Question: I’m what you might call a “seasoned veteran,” but I know I haven’t “arrived” yet. I want to be as good a worship leader as I can be. What can someone like me do to get to that “next level?”
Answer: I appreciate your desire to grow as a worship leader even though you’ve been at it awhile. It says a lot about your character. The great worship leaders I know would never refer to themselves as “elite” even though you and I regard them as such. They may be confident about their abilities, but they’re still humble people. In addition, I identify seven characteristics they all commonly share. The first three traits deal with the worship leader as a person, the other four with actually leading worship.
- They’ve dealt with their “stuff”
The best worship leaders are self-aware; they’re emotionally and spiritually mature. At peace with who they are, they’re comfortable in their own skin, but they’ve also faced the sobering truth about their fatal flaws. Instead of living in denial, they’re attentive to their besetting sins, “blind spots,” and dysfunctional tendencies.
- They have spiritual depth.
The accomplished worship leaders have vibrant spiritual lives nurtured by regular Bible reading, prayer, and other spiritual practices. In other words, spiritually speaking, they’re the “real deal.”
- They’ve honed their musical craft.
Whether it’s singing, playing, or songwriting, those elite worship leaders have put in time and effort to master at least one musical discipline.
- They’re prepared.
The best worship leaders don’t “fly by the seat of their pants.” They come ready to lead—musically and spiritually. They know the music, memorized the words, practiced all transitions, and have their gear set up, ready to go. They’re not only familiar with the worship set but most likely prayed through it as well.
- They don’t mince words.
Transitional comments between songs are brief, cogent, and meaningful. They don’t ramble when they pray. In other words, they’ve thought through what they’re going to say, perhaps even scripted out their verbal comments.
- They help facilitate meaningful encounters with God.
Because the goal of top-level worship leaders is to point people to Christ, they always try to bring some spiritual nugget—a fresh thought or idea—to worship. For example, they might call attention to a word or phrase in a lyric, share a Scripture, or invite the congregation to ponder a thought or question. They may comment on the meaning of a song. They’re always looking for ways to help the congregation connect—heart, soul, and mind—with the lyrics and message of the music.
- They know how to “read the room.”
I call this “graduate-level worship leading.” It’s the ability to go beyond the music, get outside yourself, and be present in the moment; it’s an awareness of what is (or isn’t) happening “out there” in the congregation and knowing how to respond. For example, it happens when a worship leader senses that people are connecting deeply with a song and repeats the chorus, extending the moment.
Sensitive worship leaders can tell when the congregation isn’t engaged. Instead of aggressively prodding, like an overbearing cheerleader, they lovingly invite their flock into God’s presence. Sometimes when the Holy Spirit is moving mightily, shifting abruptly to the next element of the service (like the announcements) violates the moment. At that point, a skilled worship leader might spontaneously add a simple chorus everyone already knows, have the people sing a cappella, pray, or share Scripture to bring appropriate closure.
Rory Noland is a regular contributor to Worship Leader magazine. For more information on his ministry visit heartoftheartist.org.
What's Your Reaction?
Rory Noland is the director of Heart of the Artist Ministries, an organization dedicated to serving artists in the church. He mentors worship leaders, speaks at churches, workshops, and conferences, leads retreats for artists, and consults with churches in the areas of worship and the arts. Rory is also a published songwriter and has authored four books, all published by Zondervan.