The 4 Qualities of a Great Worship Leader

Kurtis Parks
  • To be a good worship leader, you must first be a good leader. So what makes a good leader? Great leaders inspire and challenge.
Traits of a Top Worship Leader

Someone recently asked me, “What makes a good worship leader?” I’ve had the opportunity to lead teams of worship leaders, and churches of all sizes in worship for over 20 years, and while that means I’m not as young as I once was, it also means I’ve had the chance to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of worship ministry. In most churches, worship music is the first thing that kicks off a service, and outside of the lead pastor, the worship leader probably shares the most stage time. If you have the right person in that spot, it’s a beautiful thing. If the wrong person is there, it can bring dissension and disaster.

Be A Good Leader First

To be a good worship leader, you must first be a good leader. So what makes a good leader? Great leaders inspire and challenge. They inspire people around them to be the best they can be, and they challenge people to never settle for less. People often settle for mediocrity when there’s no one pushing them toward greatness. Good leaders are consistently growing themselves and growing others around them. Good leaders are more about the team winning, than for their own personal success. Good leaders aren’t afraid to take risks and fail, but when they succeed, they don’t need all the credit. When it comes to problems, good leaders find solutions instead of making excuses. And good leaders make the decisions and have the conversations others are afraid of.

The Bible is filled with great leaders like Moses, probably the only person ever to lead a million people on a 40-year camping trip. There’s David, who went from being an overlooked shepherd boy in the field to Israel’s King in the palace. Then you have Esther, who spoke up and risked her royal position of luxury to save her people from genocide. Mary, whose humility attracted the presence of God as He chose her to take on one of the most incredible miracles in scripture and carry the Messiah. Yet the leader who stands above the rest is none other than Jesus Himself.

Worship leaders have one role model above every other leader. I want to highlight four Jesus-level qualities that I look for in a worship leader. These are qualities that I constantly pray for, and reflect upon. These are qualities that I’ve given my pastors and leaders permission to call me out on if they see a lack. These four traits are humility, authenticity, integrity, and excellence.

Humility

There are typically two types of people. Those who walk in the room and say “Here I am!”, and those who say “There you are!” You’ve probably heard that humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. It puts others first, the Jesus way. I look for a leader who lifts up others, instead of elevating themselves. Someone who doesn’t need to be on the stage but isn’t afraid of it either. Humility is a holy confidence. Pride is insecurity unleashed.

Humble leaders are also coachable. As a mentor, I can’t coach and train a know-it-all. And on the flip side of being a mentor, I also know that I will never stop learning, and there will always be areas that I must grow in. I’m obsessed with sports documentaries, and I’ve seen that with many of the best athletes in the world, you would think they have it all figured out and don’t need a coach; and yet many of them hire private trainers to grow, and are the first ones on the field and last one off. Humble leaders often have a huge capacity and a high competency, but they don’t need to let everyone know about it every five minutes. Their work, and their worship, speak for themselves. Arrogant leaders are often the ones who constantly make mistakes and blame others for those mistakes. Christlike humility is also a full dependence on God. Humility knows that it’s all FROM God and it’s all FOR God. Humility knows that we must work hard, but pray harder. In the words of St. Augustine – “work as though everything depended on you, and pray as though everything depended on God.” As Mark Batterson, a spiritual Father in my life, has often said – stay humble and stay hungry. I look for leaders who are hungry for God. You can’t be full of yourself and hungry for more of God. A worship leader’s influence on stage will only be as effective as their posture of prayer in their quiet time. We don’t need leaders who can sing, lead, and write out of their own strength, but we need more leaders who do everything out of the overflow of the power of the Holy Spirit. Humility will show itself in a rehearsal, in daily interactions, in social media, and definitely on a Sunday morning. Remember, God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble. I look for humble leaders that will attract God’s favor.

Authenticity

In John 4, Jesus told the woman at the well that God is after those who worship in Spirit and in Truth. These are the “true worshippers”. Authentic is defined as anything that is true, genuine, and real. If the only time you worship is when you have a mic in front of you, or a congregation to lead, then I may question your motive in leading worship. Do you worship in your quiet time with God? Do you sometimes write a song just for the Father’s ears to hear? Are you in the Word and on your knees in prayer every day? One thing I promise – if you are always being filled up, you’ll never run out of something to pour out. Authentic worship leaders lead out of the overflow.

“How you worship privately sets the tone for authentic worship publicly.” from Worshipology by Kurtis Parks

Who you are when no one is watching will always spill out when everyone is around. If you’re the real deal worship leader on a Tuesday night surrounded by your friends, you’ll be the real deal on Sunday when your in-ear monitor mix isn’t the greatest, and the live stream just dropped for the third time. You won’t be phased by the lights, cameras, and action of a Sunday morning. Authentic worship has been happening long before the days of YouTube.

Integrity

I look for a leader who is full of integrity. Someone that I don’t have to constantly check up on because I know they care just as much as I do about our community having an encounter with Jesus. Integrity goes so deep, and it’s hard to fully explain, but easy to recognize. In Matthew 12, Jesus said, “A tree is known by its fruit.” Does a worship leader possess the fruits of the Spirit? Are they walking in love, joy, and peace? Or are they always angry, quick to blow up, and filled with anxiety? Integrity talks the talk and walks the walk. Don’t ask of your team what you’re not willing to do yourself. Practice, show up on time, and live the life you sing.

In his book “Integrity”, Dr. Henry Cloud reminds us that the Hebrew word related to integrity has origins pointing to the word “force”. What type of force is a leader – A hurricane, leaving destruction in their path? Or are they a refreshing summer rain, bringing refreshing to those they interact with? Psalm 78:72 is my favorite leadership verse in the Bible –

“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”

This leads me to the last trait.

Excellence

I don’t want to underemphasize the need for skill. No one wants to sing along every week with a tone-deaf leader who plays the wrong chords every song. I think we’ve all seen leaders who abuse this word and demand perfection out of their teams, or they may be kicked off the team. That’s leading from a place of fear and not love, and is totally unbiblical. Excellence is your very best, and that is what God asks of us, whether we hold a guitar, or a hammer and nail.

Colossians 3:23 – Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.

I look for a leader who cares about excellence because if it’s not done well, why do it at all? Excellence honors God, and God honors excellence. I have had a philosophy of worship ministry since I was 15 years old – simplicity meets excellence. I won’t overcomplicate worship, but I won’t underappreciate it either. Great worship leaders know the value of excellence and whether it comes to planning sets, scheduling bands, writing songs, or playing their instrument, excellence is a word that translates into any language.

“As worship leaders, excellence isn’t the destination. God’s presence is the destination, and excellence is a road that takes us there.” from Worshipology by Kurtis Parks

At the end of the day, a great leader needs two things – a pure heart, and skillful hands. Anyone can lead a song, but only a true worshiper can lead the church.

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