When leading worship you deal with a lot of things, not just music, such as people. With people comes all sorts of other things. Great things, little things, bad things, touchy subjects, attitudes (good and bad), sickness, death, families, opinions … you name it, they’ll bring it at one point or another. Being a worship leader is like being a boss or an owner. You essentially have employees, yet, you absolutely cannot treat them as such. Most churches work with volunteers for their worship team.
PLEASE NOTE: these are guidelines that I have come up with and use for myself. A checklist if you will, anytime I need them. I have come up with these because I have failed as a worship leader/pastor so many times, but I choose to learn from it and move forward.
The Worship Leader’s Big 5 (in my words)
1. Heart – You gotta love the people
In all the places I’ve been I have seen a lot of “problems” within the confines of a worship team, or the church itself for that matter, that can be solved by adhering to this first “rule” of being a worship leader or any leader for that matter. If you don’t love your team members, then I am quite uncertain just exactly why you are a worship leader. Sounds rough, but honestly.
Several points can be attributed to this matter. Things that a worship leader goes through that come back to this basic point. Little things that can become huge when not dealt with properly because they don’t “love” the team. A team member can be late to rehearsal, not agree with a song or how the song is played. They can use the wrong equipment; they can talk about you behind your back, and so on. like I said, there are a lot of things that can happen to a worship leader that will come directly from your team, but how to you deal with it? Do you punish them with a time-out? Do you scold them in front of the team? Do you just “stop scheduling” them for a while to make your point? Or … do you love them? Do you dismiss the behavior for the moment, take them aside later for coffee, or in my case Red Bull, and chat with them about where they’re at with life? How’s home life? How’s church? How’s work? I have found more times than not, that a poor attitude or disrespect from a worship team member is an awesome opportunity to speak into a volunteer’s life and minister to them and lead them, or rather… love them.
I have seen worship leaders in the past that have come up with a list of rules and guidelines that worship team members have to sign in order to be on the team. This way, the worship leader feels “covered” by that document, so in the case a rule is broken, the worship leader has the “right” to bring that document out and show them that they broke a rule and now have to sit out of the worship team for a couple weeks, or a month or whatever. I’ll be the first one to say it, “I have done this!” And let me tell you, this does not work. This is damaging to the relationship you build with your team. A relationship, which is built on love first, trust second, and chemistry (musically & friendship) third, is not built on contract. When you put a contract in their face the first thing, you have destroyed the chance to build a strong relationship with the person that you’re bringing on the team.
The point? When you lead a worship team, you have to love them first. This will solve a lot of problems in the future and prevent issues from ever happening in the first place. If you want more examples of how to approach your team with this kind of love, just look at how Jesus approached everyone He met.
I went to a concert a while back, it was one of those big name bands that are topping the charts. I was pretty pumped to see the show. I am one of those who doesn’t get all hyped though during the show. You’ll find me paying for the tickets closest to the front because i like music gear and i like to watch the band really close. I won’t be the one jumping around and all that. Even though every once in a while i jiggy a little. The show begins, lights down, big booming noise and bam, the lights, the smoke, the band, the curtain falls and we’re off! I have a huge smile and i’m loving it! The lead singer is belting out his lyrics and playing his guitar… but… he’s just, well, there was something odd. Something was missing. Passion. He didn’t look like he wanted to be there, he looked as if he’d sang these songs a thousand times, which, he most certainly has. It was quite disappointing to say the least. It was as if he didn’t believe a word he was singing, like it was a hastle to even be there. I was ticked off about it because i came to support his music and be entertained. I paid quite a bit for these tickets too, but his attitude completely ruined the experience for me.
I hope by now, you can see where I’m going with this… As worship leaders, we must have passion every single time we play. “But ben, it’s monotonous, I’ve sang these songs so many times and rehearsed them a thousand times more!” True. At least I hope you’ve rehearsed haha… But, of course, it does get old. To us! What about the guy that just sat down in the back row. First time ever being to church, searching for something because he just lost everything this week and needs to know someone is there for him. When he watches you lead these songs of hope, faith, trust, love, guidance, acceptance, forgiveness etc… but you have a scowl on your face because this song is old and you aren’t really in the mood to play it, but pastor asked you to so you’re just “doing your job.” Well, I’m here to tell you, you’ve just completely lost this guy in the back row. He is watching you sing these songs but can tell that you honestly don’t even want to be there. Which leads him to think, Well if the guy singing the songs doesn’t even care, then why should I? This story is true. it’s happened before and can happen again to you. You were not passionate about what you were singing, which led him right back out the door.
Passion goes beyond the songs and music—passion, in this instance, is knowing that what you’re doing is part of something bigger. A worship leader needs to be passionate about the big picture. Lives saved, people being healed, the church movement. If you’re passionate about the church’s vision and mission, then, when the pastor asks you to sing “As the Deer” (which if you aren’t familiar, is a very old, not very catchy tune that we used to sing in church years and years ago) on Sunday, you’re going to play the living daylights out of that song! Do I pray that pastor never asks me to play “As the Deer”? You bet I do! But if he does, I’m sure there’s a good reason for it; therefore, I will play that song and play it with excellence. Maybe the pastor wants you to play it because he knows a certain person is coming that week, and that’s their favorite worship song, and they haven’t been to church in a long time, and just maybe that song will trigger something in their heart to come back to Christ again.
When a worship leader is not passionate in what they do, it shows. You can read them like a book. A worship leader’s attitude can influence the way the congregation receives the lyrics of the songs being played and there are two reasons you exist on that stage. One is to lead the congregation into the throne room of God if only for a short time via the avenue of music. And two, is to prepare the congregation’s hearts for the message. If you, as a worship leader, are not prepared for that, and are not going to be passionate in the words you say whether in prayer or lyrically, then check yourself before you address your congregation again. Speak with the pastor and let him or her know that you’ve lost the passion you once had; work together to restore that passion, or maybe it’s appropriate that you step back for a while and let someone take the lead, so you can pull yourself back together. This is healthy. It’s not a punishment. Every worship leader needs a break.
Pastors … It’s a good idea to give your worship leaders a break every three months. Let them breathe. If the worship leader position in your church is a revolving door, you may want to look into this. I have seen and been a part of churches that hire someone to be a worship pastor and then later down the road they become the youth director and the maintenance coordinator, the small group leader, the tech director, the creative arts director, all while still holding the worship leader’s position. This can be harmful and could really damage what once was a good marriage or good home life; not to mention, it really hurts their efforts in being a good worship leader too. They aren’t able to give each position 100 percent.
Being a musician on a worship team can sometimes be stressful. It depends on the person. There are some worship team members that are single and don’t have much going on and just love to play and sing and help out, because they have the time to do so. And a lot of them have full-time jobs, kids, extra jobs, crazy bosses, crazy kids, a demanding home life etc. Be patient with these people; they are extremely valuable and need to be taken care of just as much as the 20-year-old guitar player with a part time job who basically lives in your office because he wants to be the next in line to lead worship at your church.
The people that have a lot going on outside of church, sometimes they’re late, sometimes they don’t rehearse on their own and come unprepared. How do we deal with those that just can’t seem to check “planning center” to see what songs we’re playing or listen to them and practice their parts? Well, that’s a tricky question, but, there is an answer. Patience. “But for how long? I mean, they never practice!” I hear ya. Boy do i hear ya. I have all but slammed my head against a wall at some rehearsals because an amazing guitar part got ignored. Did they even listen to the new song with the killer guitar part? Nope. In fact, they were late to rehearsal too. How do you deal with that? Patience.
This ties right in with “heart.” I love my guitar players. Sometimes I want to kick them, but I love them. Why were they unprepared and late? This is where I start. Does the song have to have that killer guitar part? Yes and no. I would love for it to be there. Can another guitar player cover it? maybe. Could I somehow cover it? Maybe. Or, between now and Sunday maybe they could get it learned. Sure! But, we don’t just let this go, we talk with them later. Not at rehearsal. There’s no need for it. They’re already (or should be) a little embarrassed that they’ve just let the team down. But, with love and patience, we cover the mistake and learn from it and move on. This is where a deeper bond and a deeper respect and love for that team member comes into play. If you do this, I promise you, they’ll begin to understand and respect you, the team, and respect everyone else’s time for that matter as well.
“What if my team member is constantly late or constantly not prepared?” First off, patience. Practice that first, then, if they just can’t seem to get it, or they are great musicians or great singers, and we just have to have them on the team even if they never practice or are unprepared or are constantly late to events and rehearsals, then it’s time to have a private, more in depth conversation.
How’s life going?
How’s your family?
How’s your spiritual life doing?
Get them talking; maybe you’ll find your answer before they even know they’ve answered it. If a team member is having these problems of being late and unprepared, it really damages the whole team. It looks bad for them, burns time during rehearsal, and could cause issues with the overall sound. I can’t imagine a team member purposely trying to sabatoge the team and their efforts towards musical excellence. If they are, then they shouldn’t be on the team for obvious reasons. In this case though, while talking with this person, show love and patience and wisdom. Show love by digging into their heart and finding out where they’re at; show patience by giving them a second chance, and show wisdom by discerning whether or not being a part of the team is a good thing for them and the team right now. If they’re just way too busy and can’t seem to pull their weight, then maybe right now they need to focus on other things at home or work or themselves for that matter, and let the team move forward until the time is right for this person to come back.
But don’t ever close the door. No one is beyond restoration. Jesus never gave up on us, nor should we give up on someone serving him with their talents. If they aren’t meant to be on the team, and you’ve followed these steps properly, then things will work themselves out. At the same time, be sure to inform your pastor of this change. You never know if maybe the pastor or their small group leader can step in after the fact and help with the restoration process. This leads back to the passion and heart points—we are here to lead people to Christ and show them the love of Christ. If something is going on with the team member that is causing these issues, then informing their current small group leader or the pastor is taking care of that person. You don’t just let them walk out the door. We are in the people business, and in that comes the responsibility to take care of the “flock” if you will.
Patience also comes in handy with the staff and other workers outside of the worship team such as:
- The Pastor (who asks you to play a song you don’t like).
- The kids director (who let the kids out 2 minutes too early because they were tired of keeping them past the regular time, but you’re having an amazing worship moment when all the sudden 40 kids come barging through the back door yelling for mommy and daddy)
- The finance manager (who tells you that your budget is smaller this year and you can’t purchase those new in ear monitors you wanted).
These are all real examples I have heard and seen. You have to check yourself, be patient, don’t fly off the handle. The people are the important thing here.
What I have come to find is patience with other staff members can really help you in ways you never thought possible. Staff members can throw some pretty crazy curve balls into your set list, into your daily routine, into your plans. But when they come, just take a deep breath, realize that what you had planned really isn’t that important, and that you can accommodate most things. You and the rest of the staff are a team. Always, always, always be thinking of the bigger picture. It really helps reign in that urge to go crazy when those curve balls come at you.
I am going to make this short and sweet because, if you’re a worship leader, this is just basic stuff. If you’re a Christian this is basic stuff. Stay humble. You are part of a bigger plan, a bigger picture, a bigger team. You are part of something. You are not “the” something. If you’re a worship leader, or any leader for that matter, leadership starts with humility. You must serve in order to lead. Leadership in and of itself is servanthood. Jesus was the greatest example of this, he served everyone. He showed love and compassion and is the greatest leader that ever walked this little speck of dirt we call earth.
This is not about you. Of course you’re center stage, you’re singing your heart out, everyone is looking at you, and the lights and the yada, yada, yada. Something I have always said to worship teams that I’ve led and been a part of in the past is this: we rehearse and put in the hours and play with excellence and want to sound the best for 2 reasons.
1. We are playing for the King of Kings. Why wouldn’t we want to sound the absolute best we can possibly sound? He’s the greatest audience we’ll ever have. Plus, he gave you the gift of music and singing, why not return it to him 10-fold (parable of the talents)?
2. We play with excellence and sound the best we can sound, in order to become invisible.
Be Invisible – In order to make this happen, the team must rehearse, sound the best they can sound, play with excellence, be in tune, follow the leader, know when to play and when not to play, have a good attitude, show up on time, show up early, be prepared. Invisibility, in my opinion, is a must. What does it mean? When the congregation looks to the worship team, their focus is immediately pointed straight to the throne room of God. It’s not about us. It’s about him. We have good attitudes and are passionate about what we’re playing so that no one is looking at us wondering why we’re bored or upset or distracted. We play with excellence so that the congregation isn’t distracted by wrong chords or missed parts or a badly tuned guitar, or a singer who is off key or messed up the words. We are visible long enough to lead the congregation into worship, then we step out of the way and play our hearts out with passion, and we play with excellence so as to not distract them from the environment we’ve helped create for them, to enter in to his presence with song as one body of Christ.
A worship leader needs to be focused. Focused during the week and focused during rehearsals and Sunday mornings. “Well what should I be focused on?” Be focused on Jesus first and foremost. Then, be focused on your team, the pastor, the staff, your duties, the mission and vision of the church. Always be aware of what’s going on with your team, with the staff, with the church. Don’t fly in and fly out and think that that’s ok. It’s not. Be aware. Be focused.
Focus on Prayer
Be ever fervent in prayer for your team, the staff, the church. Pray over your congregation during the week that these songs will move them closer to God. Pray over your setlist; ask God to help you pick the right set. Pray over your pastor, and pray with your pastor. Be aware of the staff and pray over them and with them when appropriate.
Focus on Your Duties
Are you planned ahead? Is planning Center (or whatever you use) ready to go for the next two weeks at least? Are people scheduled? Do you need to make phone calls and send texts out to let people know the setlists are ready? have you done your part in letting everyone know that a song changed? Have you connected with the pastor on all topics that need covered before this weekend hits? Is the tech team prepared? Do they have all the starts and stops and videos and transitions of songs and lyrics ready to go? have you even sent your sound notes to them yet?
Set reminders on your phone for times you know you’ll be near a computer or tablet, and remind yourself to send emails, texts, make calls, check in with the tech team, the pastor, your assistants if you have them, update planning center etc.
Monday is your scheduling and set list day
Tuesday is your alert day—send out reminders for song changes, check in with people
Wednesday is your day to work one-on-one with musicians or singers who struggle with their parts.
Thursday before rehearsals is your time to run through all the songs again and make notes for the team that you missed during the week.
Make sure you are always prepared. The team’s attitude and passion and patience will reflect yours. So make sure you’re always on your game.
I believe that if we (including myself) as worship leaders carry these points with us and actively practice them, we can acheive great things for the kingdom of God. They’re not hard and are very rewarding. I know because I have used them and they work. I have also fallen short of them many times, but that’s when God shows up and shows off in my life. I love him for that.
We’re all in this together.
Ben Yarger is 29 years old; he lives in the northern part of Indiana with his lovely wife Kilee. He’s been a worship leader/pastor for going on 15 years. He has a passion for people and a passion for music and what it can do in the lives of people. He hopes this article will help you in your journey as a worship leader/pastor and your journey in leadership. He wrote it as a guideline for himself and hopes it can help you as well.