Growing as a Worship Leader - Part Four
This is Part Four of a series on Growing as a Worship Leader. Make sure to check out the other articles in this series.
Throughout this series of articles I have touched on several different avenues of growth for worship leaders. In this final segment, I would like to share what I feel is the most important step for the development of our worship leading.
If we are regular churchgoers it's likely that we hear at least fifty-two sermons in a year. That doesn’t include midweek services, conferences, podcasts, special events, online articles, books or our personal Bible study time. We have heard a lot. But how many of these sermons or teachings have we actually applied to our lives? How many of them can we even remember? Are we simply taking down note after note and storing them away somewhere; or are these things being inscribed on our hearts and producing fruit in our lives?
There is transformation in revelation but it is not in hearing the revelation alone. The real transformation takes place when revelation is walked out in our lives. We can hear a thousand sermons on loving others but until we start to actively love others, none of the words we have heard will bear any fruit. It’s the same for forgiveness, generosity or any other topic that is commonly preached about. At some point we have to become practitioners of revelation and not just collectors. This applies to worship leading as well. You can go to training after training, school after school and learn song after song but you will never really grow as a worship leader until you actually start leading worship.
Experience is Key
If worship leading were a consistent formula then we could just memorize the formula and use it over and over again. But it’s not a formula. I’m sure that all my worship leader friends would agree with me that no two worship experiences are ever the same. This applies to leading or being led. Even in past times when I have led multiple services on a Sunday morning using the same songs for all the services, the experience has been different from service to service. There are many changing dynamics in play when we worship and the best way to learn how to adjust, react or respond as a leader is by going through the fire of trail and error.
I know that many people are afraid of failure; but once we figure out how to start learning from our failures, we turn these perceived trip-ups into massive successes for our future and growth. Most of what I have learned over the years about leading worship has been the result of taking risks; and many of those risks failed. I didn’t throw in the towel and give up though. I learned, adjusted and tried again. The only way that we can embrace this amazing teacher called trial and error is through experience. We need to lead worship. We need to lead A LOT of worship. We absolutely must get experience in order to grow. I want to share four areas of experience that I believe are helpful in this process.
1. Say Yes!
The worship leaders that have influenced and inspired me the most in my journey are currently leading on massive platforms. Many of them are writing and releasing albums with songs that have become the anthems of our churches and ministries today. It can be easy for us to be so inspired and impressed by their abilities and current place of influence that we forget there has been a long and messy road of process from where they started to where they are now. The first steps of worship leading don’t usually look like a giant platform; or even the Sunday morning service. The beginnings are usually much smaller in scale and often lack all the glamour we sometimes dream about and expect. These are, however, often the very doors of opportunity that provide us with the most growth and breakthrough as worship leaders.
The majority of my worship leading experience, in the early days, came in the form of home groups. It was me, my guitar and some song sheets awkwardly scattered on the floor of a living room. There is something truly intimate and organic about worshiping in a living room with a small group of people. With no need to try and be slick or polished eventually the real, the vulnerable and the honest easily comes out in our worship expression. I am of the opinion that there are some skills and aspects of worship leading that can only be learned in this type of environment. Still to this day this is my favorite type of worship gathering to lead.
Whether it’s home groups, kids ministry, the youth group or a few songs before a church staff meeting; if you are just starting out I encourage you to say YES to every opportunity that comes. This is how you will begin to gain experience. One of the keys to being able to confidently respond with a “yes” is to be prepared. How many songs do you know well enough to lead right now? How well can you play your instrument? Do you have it with you? Are you spiritually and mentally ready if you receive a text asking you to show up in 2 hours and lead a small group of people in worship? Get prepared, say yes and start growing.
2. Record Yourself
Most of us don’t enjoy hearing our recorded speaking voice let alone our singing voice. However, I want to encourage you to press through the discomfort and get yourself used to it. There is an amazing opportunity for growth waiting for us when we listen back to our worship leading. I know what you might be thinking right now but this isn’t about being narcissistic or self-absorbed. I liken it more to reviewing the “game tape”.
You probably wouldn’t think it to look at me now but I was pretty athletic when I was in high school. I participated in multiple sports including basketball and football. One of the ways the coaches for both of those particular sports helped us to grow was by video taping the games and having us players review them the following week. We would go over the plays that worked and the plays that failed. We would look at how well we did as a team and as individuals. We would celebrate the successes and we would be challenged to learn from our failures.
I spent quite a few years recording myself every time I led worship. It was one of the most helpful tools for my personal growth. Eventually, I purchased a small field recorder called a Zoom H4N. I would bring it with me whenever I led and I would set it up somewhere out of the way in the room, with permission of course. Sometime in the days that followed I would listen back with my coach, Holy Spirit. I learned a lot of practical things about my guitar playing and singing dynamics during these “game tape” sessions; but mostly Holy Spirit taught me about the importance of waiting, of listening and of letting Him influence me while leading worship. I discovered many moments when I was so set on my plan that I powered right over His whisper and missed an opportunity to see Him move powerfully. These were huge learning opportunities for me.
Many churches these days have a video livestream or they record the audio of their church services and meetings. If not, you can easily use your smart phone’s voice recorder. You don’t need a perfect, polished recording. It’s not about trying to capture something that you are going to share with everyone or even keep forever. It’s about reviewing the “game tape” with Holy Spirit and letting Him coach you.
3. Break The Routine
“Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.”
If you have already been leading worship for awhile, it's possible that you have become comfortable with your position and abilities. If that's the case, it may be time to break the routine. Often we lack growth because we fail to challenge ourselves with new things. Perhaps it’s time to to take a risk and try something new. Here are some suggestions of ways you can break the routine:
Try out a new song.
New songs can provoke something new in us and in our congregations.
Try out a song you wrote.
This is a great way for us to take a risk and be vulnerable.
If you commonly lead worship while playing an instrument, try leading without one.
Nothing breaks me out of my comfort zone like not having my guitar. Though I have only led this way a handful of times, I have found that I sing differently and become much more aware of Holy Spirit when I am not thinking about the next guitar chord.
Try leading worship from an instrument you don’t normally play.
One Sunday at our church we broke the routine by spreading percussion instruments out all over the floor in front of the stage and encouraging our congregation to come and take one to worship with. I led worship while playing a large djembe drum with several others playing percussion instruments on stage with me. It was great morning of worship, praise and breakthrough for me and our congregation.
Try a different band arrangement. If you normally have a band with you, change it up and do something more stripped down.
This is an incredibly easy way to change things up. There’s a vulnerability in simple worship that pulls on the congregation in a different way. It also forces us to have to be intentional with song choices and dynamics.
Co-lead with someone who carries something very different from you.
Co-leading is a wonderful. When you intentionally choose someone to lead with that you know has different strengths, it can become a great opportunity to learn and grow.
These are just a few simple ideas. There are many, many more ways that you can take a risk and experiment with a new expression of worship. I encourage you to dream with Holy Spirit about how you can grow by breaking the routine.
4. Build History With God
This is by far the most important tool for growth as a worship leader. Above all the music, training, rehearsing, songwriting, learning new instruments, building community, etc; we absolutely must build a personal history with God.
Long before David was crowned king, he was simply David the shepherd boy. His time was spent not only watching over and protecting sheep but also playing his harp and worshiping God. I believe that in the hours he spent alone with God, singing, playing and praying, he was building history with God. This history was the very foundation he stood on when he faced Goliath, when he was persecuted by Saul and when ruled as King.
We all need to learn how to worship before we can lead worship. With music expression, I think that happens when we, like David, get alone with God and sing our hearts out to Him. You can start with the popular worship songs; but eventually it needs to get personal and vulnerable. Sing your praises and gratitude to Him. Sing your prayers and hurts to Him. Open your heart to Him and don’t hold anything back. There is breakthrough and relationship waiting to happen in those moments.
The best worship leaders are the ones who understand that worship isn’t only music expression; it’s your life. The way that we live worship will ultimately become the way that we lead worship. King David is the only person we know of in scripture that God referred to as…
“...a man after my own heart.”
“...he will do everything I want him to do.”
King David was fully devoted to God. He may have made some mistakes along the way but he was quick to adjust and get back to living worship.
A life of worship begins with small, simple steps. A great way to start this journey is by asking God first thing every morning, “What is one thing I can do today to worship you with my life?". This simple discipline can easily become the catalyst for growth into a passionate life of worship that will build a history with you and God.
I hope this series has been helpful to you. I plan to write more on different aspects of worship leading in the coming months. If you have questions or a specific topic you you would like me to write about, please use the contact form on this website and let me know.