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The Worship Leader Paradox

The Worship Leader Paradox


See if this sounds familiar to you. It happens to me a lot.

You finish leading worship and part of you thinks the Holy Spirit wasn’t involved at all. You know that’s not really true, but you can’t help but think it. You subconsciously have a Holy Spirit graph in your head of the last four times you’ve lead worship and in your mind there is a significant dip in the graph for this weekend.

When church gets done, you mingle with your church and you start to realize you might be the only one who felt that way. Friends you trust tell you about how that time of worship really ministered to them. People you just met tell you the same thing. And your pastor goes out of his way to thank you for a great time of worship.

Has this happened to you? This happens to me.

We live in a culture that measures everything it can. Sales, attendance, Facebook likes, etc. I’ve heard people say what gets measured gets managed. If we can measure and manage it, we can improve it.

So no wonder I have a subconscious graph in my head “measuring” worship. If I can measure it, I can improve it.

After years of leading worship, I’ve learned I’m not very good at measuring worship. Of course, I try. That seems like the responsible thing to do. But that example I wrote at the beginning happens a lot.

But I have to measure something, right? So what do I end up measuring? Performance.

I’ll assess how well the transitions were. I’ll take note of any missed lighting cues. I’ll listen to the recordings and take note of times I was off pitch. After assessing everything I can, I’ll decide how to rate the time of worship. Do you see what I’m doing? I’m judging performance and fooling myself into thinking I’m judging worship.

This brings me to what I call The Worship Leader Paradox:
It’s hard to measure the effectiveness of a specific time of worship, but it’s easy to measure performance.

Our brains are desperate to assess something. So in an effort to grade ourselves we confuse the performance with worship. We do this for an innocent reason: performance is easier to measure.

We can all grade a performance in an instant. We know immediately when our drummer gets off the click. We know immediately when the electric guitar is using the wrong tone. We know immediately when the keyboard player is playing a synth line wrong.

Worship is a little harder to analyze. Sure you could count the hands raised during a song. But is that really telling you what you want to know? Lots of people raise their hands at a Taylor Swift concert. Does that mean the Holy Spirit is motivating them? Outward expressions of worship are great, but often they aren’t a reliable indicator of what God is doing in the heart.

This is our conundrum. How do we evaluate ourselves as worship leaders not worship performers? How do we evaluate our last Sunday morning gathering?

I don’t have a perfect answer for you. I can probably learn just as much from you on this subject so if you have thoughts, I’d love to read them in the comment section below.

I have an imperfect idea of how to measure yourself as a worship leader. It’s not scientific; it will take a long time to get results back and the results won’t be a hundred percent accurate, but it will improve the accuracy of your self-measuring.

Here it is.

Meet every person in your church that you can. If your church is too big for that, meet every non-staff leader you can.

There’s a good chance you won’t be able to meet everyone, but give it a try. The more people you know in your church the better you will be able to assess how your church is responding to your leadership.

This strategy is more than a fact-finding mission. It will also improve your effectiveness as a worship leader. The first reason might be obvious. The better you know your church the better you can lead your church. You will have a better grasp on the issues your church is facing. You’ll have a better understanding of your church’s cultural frame of reference. Knowing your church better can only make you a better worship leader.

But there’s more. You become a more effective worship leader when your church knows you better. Just as it’s easier to lead a church the better you know them, it’s easier for your church to follow you the better they know you. Because of that crucial human element we call rapport, the simple act of meeting more of your congregation can improve your effectiveness as a worship leader.

So how do you deal with The Worship Leader Paradox? Have you talked about this issue before with other worship leaders or pastors? Let me know in the comments below. I would love to learn from your experience and wisdom.

Jed Smith has been leading worship for 15 years and currently leads worship at Lutheran Church Of Hope Des Moines. He felt God’s call for worship ministry in 2008 while studying at the New Life School of Worship. He’s also a Green Bay Packers fan to a fault.

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