I have been blessed to derive my livelihood in Christian music for the past 44 years, having participated in all facets of it—from the evangelistically focused beginning days of the “Jesus Movement” to Christian rock and art bands to early praise and worship recordings and later “modern” worship endeavors. I have been able to do all of this as a musician (both live and in the studio), producer, educator, and record label executive. So when Worship Leader asked me what I would like to say to people who feel called to make a living as worship leaders, I was challenged in a big way. I am not a worship leader but have worked alongside many of you during worship services, conferences, and recordings over the years, and with regard to the “business” side of things.
But beyond the business, I have come to believe that worship leading is about serving and not simply leading in song. In significant ways, your career is in servanthood.
- Career Worship Leaders Serve God:
Your daily walk with Jesus is reflected in Sunday morning and Wednesday night worship leading (or any other time you stand in front of people to lead sung prayers). Integrity counts. Your (our) worship of God begins Monday morning and continues every day throughout the week. When you live an integrous life, it will flow in and through your worship.
- Career Worship Leaders Serve Their Pastors and the Congregation:
Pray for your pastor and your church. If possible, develop your song choices for Sunday morning with an understanding of your pastor’s sermon. Allow your song arrangements and audio levels to be sensitive to what your congregation and building facility will allow. Balance your acts of support and humility towards others in the church, with enthusiasm. We serve our congregations when we use our talents to provide a carefully crafted atmosphere allowing everyone in attendance to step into a place of thankfulness and worship expression. I remember a former pastor of mine saying that it took him singing several songs just to wash off the filth of the world each Sunday morning.
In 1998, I was invited to a showcase, in Nashville, Tennessee. The event premiered the new British group Delirious? to a small group of about 100 industry invitees. I will never forget frontman Martin Smith’s attitude on that small stage. He was beaming, filled with enthusiasm to lead us in worship. He seemed to have a confidence that said, “We’re going there (to heaven), and you can choose to come along with us.” I, as well as others, wept at experiencing his confidence and the real worship that we were led in that night.
- Career Worship Leaders Serve Through Learning:
The more you learn and grow in your craft and skill, the more your congregation will benefit. For worship leaders, learning is a discipline that grows you to the benefit of others. So, go to conferences. Go to school. Take that online course. Discover and understand the biblical role of worship and its history in the church. Read good books and discuss what you are learning with others. Use the Internet to grow your gift. Guitarists, did you know that you can watch free acoustic guitar lessons taught by James Taylor, just by visiting his website? There are countless resources for all musicians and singers to learn from.
- Career Worship Leaders Serve Others:
Romans 12:1 tells us to live our lives sacrificially, which is holy and pleasing to the Lord and is a true act of worship. Examine how you live your life in terms of “acts of worship.” Be generous to the poor. Pray for the sick. Love others. Pursue humility. Be kind to others, treat people with dignity, and look people in the eye when involved with them. Are you a worship leader away from the pulpit? Lead others in worship during everyday life by the examples above. Worship leader Tommy Walker wrote the song, “I Have a Hope” following a day of serving in the local food pantry for the homeless.
- Career Worship Leaders Serve by Submitting Their Gift to the Lord:
Personally, I’ve tried to view my vocation as a calling rather than a career. That’s because a career can often be motivated by the pride to get ahead, ambition, and accolades brought on with success. Understanding what you do as a “calling” helps to keep it all in balance, out of your hands, and in God’s hands instead. It helps to allow for an attitude of service and trust in God.
God is to be worshiped in Spirit and truth. Remember, God is always about the intent of our hearts first, before our gifts and talents. Just as the sick man was waiting at the Pool of Bethesda, you need to get into the pool first and stir the waters. The others will follow. Let’s all get out there and demonstrate acts of worship.
Alex MacDougall serves as an adjunct professor at Dallas Baptist University and as managing director of Christ For The Nations Music.