Being a great worship leader is so much more than just having strong vocal chops and epic guitar skills.
WORSHIP LEADERS ARE LEADERS, SHEPHERDS, COUNSELORS, VISION CASTERS, COMMUNICATORS, ORGANIZERS, AND ADMINISTRATORS.
And that’s probably just scratching the surface.
So in order to be truly effective in our roles, there are some key characteristics that we should constantly be cultivating in ourselves. No one will excel at every characteristic on this list, but since we want to be sharp tools in the hand of God, we should seek to progressively improve in each of these areas. Pick one from the list below and spend the next few months prayerfully pursuing that needed quality.
The 7 key characteristics of a great worship leader are:
1) A HEART FOR GOD
David was a great king because first and foremost he was a man after God’s own heart. If you want to be a great worship leader, you have to be a great worshipper. This one is always convicting to me because I often find myself more passionate in my prayers when I’m standing on the stage. God wants us pursuing Him passionately in our prayer closet when no one is watching. He wants to be our first and best thought. He wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; to see Him as our most beautiful and prized treasure. If you want to be a great worship leader, you have to have a heart for God.
2) A HEART FOR PEOPLE
Besides a heart for God, great worship leaders have a heart for the people they are serving; both their teams and their congregations. Though we stand in the spotlight, worship leading has never been about us. It’s about the people we serve.
How are you serving the people on your team? Do they know you love them? Do you put their performance over their personhood? Do you get angry or frustrated when they hit a bad note? Do they know you’re thankful for all the time they volunteer? Are you praying for them? I could go on, but this is already getting convicting. And then there’s our congregation: Do you know them? Are you connecting with them off the platform? Do you pray for them while you are leading them in song?
The next key characteristic is humility. The best worship leaders constantly fight against pride and strive to remain humble, teachable, and approachable. Notice how I used the words “fight” and “strive”. The battle against pride is an active, ongoing process that we have to maintain at all times.
It is easy to become prideful when you stand on the stage, “perform” and then have people come tell you how great you are. The best thing you can do to combat your inflated ego in those moments is to go serve. Go wash dishes at home, take out the trash, change a diaper. Embrace the obscurity, wash the feet, serve. It’s good for your soul.
Here are a few things to consider in regards to humility: Humble worship leaders don’t view themselves as better than, or different from, everyone else. They remember that standing on the stage is a privilege, not a right. They remember that the only reason everyone is staring at you week after week is not because they want to, but because they have to! (You’re standing right in front of the lyrics screen, you realize).
4) KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WORD
Besides humility, great worship leaders also have a deep knowledge of God’s word and theological truth. Jesus said true worshippers will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. The deeper you know the Word of God, the more you can help your church see God for who He really is. The clearer you help your church see God, the more fervent and informed their worship will be.
WHEN YOU KNOW THE WORD OF GOD, IT WILL SATURATE YOUR CORPORATE PRAYERS, INFLUENCE YOUR SONG SELECTION, DETERMINE YOUR SERVICE ELEMENTS AND EVEN INFORM YOUR PRODUCTION CHOICES.
The Word of God can’t be secondary. It must be primary if you desire to be a truly great worship leader.
5) ORGANIZATION / ADMINISTRATION
Most worship leaders aren’t a one man (or one woman) show. We typically have several teams of people to lead, like the music team, choir, tech team, and possibly even ushers.
When there are groups of people who rely on you to get their job done, you need to be as organized as possible. This means having some sort of clear schedule for your volunteers. It means having systems in place that help your band know what songs you’re playing and what arrangements they should learn. It means having a recruiting and training process for new tech team members. Or developing an audition process and some paperwork that explains expectations for new team members.
All these things take work, intentionality, effort and even experimentation. But the most effective worship leaders always have administrative structures in place that help support and bring health to their ministry.
6) COMMUNICATION SKILLS
In a similar vein, strong worship leaders have solid communication skills. They know how to send group emails that are clear, well formatted, easy to read, and have all the necessary information for their teams. They know how to clearly, but lovingly communicate what they want a musician to play, if something isn’t sounding right. They are good at following up with people via text message and they make sure everyone knows when “start time” is, if it recently changed. They hold quarterly meetings with their teams to communicate any upcoming changes or keep the vision front and center. They are constantly asking their team members’ opinions on how things are going and what could be better. They handle difficult conversations with grace, truth and love.
You can’t have a healthy organization without good communication. Great worship leaders are great communicators.
7) MUSICAL ABILITY
Finally, great worship leaders are skilled musicians. God actually commands us to “play skillfully unto the Lord,” so we should take that command seriously.
As a worship leader, you need the musical dexterity to be able to follow the Lord’s leading. If you sense the congregation needs to sing a chorus or a bridge again, you should be able to easily navigate your hands to the right place on your fretboard, so-as to not distract your congregation with a bad note. You should have the skill and strength in your vocals to be able to properly convey they emotion of a moment.
You should play enough of each instrument to be able to convey to a band member what you are wanting them to play. Musical ability is vital to our role as a worship leader, so we should seek to be as effective as we can with our instruments.
How is your timing? How versatile are you on your instrument? How is your pitch? Tone? Put in the time practicing so-as to not be a distraction to your congregation.
The more skillful you are, the easier it is to keep the congregation’s attention on God, not on your poor playing.
Here’s a short bonus characteristic: cooperation. Whether with our sound tech or our senior pastor, we should seek to be easy to work with. We should be reliable, helpful, positive, encouraging, quick to take orders and faithful to follow through.
IT TAKES A TEAM TO DO GREAT THINGS FOR THE LORD, SO BE A TEAM PLAYER.
So, those are the seven (well, eight) key characteristics we think you need to be a highly effective worship leader.
Which one or two will you work on over the next few months?
What would you add to this list? Anything we forgot?
Alex Enfiedjian is a worship leader, songwriter, producer, author and podcaster. He founded Worship Leader Training to pursue his passion of helping worship leaders excel in their craft and calling! Alex is married to his lovely wife Liliya and together they have two little girls. They live in Los Angeles where he serves as Worship Pastor of Calvary Chapel South Bay. Follow him at worshipleadertraining.com or on Twitter @alexonhe