for you to win the hearts of people. Sometimes, people just like you to say “hi”, shake their hand (since kissing is probably not entirely appropriate in our modern day churches anymore) and listen to them.

I have always wondered how Lucifer was able to deceive a third of the angels of heaven into following him into rebellion. There is no doubt about it: Lucifer was one of the best worship leaders there ever was. His job was to lead the hearts of heaven into expressing affection towards God. Imagine the strength of the influence he had to be able to convince angels accustomed to God and His presence – God, who is Truth embodied and Glory unparalleled – into joining him in an uprising!

Most of us don’t lead huge crowds in a stadiums. But I remember Carlos Whittaker writing once that whenever he leads worship in a large conference, he will walk amongst the crowd half-an-hour before the set begins, just to chat with those who have come. They get really surprised (and feel quite special) when they realise the friendly guy who had been chatting with them just minutes before is actually the worship leader on stage!

I have been in Faith Community Church now for about 15 months. I started leading worship during Sunday services in March this year. But my task of leading worship actually started well before that. It probably began when I started helping out in the prayer ministry, becoming part of a cell group and actively contributing to cell life, hanging out with some of the young people, helping out whenever I can and being involved in the life of the church. That was when worship leading actually started.

As worship leaders, we must love our local church. We must love it enough to serve the people in whatever way we can, even before we start serving them as worship leaders. And when you serve the people, you will win their hearts and worship leading on a Sunday will be easy.

Just be careful not to go crazy and lead them into a rebellion…

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