(This article was originally published in Worship Leader’s May/June 2016 issue. Subscribe today for more great articles like this one.)
How many times have you been driving home after leading worship on a Sunday morning and the thought that crosses your mind is, That was rough; I think I’m done. That was horrible. I was horrible. Everything was horrible. I’m tired of each song we picked and no one in the congregation sang with me. Nothing is happening. I’m weary. I don’t think I’m meant to be a worship leader. In moments of weariness and defeat, it can be nearly impossible to hear the voice of God who says, “Don’t give up. I’m with you; I’ve called you; I’m at work in and through you.”
There are seemingly countless compelling reasons to hang up the guitar and never lead worship again, but I want us to last and fulfill the calling God has placed on our lives. Here are 10 characteristics of a healthy worship leader that my dear friend and co-worship leader, Jacob Park, and I would like to offer. We all need to be encouraged and reminded so that we can persevere in the assignment God has given us and not call it quits.
- A healthy worship leader worships authentically.
Enduring worship leaders have learned the art of authentically worshiping God in front of lots of people. This is a characteristic that takes time to develop but is absolutely necessary for both leading effectively and enduring the many highs and lows that come with the territory. It is so easy to get off track by paying more attention to how to lead, how to play, how to look and sound good, that we get distracted from the reason we are there in the first place—to simply worship Jesus, to adore, exalt, and glorify him alone. We need to learn how to let God bless us in the very moments that we are in front of others, and we learn this by spending time alone with God in worship.
If we want people to be blessed, if we want to lead others to the presence of Jesus in worship, we must connect and commune with him ourselves. In this experience, we allow God to meet us and to refuel us for whatever lies ahead. We can pray like this, God, bless me so that I can be a blessing. We ourselves must “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 35:8). We must ”feast on the abundance of his house. Drink from his river of delights. For with Him is the fountain of life” (Ps 36: 8). We must learn to drink deeply ourselves.
- A healthy worship leader trusts and believes that God is at work doing what he desires.
Most of the work God does in people’s lives in the midst of worship is internal and invisible. Consequently, we don’t get to see a lot of it. However, if you are living in faith believing that God is fully able to do all that he desires—strengthening, encouraging, inspiring, healing, and redeeming—you will find the strength to continue showing up again and again. Though we will have to deal with seasons that seem dry, we must contend for a belief that God is ever at work and doing something fresh, new, and real.
He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Phil 1:6).
Even if we feel like we are failing as we lead, we remember that God’s truth is being declared. I (Tommy) remember as a young boy lying under the piano listening to my mother singing and playing the hymns. The truths of God found in those lyrics were being planted deep in my soul as I listened to her worship. This is happening every time we lead. Truth is going forth.
- A healthy worship leader is humble.
Honestly, it gets very tiring to try and maintain an image of importance or perfection. James 4:6 states, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The very essence of worship is humility—to bow down. Worship isn’t about looking cool; it’s about being humble. Part of being humble is to be a correctable person. No one wants to follow a know-it-all, and if you are a proud leader you will breed proud worship team members. A proud person is regularly waiting for everyone to serve them and is constantly being offended when not noticed. A humble worship leader has a grasp on the privilege it is to serve and understands that it is only because of God’s grace that he uses us.
- A healthy worship leader has a good relationship with their pastor.Ask your pastor what their vision is for the worship time. Have a friendship with your pastor so that greater trust will be built. We can write a song to support their sermon series to demonstrate that we are all on the same team and not competing. Care about every detail of the church, not only the musical worship time.
- A healthy worship leader has a vision for worship.
“Without a vision people perish” (Pr 29:18). Ask God how he wants to uniquely use you and your church’s worship to bring him more glory. Maybe your ministry will highlight generational unity, or be about inspiring worship in the nations. Maybe it includes songwriting and recording worship songs. A God-given vision will help focus your energy so that you don’t burn out chasing ill-fitting or non-essential efforts.
- A healthy worship leader is a God-pleaser, not a man-pleaser.
“Fear God, respect the king” (1 Pet 2:17). I (Jacob) have found myself at times changing this verse by fearing the king (the pastor, the congregation, etc.), and simply respecting God. We can be so worried about what our pastor or our congregation are thinking of our worship leading, that we forget that everything we do should be done as unto the Lord! (Col 3:17). We don’t want to be people who hold other people’s opinions of us higher than God’s opinion. If we do, we may lack the courage to step out and lead in our own unique expression and God-given anointing. Pleasers of man always have to deal with insecurity because when they are rejected they are devastated. We believe we must first serve out of a sense of our own direct calling from God and then from there, serve others.
- A healthy worship leader knows how to speak the truth in love.
We must honestly, lovingly, and humbly confront difficult situations on our teams. Proud, self-serving people can be so destructive to the sustained joy, enthusiasm, and unity of your team. After gaining your pastor’s support, have a truthful conversation with a worship team member who drains the life and unity from your team. Have a good system in place for selecting your worship team members. Remind the team that everyone is replaceable including the worship leader! Try to recruit and raise up multiple people in each position on your team. This will help avoid turf wars, a very typical team killer.
- A healthy worship leader stays creative.
It is no secret that creative people become bored easily. This can be viewed as a gift from God. He has made you this way so that you will continue to search for new and fresh ways to worship him. You must create or you will wilt and wither. Whether it’s composing, arranging, recording, writing prayers, or learning a new instrument, you need to search for creative opportunities in your unique situation.
- A healthy worship leader raises up other leaders.
A foundational principle of the kingdom is to be raising up others—blessing, empowering and releasing them to fulfill the calling God has on their life. Often times we can get a savior complex and feel like we’re indispensable when in reality we may simply be displaying our need to be needed. When we become a cheerleader, mentor, and encourager for others we honor God, and we demonstrate that this is not about us. We must be about “passing on” from one generation to the next. Also, this willingness to share leadership builds trust and respect. Another reason raising others up is so necessary is that once they are equipped and ready we can schedule a weekend off, now and then. This is so helpful for the long term!
- A healthy worship leader will pace themselves for the long haul.
Because Sundays come quickly and relentlessly it is imperative to care for your own soul. Practices like personal worship, Sabbath, friendship, fun, and accountability are crucial, just to name a few.
With regards to weekly planning, it is unrealistic to put together a major production every week. You might even wear out your congregation. After a big production weekend, we often simplify for the following weekend. In fact, about every five weeks our church will do an “acoustic” set where we lead by ourselves. This gives our teams a nice break, as well. It also reminds us that worship is not about form or style.
Don’t have unrealistic expectations. You must come to grips with the fact that every time you lead just isn’t going to be a perfect 10. Mistakes will be made. We, and our teams, are human. Though excellence glorifies God and mediocrity can be a distraction, at the end of the day success is based on whether our congregation authentically worshiped and glorified God, not whether or not the presentation was perfect. Leading and being a part of a church worship team is a very unique musical phenomenon. Not only does it happen every week, it is usually done with servant-volunteers. We have to work really hard as unto the Lord to do the best job we possibly can do, but we can’t beat ourselves up over mistakes and imperfections.
Dealing patiently and humbly with our mistakes is key to our survival. Also, worship leading must not be reduced to a formula. The Holy Spirit is alive and ever-moving in new and fresh ways. The minute we get our formula figured out, he will move in another way. I believe he does this to make sure we continue to truly rely on and seek after him rather than relying on our own talent, skills, and formula.
In closing let us remind you that leading people to the life-changing presence of God through worship is a privilege and an honor. Imagine: the God of heaven is flowing through you being glorified and changing lives! Take a deep breath and say, “Thank you, Lord, that I get to be a part of what you’re doing on this earth!” Remember, what we have to do is prepare, worship, and keep showing up; God will do the rest—miracles and all. God rewards faithfulness!
Tommy Walker and Jacob Park have led worship together at Christian Assembly Foursquare Church in Los Angeles, CA, for 14 years. Tommy has written over 100 songs that are sung in churches around the world, including “He Knows My Name,” “That’s Why We Praise Him,” and “I Have a Hope.” And Jacob Park is a worship leader and songwriter whose songs have been recorded and distributed by Maranatha! Music, Integrity Music, and Tommy Walker.