Tips for New Worship Leaders
I have a friend who just recently interviewed for a worship leader position. He has zero worship leading experience so he asked me for advice. Here are some things that I shared:
- Build relationships
- Organization and efficiency will redeem your time
- Using organization and efficiency to save time can risk your relationships
- Sometimes you will be tested as to whether or not you want to be a good worship leader or keep your worship-leading job.
- If you don’t let vision and mission drive your decisions, people will treat you like a jukebox.
- Pastoral support frees you to say ‘no’ to everyone else when your job requires it.
- When conflict arises, let empathy drive you to where people are, without leaving them there. Use as few words as possible. It is much better for you to be a question to them than for you try and give them answers.
Space in this article won’t allow me to unpack all of these points but perhaps I can expound on the less obvious ones.
Organization saves me a ton of time. I heard of a worship leader who came to mid-week rehearsals without even having a set list prepared. He’d consult with the worship team and build the set that night. Did he carry a briefcase of music charts and lyrics to distribute after the set was built? I don’t know but because I plan worship sets weeks (sometimes months) in advance along with uploading them along with charts, lyrics and MP3s online, our mid-week rehearsals are only taking about 30 minutes. We are able to spend the remaining time in other ways like Bible studies, learning music theory and other music aspects, practicing things like improvisation, scales, how to harmonize and in prayer.
On the other hand, because technology equips a lot of organization to occur online, sometimes this can come across as being impersonal. For instance, I have told my team that it might take 30 seconds to send all 7 of them a text or an email but if I have to pick up the phone and call them, that could take 30 minutes of my time. But obviously a phone call is more personal.
Be a Good Worship Leader or Keep Your Job
This can get very subjective very easily, but sometimes leadership might be insistent on you doing things that clearly sacrifice the quality of your ministry. For instance, I have often found myself working for Pastors who would prefer for the worship team to be large even if large meant lowering the bar and thus sacrificing the sound or being a distraction to the congregation. At these moments, if I can’t convince my Pastor of my point of view, I have found myself left with this difficult fork in the road. More often than not, I have lost a few worship leader jobs as a result. But my conscience is clear. Of course, this is easier for me as a bi-vocationalist than for those of you who might be full-time.
Vision and Mission
If you’re not careful, people will treat the worship leader like a ‘jukebox’. “Will you play my favorite song?” or “I play flute and would like to play with the praise band”. Saying no can be much easier if you can depersonalize things. If you can communicate your church’s vision for worship and explain why and how you are driven towards it, you can depersonalize your rejection. As a quick example, I have sometimes told certain vocalists who want to sing a solo that because of their vibrato and enunciation, they have a style more suitable for traditional. But I have also been able to affirm that they might be great singers and encourage them to find a traditional context (or get training to transition to a modern style).
It is inevitable that people will complain about you. But it doesn’t matter unless those complaints hold weight with the Pastor (and other leadership). If leadership has your back, then you can steady your course in the face of unwarranted criticism. OTOH, if you don’t have leadership support, get it or find yourself marching towards the door.
The number one thing I’ve found useful when dealing with conflict is empathy. I am learning to proactively put myself in the shoes of the other person and validate the feelings of the other person in my communications. The next thing I do is try to meet them where they are. Paul said in I Cor 9:20, “to the Jews I become like a Jew… to those who are without law, as without law…” I mentally ‘profile’ people by listening not only to WHAT they believe but for the reasons they believe it (WHY). If they aren’t producing reasons, then I try to give them questions to hopefully inspire thought. I say as few words as possible because my job isn’t to give them answers but to be cause them to ask questions. This also gives less ammo to the antagonist merely looking to snare you in your words. If that doesn’t work, I smile, nod, reaffirm my love for them and agree to disagree. If the person brings reason to the table, THAT is when it gets interesting. Not only is such a person much easier to deal with but I might learn a thing or two. Now transformation can happen.
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Greg Jones is a musician, music teacher, worship leader, and independent recording artist.