Seven Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Worship Leaders

Recently, Charisma Magazine has published an article by J. Lee Grady: “Seven Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Worship Leaders.” Now that a couple of friends have linked the article to my Facebook page, I decided to take a stab at this question. It’s long been a topic of obsession in past years.  I’m no longer a worship leader myself, but I’ve performed offertories, played piano, and led congregational singing, choirs and prayer for dozens of services. I feel that I’m entitled to at least a bit of say in the matter. And right now, the thoughts are gliding through my head like monkeys through Oz!

1. Don’t Be Manipulative!
Especially in  Charismatic and Pentecostal circles, the force of the music (or the Holy Spirit) is supposed to lead you to an experience with God. Ever looked out at the crowd and thought they’re singing like (shudder) Lutherans? So we double down from our place on the stage: we try to look more worshipful, and sing Super Extra Spirit-Filled so the congregation will participate more responsively. I’ve done it, so I’m not casting blame.  Just think about it before you lead.  For good worship, you don’t need a reactive crowd. You’re not Tom Jones and you want those old ladies (for goodness sake) to keep their panties on. If I can tell the difference between manipulation and worship, I’m pretty sure God can.

2. Be Musicians
You’ve either been asked to lead worship because you’re extremely brave, or because you have musical ability. Don’t sell yourself short: it’s probably the latter, or the church could have hired four-year-olds with pans and a wooden spoon. If you want to worship God, do it to the best of your musical ability, and do it every time. THAT is your gift to God, and you owe it to the congregation. Oh, and practice, and take it seriously.

3. Stop Comparing Yourselves to the World
For at least 1800 years, the church was the primary source of innovation, experimentation, and excellence in music. Music as a publicly consumed media to be shared with the huddled masses is a relatively new thing outside the church.  If you want to do something amazing or new, by all means go ahead. You can only be fired once, right? I’m sick of this dichotomy between “the music of the world” and “the music of God.” Stop comparing yourselves to “them” because there is, frankly, no them.  Be brave and try something new, musically.

4. Words Matter
Words matter–a lot.  There’s a reason I can’t recall a single song by Don Moen, but I can remember every word, from every verse, of “How Great Thou Art.” That reason is substance. This is a pet peeve of mine, so I’m going to shut up, and will probably write a post dedicated to this topic alone, at some point in the future.

For now, let me interrupt with a brief video clip of Elvis performing in one of his last public concerts: it’s possibly the most moving 3 minutes in the history of his career. He’s completely tuned out the crowd. All his focus is pointed to this single moment. He’s probably even stoned out of his mind (he sure looks like it), but his attention is on his Offering to God at this moment, even as he careens out of tune. We don’t care. Elvis got it. Something amazing is happening: it’s one of those rare moments where believers are made, and not from a holy, smug minister, or a practiced, oily music minister, but from a broken king, 45 days from death on the throne.

5. Make a Plan
Homework time.  Worship isn’t all about the moment.  Have long-term plans.  Write out your style, your goals.  Make sure, with every service, every song, and every note, you are achieving those goals.  We so easily say “It’s just church music.” Pardon me, but bullshit.  If there’s anywhere to strive for long-term goals, and musical excellence, it’s in the church, where we should think that music actually means something.  Share your goals with others:  the more they understand you, the more chances #7 won’t happen (or at least they’ll be more forgiving if it does). By the way, I never did this when I worked for the Church. I wish now that I had. Not everything need be “Led of the Spirit” to be excellent.

6. There Is No Rule Six.
For you Monty Python fans, eh, Bruce?

7. You Will Get Complaints.

If you’re leading corporate worship, somebody is bound to complain. Nobody’s style will please the entire congregation. You will eventually hear through the pastor, or from the complainants themselves, how they just didn’t like this-or-that moment, or the way you sang such-and-such, or how much you’d remove a song.  Take them in stride, hopefully gently, and then and then pray that God smite them with boils and scabs. God probably won’t honor your prayer, but you’ll sure feel a heck of a lot better!


6 thoughts on “Seven Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Worship Leaders”

  1. May I add a few?

    –What’s with all the ‘stand up, sit down, now stand again, sit…’ I’m not a JackInTheBox

    –Dude, you ain’t all that. Get over yourself (applies to preachers, too)

    –Shut up and let us sing, once in a while!

    –Could we get a little commentary thrown in, every so often? Not every song, or even every service. But the story behind Amazing Grace is powerful…. you get the idea. Used sparingly, let us know this was a psalm written by…. during…. See what I mean?


  2. The biggest problem I have right now is the worship leader that wants to be a soloist. This is congregational singing. During congregational singing, the congregation is suppossed to be singing!!!! We don’t want to listen to you do a solo with every song.

    Sorry, but I’m having a direct problem with this right now with our worship leader. He loves hearing the sound of his own voice, and then acts like we’re his backup singers. HELLO???? HELL-NO! Like we should be so blessed to have him. He actually walked into the service 15 minutes late, after we started without him, then walked up on stage and took over the song service.


  3. Having God in control through pre-prayer seems to make for the best worship service. Practice helps (talent levels), but having God’s anointing fall is the best.


  4. I have a rule six for you because I don’t like Monty Python (I know Brian…don’t go there…at least don’t go there in this blog).

    Rule #6 – be a team player
    I know this phrase is overused in the world today, but I have worked with too many worship leaders who have their vision and that’s what we’re gonna do, dammit! They do not train others in the art and science of leading. They do not listen to other musicians and their ideas on how to make the music better. If the idea does not originate with them, then they don’t want to hear it, or worse still, they will pretend to listen intently and then go do whatever the hell they want anyway (yes, I read your swearing blog so I can say “hell” now as a swearword instead of a destination!).

    The worship leader, in most cases, is the leader of a team of skilled musicians. I understand that the leader has been placed in charge and has the responsibility of the ministry on their shoulders, but maybe, just maybe, your team members might have a though in their feeble little heads that may have merit. They have skill and they have experience in their instrument. They also have a heart after God (most of the time) so they may be able to suggest something to make the worship time better.

    No need to be offended or feel challenged by that. A good leader takes the strengths of the people that they are leading and utilizes them so that all in the group feel as if they have been given the opportunity to contribute to a successful result. Some on your team may even have the desire to lead. Why not let them? Some may want the experience of deciding which songs to pick. What not train them on the process? Some have ideas about how to change that overdone song to make it fresh and lively, why not give it a shot in rehearsal and see what everyone thinks?

    Hey, worship leader, you’re not the end all be all of the worship service today. Let the other musicians help. You’ll have to let some of your power be passed to the other musicians, but I’ll be willing to bet that you will receive a LOT less of Brian’s #7, and it will end up being easier.

    Oh, and I am a worship leader. I led last Wednesday night, I ran a rehearsal last night (Thursday) and I will be leading two services this coming Sunday; and yes, I even forget this rule every so often…


  5. Hi! We’ve had some of these same struggles at our church. Practice? Playing skillfully? It’s like we’re from another planet. “God will cover our mistakes “. Really? What about our confounded laziness and apathy? Isn’t it all about passion? Our worship is the only thing we can freely give, out of our will. Let’s make it the best it can be, folks.


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