Top Five Worship Leader Fails: When things get really bad!

I thought I would do a short list of lessons learned the hard way from the many years I have been a worship leader. As I often say in classes I teach, my hope is that the pain I endured from my experiences lightens yours with wisdom. So, here are some FAIL moments as a worship leader we all need to look out for and hope never happen.

FAIL #1: Don’t rehearse the verbiage you plan on using for a transition. 

There was a transition I needed to do verbally that was between the kids choir that would perform and the rest of our worship set. I knew about it and did not plan on anything other than addressing what just happened and taking things further. In my mind, I said, “If looks could kill, these kids would have us all dead.” That was sketchy on its own. What came out of the mouth was worse: “These kids are cute enough to kill…” Cue the awkward laughs of three people in a room of hundreds.

Solution: Write out the verbiage to be spoken, and edit it! And, of course, practice speaking it a couple times. It is far better to sound stupid in your office at home than to do so into a microphone.

FAIL #2: Come to worship team rehearsal unprepared.

My songs were all chosen, and even the music uploaded to the online tools I was using. However, I forgot to proof the sheet music in relation to the recordings put up. The result was that a drummer learned a different groove and arrangement, and the rest who read music thought the version was what was written. Add this to the fact that the song was in the wrong key. Cue cacophonous sounds from the worship stage and an embarrassed drummer’s groan.

Solution: Proof everything you have in writing and make written notes to the order of a song. In fact, make your own guitar/vocal recording of the flow of a song with a click so that the right key and arrangement can be practiced by your team. 

FAIL #3: Rarely ask your team how they are doing in their personal lives.

The week before Easter my best and only available drummer is distraught. His one-and-only-one night stand results in a pregnancy. To make matters worse, the family of this young woman have means and have spent time and money to intentionally destroy his life. Of course, I need a drummer for Easter! How did this happen and what was I supposed to do about it? Cue sad music with a tensions stinger.

Solution: Had I been more intentional in discipling this young man who played music with me, I would have known about his struggles and perhaps also had been able to be a better support to him in his sin. The dilemma is a non-issue. What is best for the person is best for the church, right? So, don’t just get prayer requests at rehearsal. Be a source of spiritual growth for your team!

FAIL #4: Allow a conflict to go unresolved on the worship team.

You overhear the band talking smack about the audio team. You see the audio team with looks of disgust at the band when they ask for a new battery. The rift seems to simmer, with you even addressing to the team at a devotional how being a team is what we all need to be. You say that both the band and audio team are on the same team. Somehow, the passive aggressive approach backfires. Now, the pastor is concerned about the relationship dissonance. Cue the Psycho violins…”wee wee wee wee…”

Solution: Directly address the behavior the moment it is observed if at all possible. If not, as soon as possible talk to each offending party about what you see. The key is to address behavior, not motive. After all, do any of us truly know the intent of another’s heart? No. So, simply bring the parties together and make them uncomfortable until they resolve it. If you don’t like to confront, I am so sorry. But, do it.

Fail #5: Believe that your new piece of gear will bring the Holy Spirit more this weekend.

For some reason, the idea of using a head-worn Countryman mic as a worship leader seemed like an amazing idea. The FOH would not have to ride your fader as much since you would be at a consistent distance to the mic. Hopefully, no one would really notice the mic. The point is, this piece of gear was in your mind a silver bullet to allow you to miraculously be able to lead people to the Throne. No one even noticed a difference. Cue the crickets.

Solution: So, that new effects pedal, pair of skinny jeans, American Strat, or tech is not going to replace prayer, preparation, and patience. You are in a marathon, not a sprint. While gear may aid in solving an issue such as a new tone, it will not bring the Holy Spirit. Yes, subwoofers seem to help significantly, but they alone just blow air. It’s the Wind that we want.

Yes, there are much more. What others can you contribute to this list?

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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.

15 comments

  1. That last one really hit me….GUILTY! Bleh. As far as a contribution to the list? My $0.02 is to remember to leave room for the Holy Spirit to move within the set. As in…structure is great…but be open to whatever the Holy Spirit calls the Leader to do…it may be a repeating chorus…it may be a spoken prayer where the bridge usually goes…whatever it is, just remember the reason you are there and be confident in it 🙂

  2. 1 – So true. My most common fail on the Dear-Lord-help-me-get-all-this-stuff-done list on Sundays. My own medicine; think it thru, pray it thru and execute. Good reminder.

    2 – …and if we come unprepared, we lose credibility. We lose the ability to effectively lead musicians and technicians. Very good point.

    3 – Happened to me. In March, my main bass player called me after he was arrested for drug possession. As he was in the squad car. He called and said, "Scott, you’re the only guy I trust right now. Will you please go pick up my little girl from school?" *Cue the open-5th pad. He’s doing amazing today, has come a long way. But, imagine what I could have meant to him had I been more into his life before? I was crushed, but thank God for the experience learned and for the fact that he’s recovering. Thanks for the reminder.

    4 – Musician vs. Audio team NEVER ends well. Agreed; address it quickly, strong but loving. It’s the, we-gotta-work-together solution. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and subscribed to the vlog.

    5 – Simpler if better. I have 3 pedals other than a tuner. Drive, delay and verb. Toys are fun…but they rarely translate to the elevations we think they do. Most congregational folk couldn’t tell the difference. Lead, worship, repeat. Be consistent and keep it simple as a leader.

    Thanks Rich, great stuff. It’s been fun getting to know you a little bit this week. I’m trying to deal with my stash-envy. 🙂

    1. I thought the CAPS meant you were angry is all 😉

  3. Also, can I just say that I totally have NO IDEA how my post was huge and all caps like that. No idea. Sorry.

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  5. 3 – Got a call one evening that a worship team member had been arrested on charges of soliciting a minor. I later found out from one of the prison visits, that he had a deep, deep struggle w/pornography. Had no idea. I have no idea how his life would be now if I had been more intentional about finding out how his personal life was going. Not sure if he would’ve shared his struggles, but, you never know.

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