Knowing how difficult it is to find a worship mentor, this article may offer some of the most important information one could write on the art of worship leading. Although inherent to the position’s title, the search for a worship leader can prove to be arduous. Limiting the task of the worship leader to being a competent and proficient musician and vocalist does not inherently mean that they will provide strong leadership for worship services.
Music, both in theology and (theoretically) practice, worship leaders must understand that their role is interdisciplinary. Although true of many leadership settings, pastors, including worship leaders, often found themselves needing a widespread set of skills across various fields. Leadership certainly finds its place among this list of skills.
As usual, I will be breaking this article down into two parts: principles and practices. Principles guide the act of leadership itself and the practices here bring the principles to the ground by offering a practice that falls within the principle and is suitable for a particular role. In this article, the role is that of worship leader.
The first leadership principle is that of casting vision. Under the vision of the church within which the worship or music ministry operates, every worship or music ministry ought to have a vision. The leader must be able to answer the questions where are we headed and why are we headed there?
Most church websites I visit have a description of their worship or music ministry but they do not consist of a vision for the ministry. Purpose may be the biggest motivation for people and the laity in church is no different. The first step towards successful leadership lies with casting vision.
If you are leading worship as a guest, it is still important to provide direction. Where are you anticipating taking the congregation? What are you and the pastor seeking to accomplish? This will let your band know that you are leading and confident with stepping into a new situation.
The next principle plays a crucial role in the worship leader position: equipping. You must equip those whom you serve with everything they need for success. If that is musically, you get them every resource they need, audio, sheet music, sequences of the songs, order of the songs, keys of the songs, etc. If you need a lector (someone who reads Scripture or another piece during the worship service), contact them well before the Sunday they are needed and give them the passage. Literally, print off the passage in the version you want them to read it in and give it to them. Do not leave your fellow servants out to dry!
This one might be the most difficult part of leadership, even in a worship leader position. Worship leaders must have the capacity to empower others when necessary. Going to be gone Sunday? Do not just equip the person helping you out, but empower them.
Empowering gives power to another person. It says, here is what you need (equip), now go and lead (empower). You cannot do everything and make every decision, especially when you are not around, so you must be willing to empower others. This requires an ability to develop leaders, but that will be a post for another time.
This principle is essential if you want volunteers. You must encourage others! It must be an intentional action every time you are with those you lead. Always make them feel appreciated and valued. I cannot comprehend the number of leaders who do not encourage their teams regularly.
There are times where it is appropriate to give instruction or critique, so let me share with you a wise way to communicate positive critique: encourage, critique, encourage. For example, “Way to maintain the tempo, just be sure to start your fill on time, the toms sound great.” You want to become a better leader today? Add this to your repertoire. Others will enjoy serving with you.
Lastly, leaders must be able to communicate effectively, directly, and in a timely manner. Leaders ought to be able to walk and talk the same line and make the complex simple. They also must be able to use the appropriate means of communication. In a social media and digital age, the means of communication are too numerous to count. However, depending on what needs to be communicated, there are more effective means than others.
I include direct communication because our society lacks directedness. Whether deviated because of political correctness or the fear of hurting or offending someone, we do not communicate directly with one another. Worship leaders, especially as church leaders, must be able to overcome these issues and be direct with their team.
Specifically I want to draw attention to timely communication. While this principle certainly falls under effective communication, it is valuable enough a thought to give its own paragraph. Communicate on time with your people! This equips them, empowers them, and encourages them. They have time to make good decisions, plan accordingly, and prepare excellently.
Amidst the principles of strong worship leadership, I have offered some practical advice examples to demonstrate what I mean by the principle. However, I would like to offer five praxis of the effective worship leader that has not been mentioned yet. Do these well, and your leadership quality will grow.
- Write out the vision and mission of your worship/music ministry.
With out these two ministry essentials, you will have no canvas on which to cast your ministry onto. These will shape your ministry, so it is important to take the time to write out clear and precise statements. There is plenty of online resources on writing a vision and mission statements that I will not take the time or space to do so now. Simply put, your vision statement will communicate the state you wish for your church to be as a result of your worship/music ministry. Mission states how you will get there.
Also consider writing core values, specific areas of focus, writing down goals, and action plans to complete all of the above. With increased clarity, your ministry will surely find itself at a new place.
- Determine the needs of your worship band and equip them with everything for success.
Take out a pen and paper and write out what each worship member (by instrument or person) needs to be successful week in and week out. Over time it will become second nature, but for now it is good to spend some time thinking through what you need to prep for your team.
This is a great step to talk with your team about what they need for success. Maybe you have been providing audio of songs with Spotify, but through conversation you find out only half of your band has Spotify. This piece of information now allows you to make the right decision on how to better equip your band.
- Allow others with a greater strength than yours to utilize their skill.
Empowering people does not just mean training the next worship leader or empowering the individual who is taking your place any given Sunday you are gone. Empowering may more often look like giving someone the ability to make decisions, the best decision, because they have a more developed skill or greater strength.
Worship leaders need to objectively evaluate where they and there team members are at in different areas of worship and music leadership. For example, my sophomore year of college I led a chapel band. I had not developed a skill for singing harmony yet and I needed to empower someone else to ensure harmonies were developed in our songs. Talking to our wonderful female vocalist, I asked whether she would be willing to take responsibility for harmonies. Within a month or two she really began to own the responsibility and she was playing to one of her musical strengths.
Know yourself and your team members. Be humble!
- Compile your worship band’s contact information.
Whether you use an excel sheet on your computer, a contact book from Wal-Mart, or Planning Center, worship leaders should have complete, accurate, and up-to-date contact information for everyone in their team. Know who checks their e-Mail multiple times a day, who will text you back within 10 minutes, and who answers their phone. This will allow you to get a hold of people quickly and allow them to communicate across a platform they are comfortable with.
- Set weekly, monthly, and yearly timelines.
This could probably come right after you write your vision and mission statements for your worship and music ministry. Take the time to sit down and write timelines for the week, month, and the year. Within this timeline I would also include goals.
Timelines ensure you get tasks done in a timely manner. Weekly, so the band is prepared every week by practice and then for Sunday. Monthly to ensure scheduling is complete and you are on the same page with the pastor for the next series. Yearly, so you do not get caught planning the Christmas drama in December.
The worship leader role is an interdisciplinary one, and leadership is among the most important disciplines a worship leader must develop. There are principles and praxis that the worship leader must embrace to maximize their potential when it comes to leading others. There are many phenomenal books on leadership out there, and I encourage you to find some and read them. Although many will be for a business context, take the time to translate the principle to a ministry context and then identify the appropriate praxis for the principle. It will be well worth your time.
Also, leadership development never ends, so set aside time and finances to develop your skills every year. The moment you plateau is the moment you begin to become a less effective leader.
Peace be with you all.
Jason Palmer is the Editor of TalkingWorship.com. Jason has a Bachelor of Science in Ministry with a Worship Arts Major and Music Minor. He has lead worship for evangelical churches for 7 years and desires to see worship leaders become confident in their calling.