Last week, we spent some time asking the important question “what is worship?” Now it’s time to reflect on what that means for those who function in the role of worship leader.
A worship leader encourages others to process and respond to the greatness of our loving God and the power of the gospel.
I use this definition very deliberately to highlight that anyone can be a worship leader. Our evangelical vernacular has arrived at a place where, like “worship” and “music”, the term “worship leader” is almost synonymous with “lead singer”. We need to be careful of this! It would perhaps be better to rename the role of a musical worship leader to make it clearer, but that is a job for someone smarter than me. For our purposes, however, we will focus on the music leader that we so often associate with the term. Here are five responsibilities of a worship leader:
1. A worship leader must make much of God
This should go without saying. Jesus’ earthly ministry was all about pointing people to his Father. Every moment of his life was filled with one very specific purpose: making much of God. As worship leaders, our ministry is also all about pointing people to our Heavenly Father. Our responsibility is to help our congregation to fix their eyes firmly on the King of Kings. But we can only do that if we are leading by example.
If you are choosing songs for a time of worship based on musical preference rather than Biblical truth, something is badly wrong. Lyrical content must always come first. If you have an incredible song, video, dance, drama – that’s great. There is definitely a place for creative arts in the church. But it must always be used with the specific objective of directing people to God.
2. A worship leader must love the Bible
Jesus’ ministry was filled with the teaching of Scripture and the fulfilling of prophecy. People were amazed at his understanding (Luke 2:47; Matt. 7:28-29; John 7:15). Jesus demonstrated how important the Bible is by reciting verses to the devil (Matt. 4:1-11), reading from scrolls (Luke 4:17-21) and living a perfect life in line with its teachings.
Worship leaders must have a deep love and understanding of the Bible. How can we possibly lead people to process and respond to the greatness of our loving God and the power of the gospel if we don’t have a solid grasp on those truths ourselves?! As much as half of a typical Sunday service can be sung worship to God. We must make sure that we are teaching Scripture in this time! The word of God is much more powerful than the words of men.
One more thing. Worship leaders can be guilty of pursuing an emotional response (for its own sake) from the congregation and taking shortcuts to arrive at that point prematurely. If you’re a worship leader, you almost certainly know this to be true. I must admit that I have been guilty of it in the past (and regret it deeply). I do not believe that people should be moved primarily by the emotion in the music; they should be moved by the truth of who God is. It often takes longer to arrive at this point, but it is completely worth it, both for your conscience and for the people you are leading.
3. A worship leader supports the congregation
It is not about you. You may have been assigned the title of “leader”, but that doesn’t mean that people are here to serve you. On the contrary, you are the servant of your congregation. You are a roadie, not a rockstar.
Your role is to help the congregation to sing praises to the Lord. In other words, don’t sing songs in keys that the average person can’t! Don’t sing songs with melodies that the congregation can’t follow along to either. This is not a concert, and you are not the focus.
4. A worship leader does not seek the limelight
There is a great irony in the world of contemporary worship leading today. Our mission is to draw the attention away from us and onto God, and yet we often stand on a raised platform with lights and cameras directed at us.
Leading worship is not about showing people how beautiful your voice is. It’s not about drawing attention to your “on point” fashion sense. You are not the preacher, so no need for a mini-sermon. Your role is simple: get out of the way and let God get to work. Be clear. Be concise. Direct people as much as is necessary, but no more.
There’s an easy way to tell if you’re on the right track. At the end of the service, are people telling you how great you were, or how great God is? If it’s the latter, you nailed it!
5. A worship leader must ditch the distractions
Over the years, I’ve come to a place where I believe that leading worship isn’t about addition. It’s about subtraction. A worship leader’s role is to do away with any distractions that might hinder a direct link between a member of the congregation and God.
One of the reasons we strive for excellence is so that people aren’t distracted by our musicianship. I believe we should also shy away from needless virtuosity for the same reason. Bright white, clinical lighting can cause people to feel awkward and uncomfortable to sing. Similarly, flashing strobes and crazy light shows can pull people’s focus away from God and onto the spectacle. Long, unplanned silences are distracting…but so are outrageously lengthy instrumental sections. Are any of these things wrong? Not at all! It is all about balance, and most importantly, about God.
As I wrote at the beginning, a worship leader encourages others to process and respond to the greatness of our loving God and the power of the gospel. Your job, whether through music or otherwise, is to combat the things that draw attention from God’s greatness and the transformational truth of the gospel. So make much of God, study your Bible carefully, put the congregation first, shy away from the limelight and throw out anything that distracts from our Creator. Do these things, and you’ll make a pretty good worship leader in no time!