Tools for the Non-Musical Worship Leader

I was recently reading Chris Falson’s old book Planted by the Water and came across this (at page 150) which I thought was interesting:

It is not essential for a worship leader to be a skilled musician. A reliance on skill and talent hinders the move of the Holy Spirit. Some of the best worship leaders I have seen have been people with no understanding of music theory but whose open heart and willingness to serve made them a wonderful guide for others to follow. Having said that, a skilful musician who lays his or her gifts at the Lord’s feet has the potential to break new ground in worship as well as to gather, nurture and mould other gifted people into a ministry team.

I am encouraged by this. The only formal music training I have ever had was in primary school, when they taught me to play the recorder. I still visualise notes on the staff using “FACE” and “Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit”. But as Chris Falson says, skilled musicianship is not essential to the task of worship leading.

I always come back to Kirk Franklin, a guy who doesn’t sing but leads worship by simply saying things at the right places. He’s so good at what he does that he has live worship albums, on which he doesn’t sing a single note!

So here are five tools for those of us non-musical worship leaders which can help us lead better:

1. The Word of God. Sounds obvious, but it’s often lacking in the modern worship movement which emphasises so much on skill and artistry. Yet, letting the “Word of God dwell richly amongst us” is a Biblical command as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). We need to understand how the message of Christ can be “read” (or better still, “heard”) through our choice of songs. A clear Biblical message and theme should be deployed each time we lead. Scripture reading and scriptural praying should also be part of a worship leader’s repertoire.

2. Musical Taste. So, a worship leader need not be skilled in music theory, but it is hard to avoid the fact that worship leading entails an appreciation of music. The unmusical worship leader should develop musical taste by listening to a wide range of musical styles (at the very least, worship music from different eras of the church) to get an understanding of what works musically and what doesn’t.

3. Humble Teachability. I rely a lot on my musical director. Having developed (hopefully) some semblance of taste, and a good handle of how to put songs together, I have to approach worship with an open hand and take on board suggestions by those who are more skilled at music than I am. Over time, as trust has been built with my musicians, I am able to allow the music director and the band to run the musical side of the worship after I set an overall vision and flow of the worship set. Remember, no matter how good your idea, don’t be too precious about it. Collaboration with musicians not only leads to better musical results, but also builds a sense of ownership amongst your team.

4. Stage Presence. A worship leader needs to be able to connect with the gathered congregation and influence them to follow. So, a worship leader needs to communicate the message through the things they say, their expression and their gestures. Make plenty of eye contact with the congregation, and smile! My worship director tells me that one of my greatest gifts is my “off-time bouncing”. If you want the congregation to be expressive in their worship, you need to lead in expressiveness.

5. Off-Stage Presence. Worship leading starts before you even get on stage. Real leadership begins in your relationship with the congregation and how you model your life when you’re not leading worship. Get involved in the life of your church and help out whenever you can, like packing up chairs, going to prayer meetings, actively participate in cell group etc. Then when you lead worship, people will happily follow you, not because you are awesome, but because they like you.

What other tools can you think of which should be in the non-musical worship leader’s toolkit?

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