Growing as a Worship Leader - Part Two
This is Part Two of a series on Growing as a Worship Leader. If you haven’t read Part One you can do so by clicking here.
In Part One of this series I shared about the growth that is experienced when worship leaders put time into developing their musical skills. On the opposite side of the spectrum of those neglecting musical skill development, we often find incredibly skilled musicians that are capable of playing all the parts and all the instruments; but unfortunately are not actively pursuing God. You may assume that having a passion for God is a no-brainer when it comes to being part of a worship team, however, I have encountered many worship musicians and worship leaders over the years that had very little passion to pursue God. How does this happen? There are several different possible ways that someone void of genuine passion for God could come to desire being part of a worship team. Here are a few examples:
The Cool Factor
If you read Part One of this series then you know a little of my backstory. You also know that in my younger days the role of worship leader was not as sought after as it is today. Music in the church has experienced a massive evolution since its birth in the New Testament. It seems as if there has been a powerful momentum in that development during the last 30 years or so. Something has shifted especially as the younger generations have began to get more involved with creating expressions of worship. Movements like Hillsong United, Jesus Culture, Bethel Music, United Pursuit, Housefires and others have drawn in a younger demographic of people and have also made great strides in pushing the boundaries of what is perceived and accepted as worship music.
With all of this wonderful new musical expression and passion for God there has also developed an image. It’s an image of the young, cool worship leader with the cool hairstyle and the cool trendy clothes who plays the cool instrument with all the cool effects and posts cool pictures with the cool filters on Instagram. It’s a stereotype of course; but it’s an image that a lot of young people in the church today are aspiring to achieve. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any issues with cool hairstyles or cool clothes. I actually think it’s fantastic that this generation has these role models to inspire them. I believe where we have to be cautious is in checking our motives and the motives of those wanting to join our teams. Our worship expression is empty if our motive isn’t rooted in a pursuit of Christ.
I think it’s safe to assume that there are abundantly more musicians in the world than there are platforms. All musicians desire to be heard and often times it’s much easier to make their way onto a church platform than a coffee shop stage or club. We have many musicians today who are trying hard to fit themselves into a worship leader role but actually have a call and a grace from God for marketplace music. Ultimately, they end up using the worship platform as a way to try to fulfill the dreams and desires God has placed deep in their hearts; but it doesn’t work. The result is a frustrated musician and a congregation that gets amazing, but often empty, performances every Sunday. Though it’s totally possible for people to operate in both of these realms, the reality is that leading worship and performing in the marketplace are two very different things. It’s crucial for us to be honest with ourselves and ask Holy Spirit to help us discern what we really have been given a grace to do.
Another common way that passionless musicians find their way onto a worship platform is by worship leaders becoming desperate for musicians. Because of the incredible level of musicianship and production on popular worship albums today, there is an immense amount of pressure on worship leaders to try and measure up to what their congregations are hearing on the radio. This pressure can cause a temptation to make compromises when it comes to the character and passion level of the musicians that you bring onto your team. I believe it’s a better option to keep your worship expression simple than to make compromises in order to fill out your band’s sound.
No matter the reason, if you have a worship team comprised of gifted musicians who aren’t passionate about God, your worship time will appear and feel more like a concert than an encounter with Jesus. Passion is vital to the growth of a worship leader and there are three specific types of passion that I would like to highlight.
1. Passion For God
Romans 12:1 tells us that our true and proper worship is to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, or in other words, to live worship. Living worship looks like devotion to God in every aspect of our lives. Whether we know it or not, our worship leading begins long before we ever step onto a stage, play a note or sing a song. If we are not living worship, we really have no business leading worship.
Many worship leaders have failed to understand that worship life and worship expression cannot be separated from each other. You absolutely can not expect to lead your congregation somewhere that you haven’t gone or aren’t currently going in your own life. If you aren’t genuinely passionate about God and you take the stage and sing as if you are, what you’re demonstrating is the worst form of empty religion.
How do we grow in passion for God? Like with any relationship, growth requires quality time. Knowing about God is obviously not the same as actually knowing Him. As much as I believe that worship leaders need to have a solid grasp on theology and sound doctrine, this knowledge should never be allowed to replace our passion to really know God. Do you know God? Do you have a relationship with Him? Is it growing and thriving? What is He currently teaching you? What has He been speaking to you about? Scripture tells us that God's followers know His voice (John 10:27). What a beautiful promise that is! We get to have ongoing dialog with the creator of the universe! It would be silly for anyone that has given their life to Jesus to not take full advantage of this incredible benefit.
The truth is, God actually wants relationship with us way more than we want it with Him. It is the very reason He sent Jesus and established a new and better covenant. When we catch a revelation of His immense love for us and start to perceive the lengths that He has gone to in order to pursue us, we can’t help but love Him back and dive headlong into a life of devotion. Talk to Him, listen to Him, meditate on His word, get to know Him. There is an endless amount of revelation of His goodness that is available to us and Jesus promised us that if we seek, we will find (Matthew 7:7-8). One of the wonderful things about discovering this divine revelation is that it simultaneously satisfies and provokes more hunger in us to pursue and know Him. (Matthew 5:6)
If you have trouble growing in this area of passionate pursuit and devotion, I recommend reaching out to your pastor or a ministry leader for help. There are also countless books, teaching series, podcasts and annual conferences that are dedicated to helping people grow in passion for God. I will list a few book recommendations at the end of this post.
2. Passion For People
It’s not only important for worship leaders to have a passion for God but also to have a passionate shepherd's heart for their congregations. I have been involved with teams in the past where we spent all of our time before and after the service in a back room. We only emerged in order to take the stage and lead the worship time. As soon as the worship was done, we disappeared into the back again and generally stayed there till it was time to go home. How can we expect to effectively lead our congregations if we have no relationship with them?
Something beautiful happens when we began to get to know our church. There is a heart connection that develops as we engage with people and discover what’s happening in their lives. We will find ourselves thinking about and praying for them throughout the week and we will come into our worship services with a deeper passion to lead these people into an encounter with Jesus. Our congregations will also engage in worship in a different way because the more they know our hearts, the more they trust us to lead them. This relational connection always carries over into the worship experience.
Even if you are guest leading at a church or for a ministry event, I recommend taking time to connect with people in attendance before the worship time. Real shepherds always smell like sheep.
3. Passion For Your Team
It is dangerously easy in the fast moving pace of modern worship ministry to begin to view and value our team members based solely on what they bring to the stage, i.e., what they are capable of musically. I believe that it is extremely important for worship ministers to avoid this trap and refuse settling for shallow relationships with their teammates. If you find yourself identifying people in your worship community simply as “bass player”, “drummer”, “keys player”, etc … you may have a problem that needs to be addressed. People are wired to connect and they have a desire to be known. If there is no relational connection, there is a good chance that sooner or later they will begin feeling used, they will become bitter and they will not stick around.
The benefit of developing these relationships goes way beyond simply keeping people around. Whatever community and culture you are creating with your team will have huge effect on your worship expression and the culture that it creates in your church. Worship expression released from shallow relationships will most likely lead to shallow places. Worship expression formed in the depths of real community will always lead to deep places.
Every believer is called to a life of passionate devotion to Jesus and worship leaders should be the very ones leading that charge. Don’t allow yourself or your team to neglect the fire within. Do whatever is necessary to turn that spark into a raging bonfire of passion for Jesus and never let it go out.
“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness." (Colossians 2:6)
Subscribe or check back next week for Part Three of this series on Growing as a Worship Leader.
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
Crazy Love by Francis Chan
The Unquenchable Worshiper by Matt Redman
Ablaze For God - Wesley Duewel
The Practice of the Presence of God - Brother Lawrence
Whatever Happened To Worship - A.W. Tozer