Five Facets of a Worship Leader

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!

Why the Distinction Between “Praise” and “Worship” Matters

In an earlier post entitled Defining Worship, I introduced Harold’s Best definition of worship as continuous outpouring.

If worship encompasses all of our life, then “worship” is a much bigger concept than “praise”.  In fact, we can think of “praise” as a subset of “worship”.  Robert Webber once said that “worship is a verb”, but I’d like to think of it as worship being a state of being and “praise” being the verb by which “worship” is expressed.

If we refine this thought further, we can say that “praise” is the ignition point, or pilot light, of “worship”.

Think about it this way:  what we do in corporate praise on a Sunday is only the start of how we live a life of worship from Monday to Saturday.  Our aligning of focus towards God through praise should be the inspiration and catalyst for a life of worship demonstrated in how we live for God in the workplace, in our homes and in our communities.

This has a couple of pretty significant implications which I want to explore further in this post:

1.  Who is the Real Worship Leader?

I’m not one to make a fuss about nomenclature, but I remember in the early 90s how those in worship ministry made a conscious shift from referring to the guy on stage as “song leader” to “worship leader” to the more funky Matt Redman-driven “lead worshipper”.

About 10 years ago, I said that maybe a better designation would be “worship facilitator”.  I said this because I thought that the role of the guy on stage would be simply to facilitate the offering of worship for which each member of the congregation was ultimately personally responsible to bring.

These days, I don’t mind what you call the guy as long as you know what role he is fulfilling.  For ease, and because of general acceptance, I tend to use “worship leader” more.  In fact, when I think about it, I am now more inclined to call that guy the “praise leader” for the reasons set out at the start of this post.

But if we understand that “praise” is a subset of “worship”, we need to ask ourselves:  “who then really is the worship leader”?  If worship is the stuff that encompasses all of our lives, then the worship leader definitely is not the guy on stage who leads the singing for the first 30 minutes of a church service.  He is, as I say, just the “praise leader”.

Neither is he the preacher, because whilst the preacher gives instructions on how we worship with our whole lives, the preacher doesn’t see to those instructions being fulfilled during the week.

So if we take this a bit further, the “praise leader” and the “preacher” on a Sunday are only the initiators.  The real worship leaders are those found in the worshipping community – your spiritual mentors; your peers; your family; models of character and attitude – those who see to it (perhaps sometimes inadvertently) that in your daily life, Christlikeness is being formed in you.  In other words, all of us in the church are the real worship leaders!

2.  Fast Songs and Slow Songs

Those of us in worship ministry for a while will remember a time when we equated the fast songs with “praise” and the slow songs with “worship”.  This created an unfortunate dichotomy where fast songs were seen as a means of emotional hype (and belonging to the “outer court” experience) whereas slow songs (in which “worship” occurs) were deep and spiritual and therefore more desirable.

Also partly because the current style of fast songs were harder to execute, I have seen some worship leaders take to the extreme of ever only singing slow songs.

For those of you as shallow as I am, it meant that people got bored during the Sunday services.

If we understand that what we are doing on a Sunday is “praise” and the catalyst for our daily worship, then the distinction between fast songs being “praise” and slow songs being “worship” is no longer valid.  This is a great leveller between fast and slow songs.

So, I would suggest that intimately seeking God in a slow song has just as much significance as exuberant celebration through the fast song.  A cursory glance through the Psalms will confirm this:  we are commanded as much to thirst and hunger for God as we are to clap our hands and celebrate his victories.

Because of this, I now try to give as much “air time” to both fast and slow songs.

One day, when the time is right, I will lead a worship set that consists only of fast songs – for no other reason than perhaps to address the imbalance and to get us thinking.  For that, I’m going to need a drummer with heaps of stamina!