As a worship leader, there are things I sometimes wish my church understood about my ministry.
- Churches often don’t know the prep time it takes behind the scenes.
The church sees the worship team on Sunday mornings but most worship teams have at least an hour-long mid-week rehearsal and a sound check/run-through before service. The worship leader also does the footwork of picking out the songs, rounding up charts, MP3s, and communicating them to the team. The individuals on the team may often practice their parts before the mid-week rehearsal if they’re really on their game.
- Vocals might be the most important vehicle for carrying the message, but the drums and bass are musically the most important musical contributors for most modern styles
If a vocalist calls in sick, it’s usually not such a big deal but if a drummer or bassist does, I’m on the phone or looking for my drum machine unless we are going for more of a “stripped down” acoustic sound.
- Sometimes decisions have to be based upon what FITS the style(s) for the worship service
You may love hand bells, or you may be a great classical pianist, both perfect for a more traditional service, but they may not work well for non-traditional styles.
- Sometimes fulfilling a member of the congregation’s preferences is the worst thing a church can do if it wants to survive and thrive.
If a church is stagnant or declining, sometimes this is because the leadership has been listening to the preferences of the congregation. Sometimes the congregation has been getting exactly what they want and THAT is the problem. Sometimes churches develop cultures that are alien to the culture(s) outside its walls. If such a church is going to reach folks outside of those walls, it may have to sacrifice its preferences in order to reach others. Such sacrifice does NOT equal a compromise of doctrine.
- The worship leader and worship band often can’t tell when the house volume is too loud.
A worship team doesn’t hear what the congregation hears. The team has a separate monitoring system.
- Excellence isn’t inherently a performance. It is a result of substituting distractions with inspiration.
Yes sometimes a worship team mistakes worship for entertainment. Yes sometimes team members strive for excellence in order to garner attention and to “show off.” But a lack of excellence on a worship team, aside from the fact that it violates the picture of worship Scripture gives us in the story of Cain & Abel, and Psalm 33:3, can be a distraction. When a person is flat or off beat, it is hard to focus on God.
Striving for excellence also increases the “carrying capacity” of the music. By carrying capacity, I’m referring to the music’s ability to carry the authentic heartfelt emotion of a healthy worshiper. In the end, it is always up to the worshiper to engage, not the worship leader. We can hinder worship, but we can’t force it.
- You can’t ask a worship leader to do a good job without at least RISKING people getting hurt. Excellence costs.
Sometimes the only way a worship team can improve is to ask its members to look at their weaknesses and try to address them. If for instance, a vocalist is consistently flat, she might have to be told so while offering a way to address it via lessons or practice. Some people can humbly grow from such critiques while others go into defense mode. Pride is ultimately the reason anyone might adopt the latter attitude. Pride comes before a fall and humility before an ascension. This principle transcends music, overflowing into our Spiritual lives.
- Leaders in particular, don’t simply tell us you want us to lead “x” style. It’s often more complicated than that.
When you say “contemporary,” you may very well mean something different than we do. Leaders, I suggest you start a dialogue and go deeper to avoid such pitfalls.
- Worship can include music but shouldn’t be reduced to it.
Our language is confusing when we start the music portion of the service and then say something like, “let’s stand and worship.” Music is but one picture of worship. Worship is 24/7 and is defined in Romans 12:1-2. Worship isn’t simply what we do on Sundays but it is the very breath a believer breathes. It is purpose by another name.
- Most of our job consists of working with and leading people. However, the music component is more important than you might realize.
The most difficult challenges most of us face as worship leaders isn’t the music, it is the people. The people are the reason we lead worship, specifically connecting them to God. As a result, a worship leader needs to be good with people to be effective.
However, I think many people in the church underestimate the importance of the music component of the job. This is easy to do because if a worship leader is musically strong, their skills and knowledge can often become invisible. The pitfalls of a worship leader not having their musical skillset aren’t always obvious.
For instance, a worship leader who has strong musical knowledge can communicate better (thanks to the language of music theory). As a result, rehearsals can be much shorter and less frustrating to the worship team as well.
The better a worship leader is at music, the less they have to practice. Said another way, the more one practices music, the less one has to practice songs. As a result, a musically strong worship leader will be more relaxed and be more effective in other areas.
Greg Jones is a musician, music teacher, worship leader and independent recording artist. On my site you find me sharing music instruction, with an emphasis on worship music and articles on worship leading.