I’ve had several people ask me my thoughts on worship (and worship leading in particular) over the past few months. It’s an area that I feel I have significant experience in, but I am still learning and discovering ways to be better. I also have a heart for worship leaders and want to see us all get it right in a time where it’s easy to fall into the various traps that go along with being on a platform all the time.
So, here is my list (in no particular order). Use what you can from it. I sincerely hope these ideas help you!
1. Know the songs better than anyone else in the room.
You are LEADING the song. It is easier to do this if you aren’t glued to a screen or a music stand. Spend the time getting to know the song so well that you can convey the heart and meaning as you sing it. If technology fails you, can you still lead? Be ready to lead in spite of any distraction. This should be basic, but sometimes it’s not. Protect your practice time.
2. Be kind.
Have you ever led with miserable people? Have you been a miserable person while leading? It’s no fun. You should be joyful and carry a presence that makes others feel good. Be nice to people on and off the stage. No one wants to serve with (or follow) a mean or grumpy person. Not sure if this is you? Ask someone you trust to tell you. If they tell you that you are, apologize and make a change.
3. Be approachable.
As someone who leads in front of people every week, you have the opportunity to connect with them on both a spiritual and personal level. This continues off the stage. People already feel like they know you. Be approachable and available. We are called to be disciple makers...not rockstars. Don’t hide in the green room or only associate with your bandmates after a service. People want to know you, and fair or not, you are seen as a pastor. Own it.
4. Understand who you are leading.
So you went to a conference and saw your favorite worship band. Great! Guess what, though? They might have great songs that you enjoy singing and leading, but you aren’t them. You are you. Think about the community where you are planted. You’re trying to reach them, you’re trying to connect with them. If you try to bring a culture from Australia (no offense, Hillsong) to rural North Carolina, you are going to seem out of touch. Even if you can replicate the look, feel and sound perfectly, that should not be your measure of success. Sit in a restaurant in your town. Notice the people. If you don’t feel like you can relate or connect with them on any level, you’ve created a bubble that is out of touch. Burst out of it and re-evaluate how best to reach and lead your community.
5. Spend time on your artistry.
Understand that you are both a shepherd and an artist. Spend less time trying to replicate the sound and look of those you admire and more time figuring out what God wants YOU to sound and look like. Paul says in Galatians 6 that we are “responsible for doing our own creative best” and “don’t compare yourself to others.” This is hard, but worth it. Find your voice and work on it. Find your sound and perfect it. Try something new. Spend time practicing your musical technique. Don’t be a copy of an original. Be an original.
6. Read the Bible.
This could be a post in itself. Honestly, I’ve been doing this so long that I could say the right things every service and make it sound like I know what I’m talking about. I believe the Spirit is alive in God’s word that was written down for us. Every time I read it, I feel like I have something new revealed to me. Sometimes I’m leading and I have a verse that I feel I need to share with that particular group. Knowing what the Bible actually says gives you strength as a leader.
7. Talk to God regularly (and out loud).
A paradigm shift for my leading came when I started praying out loud to God. Not just in a leading situation or before a meal, but talking to God every day like He is truly before me. Your private prayer language will spill out into your public prayer language. Speaking to God like He’s real (because He is) also helps me break out of using the same phrases again and again while I’m leading a gathering.
8. Your first ministry is at home.
I tell this to a lot of my worship leader friends who are new to their position. This statement has a few levels to it, but here’s the big picture: Your family is also on this journey with you. This is both your and their sacrifice. Weekends, extra events and rehearsals can take their toll on a family. Find ways to make them feel special and preferred. Put time on your calendar, mark off days, put real effort into planning a special trip or a date. Lead them well at home. Read the Bible to your kids, read it with your spouse. Pray together. Sing together. Include them and don’t push them aside or make them feel like they are second place. I want to raise a family that loves God and loves His church.
9. Take care of your team.
If you only see your team members on the weekends or at rehearsal, you aren’t leading them or valuing them as people or friends. My team is part of my family. They are part of my team and they KNOW I am part of theirs. Root for them and celebrate the wins in their lives. Invite them to your home to hang with your family. Take them to coffee or lunch. Figure out how best to communicate with them. Also, show them that they are valued by planning ahead and not being last minute with part assignments.
10. Communicate clearly.
Almost every issue I’ve ever had as a leader stems from a communication breakdown. Figure out the best way to communicate with fellow staff, leaders and volunteers. Ask for clear vision and feedback from your pastor. Also, give the same, clear communication to whoever you are working with. I’ve had friends tell me about their frustration with their worship leader because they’d practiced a part all week just to show up at a rehearsal and be told that their part was covered in the tracks. That’s poor planning and poor communication.
OK...11. Challenge yourself
Think of new ways to verbally lead and encourage during a gathering. I used to have a rule within the staff I led that if any of us said, “sing it out” during a worship service, they would have to bring me a biscuit from Bojangles at staff meeting. This silly rule earned me a few biscuits through the years, but the heart behind it was this: Don’t lean on the same phrases while you lead. Use your time to lead as a way to encourage people to participate AND a time to educate them as to WHY they should. There’s a difference in me saying, “Lift your hands,” versus me saying, “Let’s all lift our hands in worship to the Lord because we submit to his power and authority in our lives.” One is ME telling you to lift your hands, one is me educating you on why we ALL should.