What makes a worship leader who they are? I’ve been leading worship in churches for a couple of decades, but I’m still learning and finding my way, and discovering more and more of what it means. Because it’s not just a hobby, or a skill, or a job. It’s layered like an onion. And the deeper you go, the more you discover about your calling.
So if you’re a worship leader, or you’re in your church’s worship team, or even if you just love singing to God, you might find this list interesting. Join me as I share what I see as the 10 levels of my identity as a worship leader, ordered from least to most specific.
1. A Child of God
First and foremost, I am loved by God. I am His creation. Even before I was born he knew me completely (Psalm 139) – all my skills, all my failings. And knowing even my darkest secrets He still chose to love me enough to die for me (Romans 5:8). Jesus took my sin and paid for it. All of it. And that’s the foundation on which everything else here is built. I can’t undo it or change it. God loves me. Just as he loves you, too.
2. A Christian
Not only does God love me, but I love him in return. It’s like unwrapping a present – God has offered us forgiveness as a gift, but we need to accept it for ourselves. I’ve done that. I’ve accepted God’s wonderful gift of grace, and joined the many millions who have chosen to be associated with Jesus (John 20:28). I’m prepared to be known – publicly, too – as a follower of Jesus Christ. A Christian.
3. A Worshipper
Now we’re getting into the meat of things. Because not only am I a believer, I’m also passionate about worship. The more I learn about God, the more I want to praise him (Psalm 150). The closer I draw to him, the more I want to express something in return. I want to sing. I want to make music. I want to speak words. I want to take action. Whether I’m any good at those things is irrelevant at this level – even someone utterly tone deaf can be passionate about worship. It’s about our desire to respond.
4. A Musician
Musicians have a particular set of skills and abilities. We can listen to music and understand it, recreate it, mould it, use it. I understand how music is made, how songs are structured, how dynamics can evoke emotive responses, how instruments and sounds can combine to create specific effects. And that means I understand why music and worship go so well together.
5. An Instrumentalist
This is the application of the previous level – turning head knowledge into something practical. Through practise and study, I know how to play musical instruments. In my particular case, there are a few instruments I turn to, but just one would be fine too. And it’s such a wonderful privilege to be able to be involved in the creation of music – not just to listen to it or appreciate it, but to make it.
6. A Lead Worshipper
A bit of terminology here – a “lead worshipper” isn’t (in my definition at least) the same as a “worship leader”. A lead worshipper is someone who inspires and encourages others to worship. I do this by being a member of the worship team, serving alongside others in providing the music that helps the church to worship. Lead worshippers tend to stand at the front, looking back out at the congregation, to encourage them, to lead by example (1 Chronicles 16:4-6). I’m not just playing music, I’m demonstrating the practise of worshipping for others to see.
7. A Singer
There’s something particularly special about singing (Psalm 96), which is why I single this out separately from being a musician. It’s the combination of music AND words. I may be playing an instrument (or perhaps not), but I’m also singing. I’m applying meaning to the music through the addition of language. I’m communicating something about God that isn’t just abstract, but specific.
8. A Worship Leader
This is a specific role within the church gathering – someone who is proactively taking a leadership responsibility for the worship and the worshipping community. As a worship leader, I try to ensure that the band works together as a team rather than individuals. I try to give the church a clear sense of direction and guidance as we worship together. I lead.
Another important aspect of this role is to be always listening. As I look out at the congregation I try to “read the room”, to see how God is working in other people, to get feedback on the practical application (like if the song is too high, or if people aren’t engaging, or if the words on the screen don’t match our music). And then my responsibility as worship leader is to act on that feedback.
Even more importantly, a worship leader must be always listening to God. We may be leading God’s people, but even more so we should be actively being led by God in that act of service. Constantly praying. Constantly listening for the prompting of the Spirit. Constantly submitting to His plan rather than our own (Luke 22:41-42). As a worship leader, I must be led.
9. A Pastor
It’s all very well to lead people in their singing, but if they’re not engaging their hearts it’s just music, not worship (1 Chronicles 13:1). And to engage people’s hearts, we need to be aware and mindful of where people are spiritually and emotionally. We need sensitivity and insight to take people on the right journey at the right time. To encourage and support them. To love them and lead them. To walk alongside them. An effective worship leader doesn’t just help people to sing well, they nurture and care for each person as an individual.
10. A Theologian
Ultimately, all this is about God. As we sing, we don’t just sing into a void, or even to each other, but to God, about God. And to do that effectively, we need to understand who this God is, so that we can communicate that to others. Worship leaders need to be careful in the choice of songs, ensuring that they are scripturally faithful and expressing truth about God (John 8:31-32).
What about you?
I hope you’ve found this useful. But more than that, I hope it’s given you food for thought. Where do you fit in with this model, and what’s next? What are you going to do with this information? Would you put any of these levels in a different order? Would you add any other levels of specificity? What impact do these levels have on the way you minister or lead worship in your church? I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections in the comments below!