Worship leading isn’t for the faint of heart. Despite how easy we can make it look each week, what appears to be a group of people on stage making music is actually warfare with the forces of spiritual darkness, quite literally, as we extol the glories of the one true God. The devil (and a lot of people, sadly) don’t like it when God is exalted above themselves and worship leaders are front-line soldiers in that effort. Authentic worship leadership requires spiritual, emotional, and sometimes even physical courage as we put ourselves out there week after week.
While it’s tempting to rely on hot new songs, staging, or intelligent lighting to carry the day, in the end there’s no technology that can transform people’s lives. Only the Holy Spirit can do that and the enemy will do all he can to thwart the power of the Spirit operating in and through you. Discouragement is the opposite of courage. It’s Satan’s primary way to slow you downed even take you out. Don’t let him.
Here are five ways I’ve found to stay in a place of spiritual strength when greater courage was demanded of me in ministry.
- Remember the enemy is unseen. Without taking the military metaphor too far, the first thing that encourages me in week to week ministry is remembering that my real enemy is unseen. That church member chewing my ear off after services this past Sunday because the volume was “too loud again” isn’t my true enemy—the angry feelings and resentments I form inside my heart from her delivery of her complaint is the real threat to my spiritual health and, thus, my ministry. If the “enemy of our souls” (I Peter 5:8) can get us foaming and fuming over how others respond (or don’t) to our ministry, he’s got us. Praying for the complainers is tough, but a necessary discipline to help us see that they’re not the real problem.
- Never let the enemy isolate me. The worst thing that can happen to troops in battle is becoming isolated from the rest of the battalion. If the enemy can isolate you, he can pick you off a lot easier. When discouragement starts setting in, often the first instinct is to pull back, nurse our wounds, distance ourselves, and stop seeking the fellowship and open relationships we really need to overcome it. That’s isolation. That is a very dangerous place to be because it’s right where the enemy wants you so he can finish the job and take you out. Don’t let him. Seek counsel. Seek friendships. Seek safe places to deal with your discouragement and resist the urge to medicate through self pity.
- Lean on the skills of others. Sometimes we, as talented and creative leaders, begin to think “it’s all up to me” and we lose sight of our calling to draw out the gifts and talents of others. Like the basketball players who leave the team behind to make all the great shots and get all the glory, we, too, can unconsciously think that the bulk of creativity and ministry is entirely on our shoulders. But the mark of a true leader is the ability to bring out the best in people around them and highlight the ministries and contributions others bring to the mix. This should be especially true in the church as we heed Paul’s teaching on the great variety and benefits that come from being “the body of Christ” (see 1 Corinthians). An insecure leader can’t promote others for fear of losing their own affirmation. The courageous leader knows she has nothing to protect and gladly promotes others whom God has gifted.
- Remember my rank. Another way the enemy can discourage us is to convince us that no one above us in the chain of command appreciates, values, or understands us. The more creative we are the more independent we can become and that spells D-A-N-G-E-R for us. After all, unless we’re the senior pastor and elder board all rolled up into one, we’re not in charge. Sometimes we forget that serving a faith community in worship leading is serving. It takes courage to lay down our own desires and ways we would do things to actually serve the vision our pastors have and actually serve the congregation by singing in their key. Remembering our place in the overall scheme of the church is a great way to realign with the vision, values, and purposes of the people with whom we serve. The courageous soldier knows their rank and serves well in their place.
- Always return to orders. Like good soldiers, returning to orders means remembering why we’re doing this in the first place. Our goal is to help people remember that God is with us always. We don’t have to beat on drums and chant like heathens to “drum up” God’s presence. We don’t manipulate God or summon His presence—we only sensitize ourselves to Him through the music, liturgy, Word, and celebration of His promise to “never leave or forsake” us (Hebrews 13:5). Our orders are to be worshipers first, then use our many gifts and talents to serve others. When we begin to serve ourselves or look at leadership in any other way as a means to our own ends, we’ve gone rogue and will cause more damage than we can imagine. Sometimes simply remembering that we are “lead worshipers” helps us realign with our First Love and return to that place of humility and obedience that enables us to be great leaders.
If things are rocky for you right now, take a moment to examine your heart in light of these five things and see what adjustments you can begin to make in your attitude and relationships. Serving others doesn’t mean you give up your dreams and creativity. It just means you temper them to work in the context in which you’re serving so you don’t blow people up (including yourself) by stepping on the landlines of ego and entitlement. Discouragement is a sign of inner conflict and maybe some crossed motivations that can be worked out over time with your leadership. Anyone can try to lead, but it takes tremendous courage, faith, an fortitude to lead well.
ABOUT JOHN CHISUM
John Chisum is a pioneer in the Christian music industry and currently Managing Partner of Nashville Christian Songwriters, a company that exists “to empower Christian songwriters worldwide. As a songwriter, arranger, producer, music publisher, and recording artist, he has served alongside some of the world’s greatest and best-loved artists such as Bill & Gloria Gaither, Don Moen, Twila Paris, Paul Baloche, and many more. John is an internationally appreciated worship leader and speaker in his own right, known for his passion for Jesus, his creativity, and his sense of humor. He has recorded over ten music albums and has over 400 songs professionally published. John lives in Brentwood, TN, with his wife, Donna.