Worship Tips Wednesday: 5 Tips for Worship Leaders

After my initial post last week on tips for all worship team members, it’s time to get specific.  And what better place to start than with the people in the spotlight, the worship leaders.

The_Vine_Band_Flyer_PhotoAs worship leaders we have a myriad of different responsibilities, from selecting songs and designing services, to running rehearsals and leading our congregations (and that doesn’t include all the admin work that I know we all love).  With so many things to do each week, self-improvement can easily get put on the back-burner.  But it doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t, be that way.

Here are 5 simple tips that can help us all be better worship leaders:

1.) Learn The Music

There’s a pretty simple correlation that applies to all musical performance: the better you know the music, the better you will perform.  That sounds simple enough, but often church musicians, and specifically worship leaders, settle for a “good enough” attitude when it comes to the songs they play.  They know the songs well enough to make it through services, but they never truly master them.

My recommendation for all worship leaders (including myself) is, whatever level you know the songs you play, this year try and take the next step.  If you know the melody without the sheet music, learn to play the chords without the sheet music as well.  If you can play the song from memory, try memorizing the lyrics.  If you have the whole song memorized yourself, learn all the details of the arrangement.

Learning more and more about the music we play will help us to lead better with more confidence.

2.) Develop Your Relationship With Your Pastor

I have yet to find a church where a worship leader is in charge, which means that all of us, in some configuration or another, are under the leadership of one or more pastors.  This relationship can either be positive or negative.  Often it’s both. Hebrews 13:17 says

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

The Bible is very clear that we are to submit to those in authority over us.  Instead of being a burden, with some work it can actually result in a strong, life-giving relationship between a worship leader and his or her pastor.  Developing this relationship means asking for your pastor’s thoughts and opinions, taking suggestions, and communicating your own vision for worship in a humble way.  I also strongly encourage pastors and their worship leaders to pray with and for one another.  A small amount of time every week can strengthen one of the most important relationships in the church.

Submit to your pastor and work on developing a relationship of mutual trust and respect, and it will lighten the load of the responsibility of worship as you bear it together.

3.) Set High Standards (For Your Team And Yourself)

People often assume that having high expectations, especially of unpaid volunteers, ends up driving potential team members away and burning out your existing volunteers.  This does happen when leaders set unreasonable expectations, but those aren’t the same as high expectations.  The truth is, high achieving people mostly want to work with other high achieving people, so if you’re having trouble getting talented people to play with you, it might be that your expectations are not set high enough.

5639855466_An_expectation_plays_with_you_and_your_life_xlargeThe trick to setting high expectations is to give everyone the best chance to meet them.  Asking a soloist to prepare a difficult piece in a couple of days is going to lead to frustration and anxiety (and probably a bad performance).  Giving that same soloist 2 weeks to prepare the same difficult piece will end up stretching your volunteer’s musical ability which will lead to better performances now and in the future.

But the most important thing to remember is that anything you ask your team to do, you should be willing to do yourself.  If you want them to be on time, don’t be late for rehearsal.  If you want them to memorize their music, don’t rely on your own chord charts.  Remember, your team will only go as far as you lead them.

Set high expectations for everyone, including yourself, and watch as your team grows in skill and numbers.

4.) Encourage Your Team (Especially When They Fail)

On more than a few occasions over the past 7 years (and hundreds of services) I have had people on my team fail miserably at what I’ve asked them to do.  Sometimes it is because they did not prepare enough.  Other times they let their anxieties get in the way of the task at hand.  And still other times they just failed for no particular reason at all.  In every one of those situations, my job is to encourage that team member.

Sometimes it comes from a kind word after the service.  Other times I’ve called them or written them a note.  And on some occasions it meant taking them out to lunch, just to remind them that they’re still a vital and valued part of this team.  At the end of the day, one service is not going to make or break the gospel witness of your church, but one bad response from a leader can break the confidence and self-esteem of a valued volunteer.

I have a rule when it comes to working with my team.  In the rehearsal and preparation time I will push them hard to play and lead the best they can.  But after the service, regardless of the outcome, I try and encourage them and thank them for their efforts.  I don’t always do this perfectly, but I know it has helped more than a few team member, and myself, bounce back from some difficult Sundays.

Always let your team know you value them, especially when everything goes wrong.

5.) Die To Yourself

This is the hardest recommendation for any leader, especially musicians, and is still something I have to work at every day.  As artists we have an inherent desire to express ourselves through the music we play and sing.  The problem is that my self expression is not what my congregation needs from me. Instead, they need someone who will put the needs of the community of worshipers before their own.

Dying to myself can manifest in different ways.  It might mean not introducing certain songs that are too hard for the congregation to sing, or lowering a song key into a more accessible key, even though I won’t sound as good singing it that low.  It may mean allowing other team members to take the spotlight, or simplifying arrangements so the congregation can follow along.

Whatever the decision, the question we should ask as worship leaders is, “Am I doing this for the sake of my congregation, or my own sake?”  It is when we can answer this question honestly that God can begin to use us in truly incredible ways.

All of us can grow as musicians and leaders, but whether we choose to invest the time and effort into it is entirely up to us.

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About Stephen Wilburn

I am a worship director at a suburban Philadelphia church and currently a doctoral student at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA
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