SOME HAVE SAID THERE ARE LEVELS OF WORSHIP LEADERS: SONG STARTERS, SONG LEADERS, AND WORSHIP LEADERS. While these suggested distinctions were contrived by men, they do perhaps help us understand how a worship leader may grow and mature in his ministry. I hope to illustrate the lifelong nature of growing as a worship leader and suggest a means to evaluate where you are today versus where you may aspire to grow. No one has developed such a mastery of the art and act of worship leading that he cannot improve. Just as preachers always strive to grow and improve in their understanding and effectiveness, so do worship leaders.
Song starters are men who don’t really know much about music or worship, but they’re willing to at least pick a few songs and start the songs. Sometimes they are all a church has and they are doing their best. Some training for these brave servants would benefit everyone. They should be appreciated and encouraged to learn and grow. If other men are more capable, willing, and available, they should be utilized as much as possible until these men have been trained and devoted themselves to practice.
Song leaders usually know more songs, may be able to read some music, and are capable of pitching and beating time which helps the church get all the way through a song easily enough. Song leaders may lack a full depth of understanding of worship theology and purpose. They may suffer from choosing songs that are fun to sing without much thought for how that song helps the church worship in a particular part of the service. Their worship planning is in the the early stages of maturity. The songs may sound good, but the theme is nebulous or nonexistent. Worshippers leave without any particular thought to take with them into their week other than that they had some “good sangin’.” They may struggle to remember what they sang at all, or even a common theme. The song leader’s ability to connect with and draw out the meaning of a song through passionate singing, conducting, and use of dynamics is not yet fully developed. Song leaders should be used as back ups to worship leaders and encouraged to continue training and practice in other forums besides the main worship. Additionally, song leaders should be mentored by worship leaders with more experience, even collaborating on worship planning and accepting coaching.
Worship leaders have developed in spiritual and ministerial maturity to the point where they are consistently capable of evoking passionate, meaningful, and inspiring worship that changes lives and exalts God. The worshippers he leads find themselves better able to focus, but they aren’t necessarily sure why. They may experience emotions all across the spectrum from guilt to sorrow to gratitude to joy to zeal, even in a single service. The congregation is changed by the worship, and above all, God has been praised with everything the church could muster. Congregants find themselves blessed by a song from Sunday echoing in their heads during the week, and it’s a good thing (annoying ear worms were carefully omitted in the planning phase). The preacher feels like his sermon has been promoted and energized by the worship. The mechanics of music are not the focus because the worship leader has developed them to the point of subconscious proficiency. The true goal and mark of a worship leader is when he is able to fully participate in worship along with the church he is leading without distraction, because his preparation and training have enabled him to do so. Worship leaders should continue to be mentored by other worship leaders and advised by their local elders. NOTE: Elders who have little to no experience in worship leading, please be cautious about criticizing or limiting your worship leader(s) without seeking to first understand their perspective.
If some are still struggling with the concept of “worship leader,” it may help to compare worship leading to preaching. In preaching, one may begin as a scripture reader, then as a devotional leader, and finally as a preaching minister. These reflect growth, maturity, and responsibility. Worship leading is no different.
What follows are 13 attributes of a worship leader, followed by 13 hindrances. Church leaders may find this list helpful in determining who is ready to lead worship and who needs to devote himself to training first. While some of these qualities are evident to all, some can only be evaluated by the individual. Therefore, may each man who will accept the role and responsibility of leading the church into God’s presence so examine himself.
It may be helpful to attempt to see where you are by scoring yourself. You might ask someone who knows you well to score you as well.
Rate yourself from 0 to 3 in each category.
0 Does not describe me at all
1 Somewhat describes me
2 Mostly describes me
3 Describes me well
- He has a healthy and intimate relationship with God.
- He knows who God is and knows the word of God.
- He understands the role and servant heart of a minister.
- He understands what worship is (e.g. Has studied the subject in depth and read multiple books on the subject).
- He understands each aspect of worship: its purpose, its place, and its prescription in scripture.
- He is capable of selecting a theme or thought and outlining an organized worship service that expresses and develops the theme in an understandable manner.
- He possesses emotional intelligence.
- He expresses his emotions genuinely and publicly in appropriate ways.
- He has a gift in music, singing, and especially in leading groups of people.
- He is capable of evaluating a song for its biblical basis, suitability for his church’s culture and aptitude, and quality of content and composition.
- He is willing to submit to training in Bible study, worship planning, voice, ear training, sight singing, and conducting.
- He is willing to give his work his best energy and devotion to the edification of the church and glorification of God.
- He is capable of maintaining humility while serving in a leadership capacity, but is not afraid to lead even in the face of opposition.
- He has an immature or superficial relationship with God.
- He has a flawed view of God or lacks biblical training.
- He is unaware that worship leading is a ministry of the word of God equal in importance to preaching.
- He has sung and prayed at church, but his mind and heart aren’t in it, and he doesn’t worship at home or feels awkward attempting to do so.
- He goes through the motions of worship without deep understanding or biblical foundation.
- His approach to worship planning is to pick a few songs he likes without much thought, and he isn’t much for writing outlines.
- He struggles to emotionally connect with words, music, and people.
- He is stoic and uncomfortable with expressing emotion in front of others.
- He likes to sing, but doesn’t get music, can’t carry a tune, or is unaware of how to engage, motivate, and direct a group.
- He can’t distinguish a well written song from another and gives little thought to the words, composition, or ability of his church to sing it well.
- He is unwilling to invest in training or take instruction from others with more experience.
- He is shoddy in his preparation and flippant in his approach to worship leading.
- He struggles with getting self (pride) in the way of others and the work of the Kingdom, or conversely has a false view of humility that involves accepting any and all approaches to worship as equally valid.
Tally your score from the 13 attributes_____.
Tally your score from the 13 hindrances_____.
Subtract the bottom score from the top score and put the remaining total here_____.
Your remaining total is your score.
If you scored between 0 and 10, you may not be ready to lead the church in song worship. Training is recommended.
If you scored between 11 and 20, you may be a song starter. Training is recommended.
If you scored between 21 and 30, you may be a song leader. Keep learning and practicing.
If you scored 31 or above, you may be a worship leader. Never cease growing as a servant of Christ!
NOTE: the scoring is intended to be an informal guide. Obviously, some categories should carry greater weight than others, but all are equally weighted for simplicity.