5 tips for leading worship
Author: Jonny Patton
1. Know your context
I don’t know if you ever lead worship and all you get is blank stares back at you and it seems as if no one is even bothering to worship. You feel that “righteous” anger welling up inside. “How dare you not worship God”, “Who do you think you are?” You leave frustrated and annoyed that people just don’t like Jesus, as much as you do. I mean…that’s clearly the obvious conclusion.
Let me be bold and suggest that maybe we get it wrong…a lot more than we’d like to admit. A common mistake people can make is when we step out to lead worship, we step out to lead…ourselves. Now that works great if you’re leading people of a similar background and age to yourself. But if it’s not, then it’s like speaking another language to people. It goes straight over their head.
I have a passion for church, work for a church and I buy all the latest worship music. That doesn’t work when I step out to lead a church of people in their mid-40s, work in the city, who don’t buy any of the latest worship music. Something has to give. My expectation level, not of God, but of them may have to change. If you want to move people forward, you have to meet them where they are. There are different ways to lead. One is calling across to people to come where you are and the other is going to where they are and walking with them. Let’s be those who walk with people.
I said once to one of our worship leaders, think of it in a Kingdom way, imagine all of those people coming along, connecting with God, being changed by God and going out to impact their community, their work place, their families this week. That’s the aim.
So for me, my song choice may be different from maybe the songs I’d prefer (I don’t like ‘this’ song but I know the congregation loves it/engages with it). My charismatic scale may be different (might hold back from singing in tongues until they’re ready for that as it makes them angry rather than releasing them in worship).
So I always pause before leading and ask, “Who am I leading?”, “Where are they at?”, “How can I best lead them into his presence?”
2. Practice before band practice – Getting the right keys and flow
As a musician, there is nothing worse than getting to band practice and the worship leader is standing there for 5 minutes before every song trying to work out how the song goes, what key they want to play it in and how they want to play it. It can be so frustrating. It’s very important that we don’t waste other people’s time. We need to have learnt it, practiced it and be able to give instruction, if needed. How would you feel if you’d given up your time and it’s clear the other person hasn’t spent any time thinking it through? It doesn’t honour them.
It’s also really helpful for us, to invest that time in knowing our worship set. It can help us work out the flow of the set “is this the right response?” “how does this song flow into this next one?”, “I started by singing about the resurrection and now I’m singing about his death on the cross, do I maybe have to switch those around?”. We can also check how high some songs go and if we can sing that high, it still amazes me that worship leaders try to sing a song in a key they can’t sing. It doesn’t help the congregation, as they need a clear lead, and it doesn’t help your voice. Check you know how to sing it. Also, it helps us if we know the set more clearly when we come to lead, rather than always having to check what we’re doing.
3. Look around
It’s very important that the worship time doesn’t just become about the songs. It’s very easy to keep our heads down, concentrate on the music, think of the band, think of that break we practiced, and totally forget to lead people. We need to remember that it’s about God and what he wants to do and say to us, so it’s important to keep our heads up to see what he doing. Are people weeping in his presence? Tell them, it’s ok to do so, it’s a safe place. Are people manifesting his presence? Tell someone to go and pray. Are people getting bored and sitting down? Tell them to stand back up!! No, I’m just kidding. But maybe there is something in it, we can’t see if people are bored unless we look and see. Might it be best to change a song or stop? Practical things as well like, we can see if they don’t know the song we’re singing, so that we can then choose to repeat the verse and chorus to help people. Also, seeing other people/service leader who may want to give a word/picture/scripture, you can make the space for them rather than them needing to fight their way in to what you’re doing.
This also means that learning the songs as much as we can is very useful. If you know the words, you don’t need to look at them. If you know the chord progression in the chorus is the same 4 chords twice (like most songs) then you have freedom to lift your head up and lead.
4. Work under authority
The senior pastor/vicar has a vision for the church. They are the God ordained person for the job. The responsibility, for everything, lies when them. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Hebrews 13:17 NIV)”
The age-old joke used to be “what’s the difference between the choir and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist”. The worship team is the new choir and we need to be careful that we don’t fall into the same temptation where the music and our preferences become more important than the people.
It’s important that we talk to those above us as their priority are the people. They’ve been called to look after the flock. And I know a lot of leaders tend to not be musicians, but you know they listen to music, so they think they know everything. It’s takes a lot of invested time, I know. Sometimes the leader is the complete opposite but they really care for the church and our role is to help them and support them.
5. Be a worshipper not a worship critic
It’s not all about being on the stage. Your character off the stage is just as important
Two aspects to this:
I don’t know how often you are watching another worship leader and thinking “I can do this better”, “they should’ve went there” or you’re analysing the sound or the visuals. It’s very hard to turn off when you’re wired a certain way. But do you know what? It’s not very helpful for others to see their worship leader not engaging. You are a worship leader, whether you’re standing on the stage or not. As you stand with the congregation, you lead, be that example of what it is you would love to see them released into. Don’t stand there with your arms folded in disapproval. Lead the people from your seat.
Secondly, encourage all the other worship leaders you come across, rather than critique. They are struggling with the same issues. They feel your pain because they have either been there or are currently going through it. They may have a bigger church but that just means that they have more of the same problems. “I can’t get a drummer or bass player” everyone struggles with that. They are doing the same job and we need them to do as good a job as they can for the Kingdom of God. We are all on the same side.