I’ve come to realize something over my relatively short career as a worship leader: to do it well, you need to be able to do a whole bunch of things at the same time. To start, there’s the music thing. Let’s break that down a bit…
First, you have to be able to sing (or at least that’s the way it usually works). You need to have proper technique and good pitch and sing in a way that is good enough to not distract people, but not so flashy as to distract them. Seems simple enough.
Second, if you’re so inclined, you have any chosen instrument. For me, it’s guitar. Acoustic or electric. OK, I know how to play, so I’ve got playing the right chords/lead lines/whatever on guitar while singing.
Third, there’s leading a band. This becomes fun. In years past, everything has been written out and everyone just followed their music. There might have been a conductor or director, but generally you could play off your page and get away with it. Not anymore! Most churches have gone to a much less notated, much more improvised style of music for corporate worship. It allows the worship leader to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit on a more spontaneous basis. It’s also just the way things have progressed – people learn music now from recordings more than print. So there’s playing your own music, but then also prepairing a band in rehearsal and leading them in any changes that may be needed. You have to know the roles of each instrument and help to guide each player to find their part in the band. You have to be keenly away of not only different instruments, but the people who play those instruments and how their skill and experience plays into the band. OK… that’s a lot.
But really, that’s just the beginning. Worship is more than music, and leading worship takes a lot more than music!
Then there’s the lovely world of tech. The worship leader often (though not always if their lucky) has to be able to handle sound stuff, understand some of the lighting stuff, and be coordinated with all of the projection stuff. That’s a lot of stuff that can be pretty overwhelming, especially when it’s ultimately being done by someone else when the service starts.
There’s spiritually leading and prepairing a setlist in conjunction with the other elements of a service that help lead people to the truths about God. This requires knowledge of not only songs that are known (and those that could be introduced) and of the culture of the congregation, but of the word of God. There’s a lifetime of learning right there.
There’s a need to be keenly aware of any distractions that could be presented from the stage, and likewise the things that will help draw people towards God. What people see is just as important as what they hear, and that means something different in every setting. Can people see the worship leader – or is it a service where seeing the worsihp leader will actualy hinder the congregation?
Preparation is hugely important, but there’s also something to be said for knowing when to change things. A worship leader has to be able to read a crowd and lead in different ways depending on where the Spirit is leading. This can be one of the most difficult things to do when trying to think about everything else, and I’m glad that God’s grace is central in both why and how we worship.
Leading worship is hard. As a leader, you’re judged not only by the job that you’ve done, but by how well you’ve lead a team of people doing a huge variety of tasks to pull together an experience that draws people to God. I’m glad I’ve got a lifetime ahead of me to continue to develop skills in all of these areas and learn more about this awesome God that we serve. To lead worship well, one has to be a master of multi-tasking. That’s the practical truth of it, and evey worship leader holds all of these roles and thoughts when leading worship.
I’m challenged as I write this out to try to find a way to help worship leaders, not criticize them for what they’re not doing right. That’s a lot of things to try to do at the same time, and I know I don’t do all of them well all of the time. Let’s try to help build competent leaders and encourage them in the tasks they do well while pushing them to develop in those they are still learning.