Worship Mythbusters 4.2: The Role of the Worship Leader

WMB 4.2 — I am taking WMB and writing a few posts in this series about the ROLE OF THE WORSHIP LEADER.  This is part of a series here

MYTH:

I am a lead worshiper, so my job is simply to worship while I am leading.

Better said: Worshiping while being up in front of people is only part of leading worship, there is more to it than that.

Often I will hear worship leaders say that if they simply worship while they are in front of their church that they have done their job.  I think this is actually wrong.  There is so much more to leading worship than having a personal worship time in front of other people.  Leading worship, just like in leading anything else, requires putting your own worship expression second to the congregation you are leading.  While engaging in worship is important and should be happening, it is not the primary role while you are up in front of people.

Lead Worshiper vs. Worship Leader.

I love the concept that has been around where the term “lead worshiper” replaces “worship leader”, especially when talking about one who practices being a worshiper, not just when on the platform.  Yes, this is good.  But, it can also be wrong if it means that all you do in front of people when you supposedly leading them is closing your eyes and having your time.  To most people who wish to be led, this feels awkward. Is following a leader simply watching them or actually being led somewhere?  How does what you do lead them there?

There is a reason that I like worship leader as a title for the role.  While we are made to worship as people, some of us are called to lead people in worship–whether through teaching, music, programming, tech or you name it.  Leading is the role.  Worship is the area that role takes shape. Worship Leading is a Craft

The tools that one needs to lead worship include communication skills, planning systems, theological preparation, and in most cases an artistic craft.  Working on all of these things off stage is as important as the worship leader feeling like he is engaged in worship himself.

Some are called to teach and the ones that actually work on it and improve their skills are more effective in using that gift to its potential.  The gifts for leading worship are the same.  One cannot simply rely on their sincere desire to worship.  A lot of people sincerely feel like they can sing, but if they do so without skill in front of many people the  lack of skill becomes a distraction.  Right?

It is about those we lead, not us as worship leaders

The bottom line here is that while it is important to model worship, that can happen elsewhere.  We need to make our leadership about those we lead, not ourselves.  We serve them.  So, the keys of the songs, the volume of the room, the arrangements and any other consideration needs to be filtered through experience of who we desire to lead.

This does not mean we make worship about the people.  It means we make leading worship about providing an environment to help a group of people worship.  Yes, it helps that we worship while leading, but really there may be times when we are not feeling it.  Or there may be times when we feel it so much that we forget the people we are charged to lead.

Either of these can get in the way if we are not leading.  Might it draw attention to myself if I simply shed tears?  Could closing my eyes all the time close me off from the people?

Balance

There is a balance.  We need to be free to express our heart, but we also need to know that if we are in the role of leader that it might mean our wants come second a lot of the time.  In a future post, I will talk about how to get this balance.

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

40 comments

  1. Well said… I understand where the term “Lead Worshipper” came from but to be honest, I’ve always struggled with it for the very reason that you’ve mentioned here.
    Also, I feel that it’s very difficult to lead people in worship (or anywhere) if you don’t know where they’re coming from spiritually. LEADING WORSHIP HAS TO BE STRATEGIC!

    Case in point… I didn’t grow up in the Church so I don’t know a lot of hymns. However, because I am a worship leader and I know that there are people in my current congregation that love hymns, I’ve had to make a conscious effort to learn a number of hymns. Not my preference, but my obligation, my calling, my job.

  2. Well said… I understand where the term “Lead Worshipper” came from but to be honest, I’ve always struggled with it for the very reason that you’ve mentioned here.
    Also, I feel that it’s very difficult to lead people in worship (or anywhere) if you don’t know where they’re coming from spiritually. LEADING WORSHIP HAS TO BE STRATEGIC!

    Case in point… I didn’t grow up in the Church so I don’t know a lot of hymns. However, because I am a worship leader and I know that there are people in my current congregation that love hymns, I’ve had to make a conscious effort to learn a number of hymns. Not my preference, but my obligation, my calling, my job.

  3. Well said… I understand where the term “Lead Worshipper” came from but to be honest, I’ve always struggled with it for the very reason that you’ve mentioned here.
    Also, I feel that it’s very difficult to lead people in worship (or anywhere) if you don’t know where they’re coming from spiritually. LEADING WORSHIP HAS TO BE STRATEGIC!

    Case in point… I didn’t grow up in the Church so I don’t know a lot of hymns. However, because I am a worship leader and I know that there are people in my current congregation that love hymns, I’ve had to make a conscious effort to learn a number of hymns. Not my preference, but my obligation, my calling, my job.

  4. Well said… I understand where the term “Lead Worshipper” came from but to be honest, I’ve always struggled with it for the very reason that you’ve mentioned here.
    Also, I feel that it’s very difficult to lead people in worship (or anywhere) if you don’t know where they’re coming from spiritually. LEADING WORSHIP HAS TO BE STRATEGIC!

    Case in point… I didn’t grow up in the Church so I don’t know a lot of hymns. However, because I am a worship leader and I know that there are people in my current congregation that love hymns, I’ve had to make a conscious effort to learn a number of hymns. Not my preference, but my obligation, my calling, my job.

  5. I miss the days when these caused a ruckus…. everyone is agreeing with you now… geez…
    But still a great post man 😀

  6. I miss the days when these caused a ruckus…. everyone is agreeing with you now… geez…
    But still a great post man 😀

  7. I miss the days when these caused a ruckus…. everyone is agreeing with you now… geez…
    But still a great post man 😀

  8. I miss the days when these caused a ruckus…. everyone is agreeing with you now… geez…
    But still a great post man 😀

  9. Rich,
    Good word. I remember hearing that phrase “Lead Worshipper” many years ago and totally being on board with making sure the person in front is worshipping God first, but as I have progressed in my ministry and actually led worship for a while, it has become clear that the role of the worship leader is more than personal worship. I definitely get frustrated with leaders who begin singing with their eyes closed and don’t ever open them.

    I really like your term ‘balance.’ I agree. Obviously the worship leader needs to be in a place of worship of God, but in a corporate setting, they also need to be interacting with the congregation and ‘leading.’

    Again, Good Word.

    matto

  10. Rich,
    Good word. I remember hearing that phrase “Lead Worshipper” many years ago and totally being on board with making sure the person in front is worshipping God first, but as I have progressed in my ministry and actually led worship for a while, it has become clear that the role of the worship leader is more than personal worship. I definitely get frustrated with leaders who begin singing with their eyes closed and don’t ever open them.

    I really like your term ‘balance.’ I agree. Obviously the worship leader needs to be in a place of worship of God, but in a corporate setting, they also need to be interacting with the congregation and ‘leading.’

    Again, Good Word.

    matto

  11. Rich,
    Good word. I remember hearing that phrase “Lead Worshipper” many years ago and totally being on board with making sure the person in front is worshipping God first, but as I have progressed in my ministry and actually led worship for a while, it has become clear that the role of the worship leader is more than personal worship. I definitely get frustrated with leaders who begin singing with their eyes closed and don’t ever open them.

    I really like your term ‘balance.’ I agree. Obviously the worship leader needs to be in a place of worship of God, but in a corporate setting, they also need to be interacting with the congregation and ‘leading.’

    Again, Good Word.

    matto

  12. Rich,
    Good word. I remember hearing that phrase “Lead Worshipper” many years ago and totally being on board with making sure the person in front is worshipping God first, but as I have progressed in my ministry and actually led worship for a while, it has become clear that the role of the worship leader is more than personal worship. I definitely get frustrated with leaders who begin singing with their eyes closed and don’t ever open them.

    I really like your term ‘balance.’ I agree. Obviously the worship leader needs to be in a place of worship of God, but in a corporate setting, they also need to be interacting with the congregation and ‘leading.’

    Again, Good Word.

    matto

  13. Matt, I love it when you said..
    “…the role of the worship leader is more than personal worship.”

    Obviously, we all agree we should be worshipers, but leading is really important.

  14. Matt, I love it when you said..
    “…the role of the worship leader is more than personal worship.”

    Obviously, we all agree we should be worshipers, but leading is really important.

  15. Matt, I love it when you said..
    “…the role of the worship leader is more than personal worship.”

    Obviously, we all agree we should be worshipers, but leading is really important.

  16. Matt, I love it when you said..
    “…the role of the worship leader is more than personal worship.”

    Obviously, we all agree we should be worshipers, but leading is really important.

  17. Nice post rich. I liked what you said about watching someone worship doesn’t neccesarally lead you into worship. I can’t watch someone play baseball and be able to play baseball.. that kind of thing just doesn’t work.

  18. Nice post rich. I liked what you said about watching someone worship doesn’t neccesarally lead you into worship. I can’t watch someone play baseball and be able to play baseball.. that kind of thing just doesn’t work.

  19. Nice post rich. I liked what you said about watching someone worship doesn’t neccesarally lead you into worship. I can’t watch someone play baseball and be able to play baseball.. that kind of thing just doesn’t work.

  20. Nice post rich. I liked what you said about watching someone worship doesn’t neccesarally lead you into worship. I can’t watch someone play baseball and be able to play baseball.. that kind of thing just doesn’t work.

  21. I have a slightly different opinion. We are not worship leaders, rather we are worship facilitators. We cannot lead worship per se because worship is an individual’s response to God and we have nothing to do with that. We cannot coerce worship. What we can do however is to provide or facilitate an environment that is conducive to worship.
    In Sunday morning American church, facilitating worship is our secondary role. Our primary role is to deliver music and song, so we would be more correctly titled as Music Leaders or Song Leaders. The music team ideally needs to deliver the song from start to finish without any mistakes, even if it means this takes so much concentration that an individual musician may not be personally worshipping (but in a different sense, truly is worshipping because they are giving service to God). In delivering the song at high musical standards, we are giving the people in the audience the best possible environment in which they volitionally worship.

    The leader’s presentation portraying apparent personal worship or an interactive approach or something in between is a matter of personal choice. What an audience member wants that best facilitates their worship is also a matter of personal choice. There is no Right Way or Wrong Way.

    To facilitate all types of audience worshipers, I advocate a second tier of on-stage worshipers, each with a different style. The band is the first layer driving the song consisting of the musicians and the primary singers anchoring the harmonies. The second layer responds in worship in their own way, some with eyes closed, some interactively, and some at other points in between. Some members of this layer may not be using a microphone: some of them are seen but not necessarily heard. The band’s focus is delivering the song; the second tier’s focus is portraying worship. Hillsong’s full-stage approach exemplifies this. It allows meeting the worship environment needs of many different types of people.

  22. I have a slightly different opinion. We are not worship leaders, rather we are worship facilitators. We cannot lead worship per se because worship is an individual’s response to God and we have nothing to do with that. We cannot coerce worship. What we can do however is to provide or facilitate an environment that is conducive to worship.
    In Sunday morning American church, facilitating worship is our secondary role. Our primary role is to deliver music and song, so we would be more correctly titled as Music Leaders or Song Leaders. The music team ideally needs to deliver the song from start to finish without any mistakes, even if it means this takes so much concentration that an individual musician may not be personally worshipping (but in a different sense, truly is worshipping because they are giving service to God). In delivering the song at high musical standards, we are giving the people in the audience the best possible environment in which they volitionally worship.

    The leader’s presentation portraying apparent personal worship or an interactive approach or something in between is a matter of personal choice. What an audience member wants that best facilitates their worship is also a matter of personal choice. There is no Right Way or Wrong Way.

    To facilitate all types of audience worshipers, I advocate a second tier of on-stage worshipers, each with a different style. The band is the first layer driving the song consisting of the musicians and the primary singers anchoring the harmonies. The second layer responds in worship in their own way, some with eyes closed, some interactively, and some at other points in between. Some members of this layer may not be using a microphone: some of them are seen but not necessarily heard. The band’s focus is delivering the song; the second tier’s focus is portraying worship. Hillsong’s full-stage approach exemplifies this. It allows meeting the worship environment needs of many different types of people.

  23. I have a slightly different opinion. We are not worship leaders, rather we are worship facilitators. We cannot lead worship per se because worship is an individual’s response to God and we have nothing to do with that. We cannot coerce worship. What we can do however is to provide or facilitate an environment that is conducive to worship.
    In Sunday morning American church, facilitating worship is our secondary role. Our primary role is to deliver music and song, so we would be more correctly titled as Music Leaders or Song Leaders. The music team ideally needs to deliver the song from start to finish without any mistakes, even if it means this takes so much concentration that an individual musician may not be personally worshipping (but in a different sense, truly is worshipping because they are giving service to God). In delivering the song at high musical standards, we are giving the people in the audience the best possible environment in which they volitionally worship.

    The leader’s presentation portraying apparent personal worship or an interactive approach or something in between is a matter of personal choice. What an audience member wants that best facilitates their worship is also a matter of personal choice. There is no Right Way or Wrong Way.

    To facilitate all types of audience worshipers, I advocate a second tier of on-stage worshipers, each with a different style. The band is the first layer driving the song consisting of the musicians and the primary singers anchoring the harmonies. The second layer responds in worship in their own way, some with eyes closed, some interactively, and some at other points in between. Some members of this layer may not be using a microphone: some of them are seen but not necessarily heard. The band’s focus is delivering the song; the second tier’s focus is portraying worship. Hillsong’s full-stage approach exemplifies this. It allows meeting the worship environment needs of many different types of people.

  24. I have a slightly different opinion. We are not worship leaders, rather we are worship facilitators. We cannot lead worship per se because worship is an individual’s response to God and we have nothing to do with that. We cannot coerce worship. What we can do however is to provide or facilitate an environment that is conducive to worship.
    In Sunday morning American church, facilitating worship is our secondary role. Our primary role is to deliver music and song, so we would be more correctly titled as Music Leaders or Song Leaders. The music team ideally needs to deliver the song from start to finish without any mistakes, even if it means this takes so much concentration that an individual musician may not be personally worshipping (but in a different sense, truly is worshipping because they are giving service to God). In delivering the song at high musical standards, we are giving the people in the audience the best possible environment in which they volitionally worship.

    The leader’s presentation portraying apparent personal worship or an interactive approach or something in between is a matter of personal choice. What an audience member wants that best facilitates their worship is also a matter of personal choice. There is no Right Way or Wrong Way.

    To facilitate all types of audience worshipers, I advocate a second tier of on-stage worshipers, each with a different style. The band is the first layer driving the song consisting of the musicians and the primary singers anchoring the harmonies. The second layer responds in worship in their own way, some with eyes closed, some interactively, and some at other points in between. Some members of this layer may not be using a microphone: some of them are seen but not necessarily heard. The band’s focus is delivering the song; the second tier’s focus is portraying worship. Hillsong’s full-stage approach exemplifies this. It allows meeting the worship environment needs of many different types of people.

  25. Wow, it is so good to see that someone else out there feels this way. I get so tired as a worship leader of hearing “the Spirit should drive the worship” as an excuse for lack of preparation. As worship leaders, we should prepare beforehand – both by practicing our music (singing and playing) and by praying/worshiping. We have to take care of our need for worship before we get on stage. That is the only way we can be capable of leading the congregation. If we spend our time trying to “get there” while we are leading, we are not serving our congregation the way we should.

  26. Wow, it is so good to see that someone else out there feels this way. I get so tired as a worship leader of hearing “the Spirit should drive the worship” as an excuse for lack of preparation. As worship leaders, we should prepare beforehand – both by practicing our music (singing and playing) and by praying/worshiping. We have to take care of our need for worship before we get on stage. That is the only way we can be capable of leading the congregation. If we spend our time trying to “get there” while we are leading, we are not serving our congregation the way we should.

  27. Wow, it is so good to see that someone else out there feels this way. I get so tired as a worship leader of hearing “the Spirit should drive the worship” as an excuse for lack of preparation. As worship leaders, we should prepare beforehand – both by practicing our music (singing and playing) and by praying/worshiping. We have to take care of our need for worship before we get on stage. That is the only way we can be capable of leading the congregation. If we spend our time trying to “get there” while we are leading, we are not serving our congregation the way we should.

  28. Wow, it is so good to see that someone else out there feels this way. I get so tired as a worship leader of hearing “the Spirit should drive the worship” as an excuse for lack of preparation. As worship leaders, we should prepare beforehand – both by practicing our music (singing and playing) and by praying/worshiping. We have to take care of our need for worship before we get on stage. That is the only way we can be capable of leading the congregation. If we spend our time trying to “get there” while we are leading, we are not serving our congregation the way we should.

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